The first time I went to an outdoor sculpture park was in Japan. The exhibits were so creative and interactive, that I ended up visiting twice, despite it being a 2-hour drive away. So when Dani and Kyle suggested that we go see the one in upstate New York, I was really excited to check it out.
My first thought staring out onto the South Fields, though, was that it looked like something out of a scene from Arrival. The beams of Mark di Suvero’s industrial sculptures rise from the surrounding hills like futuristic crafts ready to beam up anyone who dared to get close. I wasn’t sure I liked how starkly the red and brown steel contrasted the soft grass and brush and, upon perusing the brochure, was disappointed to learn we couldn’t touch or climb on most of the exhibits.
But you need to stop comparing everything to Japan, I told myself, and besides, 100,000 annual visitors couldn’t be wrong…could they?
“It’s snowing!” I yelled excitedly over my shoulder, peeking through the curtains. “Oh yeah?” my sister responded with mild disinterest. You’d swear she never grew up in Johannesburg. The fluffy white stuff still excites me; I’m lucky if I even get to see it once a year.
We packed up the last of our things and headed for the bus, which ambled through the fresh snowfall to Niagara Jet Adventures. A ride on one of the company’s customized jet boats down the Niagara River costs $61 (and 45 minutes of nausea), which we weren’t willing to part with in the cold. We huddled around hot coffee and chocolate muffins in the waiting area instead and made friends with a nice family from Croatia.
The next stop on the tour was a lovely surprise. I had somehow missed on the itinerary that we would be touring Fort Niagara, a French castle with a 300-year history. I just love a good museum.
During the summer of 1928, two cows named Lucky and Floyd wandered from a farm outside of Cobleskill, New York and fell to the bottom of a 26-meter (85-ft) hole. The unfortunate event piqued the interest of a local engineer, Roger Mallery, who was working on a nearby commercial cave.
He recruited a group of teens to descend into the darkness and explore. After crawling through water and mud, they discovered that the chamber was connected to another, and then another. At the end of the last chamber they found a subterranean waterfall. Mallery purchased the land and opened it up to the public the following year.
The Secret Caverns has been competing with the much larger Howe Caverns ever since, and were the first stop on a two-day bus tour to Niagara Falls that my sister and I had embarked on earlier in the morning.
One hour. That’s how long it takes to walk from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Or Brooklyn to Manhattan, depending on which side of the Brooklyn Bridge you stand. We were on the Manhattan side, at City Hall, ready to make the 1,825 meter trek along with hundreds of tourists who were also taking advantage of the sun. It was the first clear day in a week, and also the coldest – perfect for taking pictures.
My sister began doling out instructions on how to walk across the bridge (read: how to not piss off the locals) as we crossed Park Row. There’s always potential for you to fuck something up as a visitor in New York; it’s like you’re constantly showing up to write a test that you didn’t study for.
“Get out of the bike lane!”
And just like that, I was docked 10 points.
Graffiti is dead. Or so we were told by a woman idling outside a Brooklyn art gallery. Yelled at, is more accurate. She was definitely yelling. “You’re wasting your time! It’s not real! They’re all sell outs!”
Our Free Tour By Foot of Bushwick had suddenly turned into a heated trial; the merciless prosecutor across the street passionately trying to convince us, the jury, that the defendant, our tour guide, was taking us for a ride. Real graffiti hasn’t existed since the 80s, she argued.
Our walk around the working class neighborhood on the north side of New York’s most populous borough suggested otherwise; graffiti, now more popularly referred to as street art, is very much alive and well.
“It’s a pity we’re doing this now. It must look so nice when its all green.”
“It’s ok. You know how much I love dead things.”
Danielle and I had just entered the northern end of the High Line, a 2.3 km (1.45 mi) concrete trail built on an abandoned freight railway track that served Manhattan’s industrial center from the 1930s to the 1980s. Today, it is a public park that extends 22 blocks above the West Side, from 34th Street down to Gansevoort in the Meatpacking District.
My sister’s giggle was part delight and part surprise – the way you laugh when you forget and remember someone all at once. It had been a year since we last saw each other, and a year since I had last been in New York.
I’ve never actually been in the city for any other season – marshmallow streets lined with skeleton trees are just how I know it. And even though it was unusually warm for late December with not a snowflake in sight, it was still very much winter. But as I soon came to realise, Manhattan’s most innovative park is a treat in all seasons.
Staten Island is a dump – literally and figuratively. It used to house the world’s largest landfill before it closed in 2001, and although it is the third-largest borough of New York City, it is the least populated. But usually the most forgotten places have the rarest gems, and for Staten Island, it’s the Alice Austen House.
The house-turned-museum, known as Clear Comfort, is the former family home of the photographer Alice Austen. In the Rosebank section of the island, the house sits on a small hill overlooking New York Bay, offering a view that is worth the ferry ride alone.
After the museum, I took a train downtown to meet Danielle at work. She had booked us tickets to see the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular and wanted to take me to see the window displays on 5th Avenue afterwards. Even after ogling the New York Times building, I was still early, so tucked into Dean & Deluca for tea and people watching. The crowds around Times Square are always a fun bunch to watch.
“Where the hell do you think you’re going?” the security guard yelled after me. It was my third day in New York and I was trying to make my way from bag check to the ticket counter at the American Museum of Natural History. But he had already checked my bag, which I tried to explain. “Then why are you all the way over there?” he yelled back. “Because I’m trying to get out the fucking way!”
The second day of my trip to New York stands out for two reasons. The first is that, because my sister had to work, I was on my own and that meant navigating the subway by myself for the first time ever. Without a GPS, I managed to get myself to the Financial District and then across to Brooklyn without too much hassle. I even got asked for directions – twice! – so I was pretty stoked about that.
The second was a bummer; when I got home, my sister went to browse through the photos on my camera and accidentally formatted the memory card instead. She downloaded some recovery software to try and salvage whatever data might be left, but I knew in my heart of hearts that the images were gone forever.
For the winter holidays, I went to visit my sister in New York. Danielle’s been living in The City for just over four years now, but despite it being our birthplace, I’d only seen it twice: once in 1998, and again in 2009. It was time for a reunion, I thought, and so after completing a week of Christmas lessons and oosoji (end-of-year cleaning), I packed my bags and began the long journey West.