Days in New York: The UN and the Upper East Side

Americans seem to adore parades. They have the Mardi Gras, the Thanksgiving Parades, massive Halloween parades and Saint Patrick’s Day Parades which equals anything in Ireland.

One parade which I’d never heard of before is the Columbus Day Parade, but during my research I discovered that we would be in New York around the Columbus Day weekend and what better way to experience the Upper East Side than with a long line of parade floats down 5th Avenue.

The United Nations

But before heading towards the Columbus Day Parade, we’d planned to visit the UN headquarters. Unlike yesterday, the sun was shining brightly today and it was almost sad to have to enter the UN building for a guided tour with such pleasurable weather outside.

However, one cannot regret to enter the halls of this place. The architecture is stunning and the fact that this organisation attempts to gather the nations of the world in peace makes a visit here worth your while – no matter the weather outside.

Our guide was a charming young African man with a particular interest in the work against landmines. He took us through the different meeting rooms ending with the impressive General Assembly Hall. We were lucky that not too many meetings were taking place that day, but from a Danish perspective we were unfortunate that of all the rooms it was the Trusteeship Council Chamber which was occupied.

This particular chamber was first designed by Danish furniture designer Finn Juhl in 1952 and renovated with new furniture by Danish design duo Salto and Sigsgaard in 2013. Thus the chamber is an icon in Danish design history as well as in the architectural history of the UN. It is very likely also the main reason for most Danes to visit the UN Headquarters in New York.

But despite missing out on this symbol of Danish design history, we had a marvellous walk through the UN. However, I was pleased once we got outside and were able to once again enjoy the sun. After yesterdays heavy and cold rain I was enjoying the sun to the fullest.

Columbus Day

I wont be exaggerating when I say that the parade was a let down. It seemed a very small affair in comparison to how I imagined American parades and nothing near the spectacle I’d experienced at the 2012 Vancouver Pride.

Here we were standing around most of the time waiting for the next float to arrive. The floats themselves were often just a truck with no decoration but a sad advertisement or brand. There were some marching bands in between which I enjoyed, but for the most part it was boringly dressed people walking down 5th avenue.

It seemed to be mainly the Italian community which was celebrating this day and I assume that the rest of the New York population was off enjoying the fall foliage on an extended weekend in New England. That at least was where I’d much rather be than standing around for this.

I apologise for being negative, but in a land where we have come to expect that everything is always supersized the thin parade stood in sharp contrast to the rest of our trip.

However, with the brilliant weather our decision to see the parade offered an excellent opportunity to zigzag some of the streets and neighbourhoods of the Upper East Side as well as enjoy a walk through Central Park.

On our walk through the Upper East Side, I found the following description of the neighbourhood from the New York Landmarks Preservation Foundation:

The Upper East Side, today one of the most elegant residential and shopping districts, was first built up following the creation of nearby Central Park between 1857 and 1877. It has gone through several development phases, each of them distinctive and still represented today. Middle-class brownstones in the Italianate and Neo-Grec mode of the 1860’s to the 1880’s exists on some side streets. The Beaux Arts palaces and Neo-French Chateaux of the period, designed by McKim, Mead & White and other architects for the Vanderbilts, Astors, Loebs, and Whitneys, recall the days when those names were synonymous with American industrial and economic power. The Neo-Classical revival facades from the early 20th century show a change in taste from 19th century eclectic opulence; and the luxury apartment houses of the 1910-1930 period sought to retain the high style of private residences, while accommodating a basic change in lifestyle.

The Upper East Side seems a dream for the historically interested architect and full of some of the best of American architecture through the ages. At the same time it seems a land closed off to the commoner, where only the elite of American society has any chance of living.

Central Park in comparison seems a breathing hole shared by all New Yorkers and offered a marvellous walk across the Great Lawn and down along the Lake.

We ended the day under the neon lights and large billboards at Times Square along side the many cartoon characters and fellow tourists.


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