Today I acted like a true tourist and visited the Statue of Liberty. I had been to the Statue many years ago, but felt the need to go again. It’s such an inspiring symbol of American greatness, and the best piece of eye candy we possess. I noticed when I was there today that people can’t stop looking at it even if they’re walking away from it. It’s disrespectful. They turn around to catch another glance, maybe to see if it’s really still there or maybe they just can’t believe that they’re actually standing in front of the American version of the Colossus of Rhodes. Pinch me, I must be dreaming!
The thing I find really special about visiting the statue in person is the many different angles you can view it from while on Liberty Island – angles you don’t usually see in picture books, angles that catch you by surprise as you’re walking along, breathtaking angles that drive home just how massive the statue is. It has an occupancy limit bigger than many New York restaurants (there is a staircase inside that you can climb right up to her crown). Talk about getting inside someone’s head!
I went through three different Security checkpoints during my visit, and only those with advance reservations (which I had) can go into the pedestal. A ticket to climb up inside the statue requires a special reservation (which I didn’t have) planned months in advance (and, of course, another security check). I had to take my belt off at every one, and was beginning to feel like a stripper. I would have left my belt in the room if I didn’t need it to hold my pants.
The boat ride to the statue was pleasant and offers some dramatic views. I felt a little bit like Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl” (Don’t rain on my parade – but it did). This is the same view that millions of immigrants had when they first came to America, a whopping first impression that told them that everything they heard about America was true – it is big, it is grand, it is the land of opportunity.
The pedestal the statue sits on is almost as tall as the statue itself. There’s a museum inside that includes the original torch, which was replaced a number of years ago, as well as a registry of names of people who donated to the statue’s restoration for its centennial in 1986. When I saw this display I had a vague recollection that I had contributed money to this cause years ago, and sure enough, when I looked up my name on the computer, there it was. It was an unexpected surprise. It would have been really neat if my name was etched in a wall or something, but I didn’t give that much money.
Probably the most moving part of the trip for me was when I was standing right in front of the statue, looking up at it with my binoculars. It gave me a feeling for just how big it is but it also filled me with a sense of pride and wonder, not just in the country but in the human ingenuity that could envision and build such a thing. It brought tears to my eyes, as a grand accomplishment always does, which even the operas I’ve attended haven’t managed to do (yet – La Boheme is Thursday night).
After this experience I took the boat over to Ellis Island, something I had never done before. The museum there was very impressive, and gave me a real feel for what immigrants experienced when they stood in the very same spot I was now standing. So much history in that building. The restoration work they’ve done on it is fantastic, as evidenced by the before and after photographs. It looks today just as it looked in the early nineteen hundreds, with faithful reproductions of ceilings, floors, rooms and hallways.
After leaving Ellis Island I decided to walk over to the 9/11 Memorial since I was so close by. As I approached the area, the New Freedom Tower came into view, another giant of American ingenuity. This building is massive, the tallest in the Western Hemisphere. I found the controversial design appealing, and if I may say so more aesthetically pleasing than the Twin Towers were, even though they themselves became such a symbol of the New York skyline
Somehow I didn’t find the reflecting pools that now inhabit the exact footprints of the twin towers as moving as I expected, perhaps because the waterfalls weren’t running, and running water always invites reflection and introspection. I plan on visiting again tonight, in the ambience of the lighted pools and names, and hopefully flowing water. I did find it moving that some of the names carved around the memorial had American flags, flowers and other mementos placed by them, just as you would find at a gravesite.
After all this adventure I got together again with my friend Michael in the evening and visited Chinatown, where we had a great meal and great conversation. We walked through the streets of Chinatown and Little Italy afterward before we parted ways. He’s leaving the city tomorrow, as he likes to get out of here every chance that he can. Here I am marveling at every corner of the city this week in true tourist fashion, but his perspective sheds some light on what it’s actually like to live here. The noise. The tourists. The inconveniences. The need for personal space. There is definitely a price to pay to live in such a marvelous city, but it sure is a nice place to visit.