Archive | September, 2011

Biometrics, Bicycles and Bernstein

25 Sep

The overflowing pond at Green-Wood Cemetary following Irene

It’s funny how two such benign words when pulled together can have such great meaning. When you mention ‘Green Card’, most people in most places around the world instantly know what you are talking about. My personal quest to get my hands on one and the benefits it brings is in process. Some time in the next few months I will have jumped through all the correct hoops, having paid all the correct people to get the right paperwork I need to be considered a legal alien.

It was the day after Hurricane Irene struck and had it not been for the fallen trees and branches littering the streets you would have never known. The sky was an unbroken blue, but somehow the sun was restrained, making the five-mile ride a pleasure rather than an endurance test. My Biometric appointment (finger prints, photographs and signature) was out in Bay Ridge a distant suburb of Brooklyn and since the trains were still a little unreliable after the 48 hour shut down I saddled up and peddled my way out.

Each neighbourhood I passed had its own identity stamped on by the immigrants that had settled it. Italian, to Polish, to Mexican, Chinese and the Hasidic Jews until at some point near Bay Ridge they seemingly melded together so that one street had a synagogue, the next a giant church and still one more a Chinese community centre.

Once inside the process was pretty painless, just one of those soulless waiting rooms with an LED number screen waiting for the count to reach 34. I read a very funny story from Calvin Trillin’s Eating With The Pilgrims and before I knew it my number was up.

Ever prepared I had found a couple of eating options for the way home. I left Bay Ridge and cycled towards Sunset Park and had some Tacos. They were tasty enough, very cheap and best of all served with the kind of luminous Fanta that they banned in the UK about 20 yrs ago. However this was by no means the highpoint of the day, as just around the corner lay Green-Wood Cemetery, a landmark I had read about but never visited.

Much like Highgate and I am sure Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, Green-Wood has a gravitas that extends beyond just visiting its silent residents. Being the highest point in Brooklyn it played a pivotal role in the revolutionary war with the British. It also happens to be one of the largest green spaces in NYC with views to the Statue Of Liberty and deep into Manhattan. Unfortunately bikes are not permitted into the grounds which seems obscure since cars are, but on foot you are able to spot details that may otherwise have passed you by. Hence it was whilst reading up on the history of the revolutionary war that I stumbled upon Leonard Bernstein’s grave. Not that I have any great connection with the composer, it just amused me to have spotted his modest headstone amongst the many grander memorials.

I spent a good hour wandering the grounds barely scratching the surface of the 478 acres. Green spaces like this are so rare and valuable in a city so densely populated. The cemetery offers weekly tours on their own trolley bus, that I am sure give a real insight into the history of the whole place, (this is definitely one of those ‘Not For Tourists’ NYC gems). I on the other hand wandered aimlessly until I decided to head back to the land of the living, only stopping on my way out to have a quick chat with George, the security guard who happily filled me in on his spooky experiences of working nights.