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Muse from Manhattan

punjab Updated: Jul 08, 2013 09:28 IST
Rajnish Wattas
Rajnish Wattas
Hindustan Times
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Le Corbusier, on his visit to New York, described its soaring skyscrapers as 'Grand Canyons of Concrete.'

My view of Manhattan from the 35th-floor apartment is equally daunting - an awesome skyline of iconic buildings such as the Empire State, Chrysler Building - and the newly-erected Freedom Tower filling the void of the World Trade Centre after 9/11 as its tallest landmark. A lazy, meandering East River with its cruise boats dotting the waters, sea planes landing and taking off and heli-taxis hovering over them, make for an awesome urbanscape.

People on the streets below look like ants and the yellow cabs like kids' dinky cars moving all over. But as dusk falls and the sky turns a golden-pinkish hue, some early lights - especially of the signature-top pinnacles of the skyscrapers, are the first ones to go ablaze. Soon the entire city skyline is a grand sweep of a fairyland phantasmagoria lit up with dazzling razzmatazz, all the way till the horizon extends.

But the magic of Manhattan is as much below at the street level as it is in the sky. In spite of being the most tightly packed business and financial capital of the world, it's perhaps one of the most walkable, pedestrian-friendly cities that I have ever encountered. I feel safer to walk the streets of Manhattan than of my native 'Garden City', Chandigarh.

The pavements or sidewalks, as the Americans call them, are very wide, almost 20 to 30 ft, the meticulous signage and detailing enables comfortable crossings over the busy intersections and no motorist dare jump lights!

The streets are lively with shops, stores most of them predominately restaurants, Mom & Pop food stores and eating places, that give you the choice of cuisines from all over the world. The establishments' names are equally tongue-in-cheek. 'Lullu & Me,' 'Pie Face' bakery or the 'Potbelly' burger place are favourite eating spots; and then there is a 'Barking Dog Bar' that allows its patrons to sit along with their darling pets while they eat!

Next to the food business, the other most conspicuous establishments are 'Psychic Healers, Astrologers & Palm Readers' and, more so near the Wall Street, where fortunes are made and unmade in seconds! New Yorkers wear very, very expensive shoes, hence as many 'Shoe Repair' shops in shoebox-sized stores. They usually also repair locks, leatherwear and clocks. So much for WalMarts in New York - a big thumbs down! The 'Cleaners' and 'Nails & Spa' places are as much visible - all the dark-suit business executives and high-heeled, strutting power women need to be well groomed and immaculately dressed at their swanky corporate offices.

As if to make up for lack of greenery - the 3-mile-long Central Park runs through the heart of Manhattan - and every other shop is a florist place with displays spilling over to the sidewalks that bedeck the avenues with heady aromas and blooms. Romance, candlelight dinners and floral bouquets, too, are big business in New York.

Amidst the human carnival of racing, hurried people eating, texting, chatting on their I-Phones there are also the gentle peals of church bells from old stone cathedrals, sandwiched between glass & steel skyscrapers, reminding New Yorkers to tarry a while.