9/11 Memorial & Museum
Despite the late-ish night last night going by UK time, I’m still awake very early. I try and force myself to doze but no luck, so get up at 6.30 am. Showered and dressed I go down for breakfast. This is a simple but fine continental buffet. Yoghurt, fruit and granola plus juice are on offer. All done, I collect the things I need from my room for the day and leave the hotel at 9 am to find the subway. I’ve been to New York City before, many years ago in the mid-90s. That time I did all of the main sightseeing stuff like the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, a boat trip around Manhattan and the such like. I’m back here now to see a few things I didn’t then. Like find some blues clubs… 🙂
The first port of call today I’m sure all of us wished didn’t exist at all. But sadly it does now and I’m here to pay my respects. I’m heading to Ground Zero to visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum for the morning. It’s a warm but overcast day. I figure out the subway, just, and whilst the trains are air-conditioned, the platforms are not and it’s like a sauna waiting for train. It’s really hot and very humid but thankfully the train arrives shortly.
The Garden Tour
A short walk from the station and I arrive at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, then find the start point for the Memorial Garden Tour, five minutes before the due time.
This Tour is very good and well organised, with headsets so you can clearly hear the guide talking as we tour the Garden. The whole thing of course is very sad and upsetting – as is the Museum tour I do after – but the Garden has been very tastefully done for all that. The Garden tour guide is very good at telling anecdotes about the history of the Garden’s evolution. I also can’t believe how busy the place is on a Monday morning in mid-September, I expected it to be less crowded, both in the Garden and Museum.
Into The Museum
The Garden ticket – pre-bought online in the UK – was a deal with Museum entry that was not only cheaper than bought separately but also gives priority access into the Museum. So I get to ‘queue jump’ the long line of people who are queuing up to get in. Well worth doing.
The Museum is astonishing on so many levels. You get to see the foundations, 70 feet below ground level, of the Twin Towers, and learn how they were constructed. It was quite a feat of engineering at the time, and was really interesting to learn about that aspect of the Towers. Of course it is accompanied by horrific reminders of the fateful day. There are twisted steel girders, destroyed fire engines, plus photos, videos and artefacts of victims and survivors. There’s a strong emphasis on the victims as well and a rightful focus on remembering them. All in all, I think the balance is right, telling the story of the day, the background to it, and the aftermath. It’s terribly sad the 9/11 Memorial & Museum has to exist at all of course, but it is a fitting tribute.
The Museum of Modern Art
Once outside again, it’s overcast but warm, around 75º F. I go down into the sauna of the subway again to head north to MoMA for some culture. Exiting the 5 Ave/53 St station I find a street vendor selling hot dogs for a quick lunch. Not bad either. Over the next three hours or so I see lots of paintings and sculptures from famous – and not so famous to me – artists. It’s good to see some of the famous paintings I’ve heard of over the years, but there’s not much I like in the sense of “I’d put that on my lounge wall.” Not of course that I could afford to! But not a lot ‘rocks my boat’ as they say. It was however good to see and visit, and I don’t regret going.
Culturally enlightened, or not, I leave at 5.30 pm, just as the Museum is closing for the day. It’s back to the subway station for a trip south, alighting at West 4 St-Washington Sq, for a short walk back to the hotel. I spend an hour chilling in my room after spending most of the day on my feet. Now it’s time to venture out again for the evening’s entertainment.
In Search Of Music
First stop is The Red Lion, where Big Ed’s Blues Jam is on the bill. But Ed is sick apparently, so it’s Big Arthur on guitar and vocals to lead the band. It transpires that the Blues Jam is actually ‘open mic’ night. Arthur and his band start us off but over the next couple of hours the personnel changes regularly as local musicians arrive at the bar carrying their guitars and sign up on a sheet at the stage to await their turn. They all know each other as there’s lots of handshakes, hugs and kisses whenever anyone turns up or leaves.
Despite the regular changes to the band, they’re all pretty good players and the music is good. Sometimes all four ‘instruments’ – guitar, bass, drums and keyboards – switch between songs, sometimes just one guy might swap. The songs are mostly blues standards like Crosscut Saw and many others, plus there’s a handful I don’t know. But it’s all very enjoyable, the players are clearly having a good time and so are the audience. Good vibes all round. There’s even a couple of harp (harmonica) players on a few songs. A lady called Marg is particularly good, and she’s first ever female harp player I’ve ever seen. She can definitely blow a good tune. I had the beef satay appetizer to eat at the bar during the show which was very good, and the beers were also good.
Just after 10 pm I leave to go two doors down to Terra Blues. This is one of the few remaining pure blues clubs in NYC. Playing tonight are The T Blues Band, a group with varying personnel made up of local blues musicians. As soon as they start to play just after 10, the difference from the Red Lion ‘band’ is obvious. These guys are ‘tight’: with two guitars, drums and upright bass, they hit a groove from the off. They are clearly very accomplished musicians. In fact they are excellent. They play for an hour then have a break. When they come back, I stay for as long as possible until jet lag catches up with me. I regretfully depart back to the hotel, arriving around midnight.
So there was some good and some excellent music tonight: the Red Lion was enjoyable but Terra Blues was superb. A good start to the road trip today then, but rain is forecast for the afternoon tomorrow, which may scupper some planned activities. There’s nothing I can do about, we’ll just have to see what the day brings.