On the last night of my friends’ stay in the States, we went up to the top of the Empire State Building. Well, nearly the top. If you want to go all the way to the 102nd floor, it costs forty-four dollars. Yes, really. We went up to the 86th floor, where the two stripes of colored light met. It was my first time up, to my friend’s disbelief. What he didn’t understand is that when you’re from here, you don’t go up tourist monuments.
The whole experience left me feeling very strange. When we first stepped outside onto the observation deck, the view took my breath away, but not in the same way that it does when I see another city from up high.
The Chrysler was the first building I spotted. It was so strange to be looking down at the Chrysler. When I worked in New York, I would see the Chrysler at least twice every day—once right before descending into the subway station, and once upon ascending further downtown where my office was. In college I wrote a paper about its Art Deco style for an architecture class. It is my favorite building in New York. I’ve seen it thousands of times as part of the skyline. However, I had never seen it from up above.
I walked around the deck in the freezing cold and saw the Hudson River, East River, New Jersey, Times Square, new World Trade Center, and Herald Square. I saw hundreds of streets that I’ve walked down countless times. I had the strange sensation of seeing the city for the first time. I thought I knew Manhattan like the back of my hand, and I felt that the city I was looking at was not the city I knew. It’s bizarre when you think you know something so well and suddenly see it from a completely different viewpoint.
I’ve seen Paris from every high vantage point: from the top of the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, the Pompidou, and the steps of the Sacre Coeur. They’re views that I find beautiful and have appreciated many times. How can I know Paris so well from near and afar, yet know New York, the city of skyscrapers, from every angle but the top of one?
My friends saw New York City from the top of the Empire State Building on the seventh day of their first stay in the United States. I’ve lived near New York City all of my life and had never seen it the way I did that night.
It made me wonder, what else have I been missing in my own backyard?