Visit: 22nd October 2016
Being a student again is wonderful in so many ways, but one of the best aspects is the return of frequent spells of time off. My first such period was the October half term, so I took advantage of it by booking flights to New York to stay with my old friend Jeffrey, whom I hadn’t seen in 3 years. The airline on this route was Air India, oddly enough. They have a route from Ahmedabad to Newark via London, and price the second leg very competitively. A classmate of mine was on the same flight, so I had someone to talk textbooks with as we crossed the ocean.
On arrival I rode the rather impractical airport monorail to the local railroad station and thence a shiny silver train into New York’s Penn Station. Jeffrey’s office is not far from there, so it was a short walk to meet up with him.
It was a balmy Friday evening and after exchanging initial pleasantries we headed straight for dinner at a place I’ve been to before: the famous Katz’s Deli, serving corned beef sandwiches that would feed a family of four back home.
Back we then went to Jeffrey’s house in Brooklyn, walking across the steel-girdered Williamsburg bridge. The next morning, though, the weather had changed dramatically – dropping by about 15°C and bringing rain. Unperturbed, we got up early to make our way to Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan for our pre-booked ferry to the Statue of Liberty.
The statue was a gift from France to the United States, given in the late 19th century. It has since become the landmark that symbolises America better than any other in the global imagination. This symbolism was not, of course, coincidental. The figure, representing the Roman goddess Libertas, holds the flaming torch of freedom in one hand and a book bearing the date of the American Declaration of Independence in the other. Another detail, which is not easy to discern unless you view it from a helicopter, is the broken chain around her ankle.
Our tickets allowed us – after two security screenings – to visit the ‘pedestal’, which is the top of the stone base – giving the view in the photo above. It is surprisingly high up, making for a decent cityscape of the skyscrapers of Manhattan (below). Construction of the pedestal was a live-wire issue in New York at the time and it repeatedly ran out of funds, leading to building being halted a number of times. After shipping over from Paris the statue itself actually sat in storage in New York for a year awaiting the completion of its base!
There is a nice little museum inside the pedestal that chronicles the process of design and construction of the statue. Designed by the sculptor Bartholdi, its construction site in Paris drew crowds of sightseers. Gustave Eiffel – builder of the eponymous tower – was drafted in to take care of the steel framework. One of the more interesting exhibits in the museum is this collection of retaining steel brackets, every one of them custom-made to fit the contours of the statue and hold it in place. These original pieces were replaced in the 1980s when they began to show signs of fatigue.
At 113 tonnes, the steel framework makes up the large majority of the weight of the statue, supporting 27 tonnes of 2.4mm-thick copper skin.
I’d like to have visited the crown, but it sells out months in advance. Prior to 1916 the public was actually allowed up to the small balcony that surrounds the torch itself. The original glass torch is now housed at ground level in the pedestal, having been replaced with a more weather-resistant gold-plated torch in the 1980s.
We departed Liberty Island by ferry for Manhattan, where we had the best meal of the trip at Asian fusion restaurant Momofuku in the East Village. After that we visited the Met and the Guggenheim before going out for drinks in Brooklyn and finishing up the night with cheesecake in an all-night diner – a quintessentially American experience.