Reaching

2nd Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas
2nd Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas

Stretching despite curves 

extending reins, influence 

as maker, bridges

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For the high

Downtown Chicago as seen from the 86th floor of a building.
Downtown Chicago as seen from the 86th floor of a building.
For thrill of the high
seeker, on elevator
shooting up above

‘Cause I’m going to strawberry fields

The best part of travelling to a new city is the discovery. You discover traditions, cultural qualms, and awe-striking moments that the inhabitants of the city take for granted.

New York City was like that for me. In addition to my Wall Street adventures and the breeze-kissing Staten Island Ferry ride, I also happen to walk, a lot, into nature while she was doing what she does best—being.

It was during one of those unexpected walks that I came across Strawberry Fields.

The moment I knew I’d be visiting NYC, I made a “where to go when” list. And I’d set aside the entirety of a Sunday to exploring the Central Park. I’d heard of it so many times, referenced in movies, TV series, and books, that I was itching to experience it for myself. But I had no idea about Strawberry Fields.

Strawberry Fields —John Lennon memorial in Central Park, New York City

Strawberry Fields —John Lennon memorial in Central Park, New York City

Walking around Central Park on a warm Sunday morning, I felt home. All around me tourists dropped jaws, clicked photos, and shopped for souvenirs while locals jogged on, unperturbed, uncaring. Letting my feet guide me to no place in particular, I headed ahead seeing green everywhere I turned.

And then I stopped at a board that read, Strawberry Fields. It had a mention of Yoko Ono, a vague message I couldn’t discern, but it urged me to enter anyway. A large triangular-shaped field met my eyes. I walked along the edge of it which, though covered in trees, still had a good view of the residential buildings that lay beyond.

Turning around, I noticed a clamour of people huddling around. It took me a while to spot the massive mosaic on the ground, around which they took turns photographing. The words I’d seen on the board at the entrance made sense now. This was John Lennon’s memorial, and Yoko Ono had something to do with its dedication to him.

Approaching the mosaic, I passed painters and small-scale vendors who sold John Lennon buttons and magnets. Engravings, quotes, photos, song names—it was more than enough to kindle nostalgia and tease passers-by to buy. When I approached the mosaic, I saw what attracted people so much: an engraving with a single word, Imagine.

Of course, it’s one of the first John Lennon songs I’d heard, and it’s still my favourite. A smile escaped my lips without my consent. For the first time in life, it didn’t bother me that I was part of a cult. It didn’t bother me that I, like the rest of the idiots around me, was a fan. Perhaps not as raving as they, but raving still in my own way. I watched as couples, groups, and kids came forward one after the other, taking turns to capture their moment with what’s left of John Lennon’s memory.

Travel, and nature, for me, isn’t just about going to places. It’s not about posing for photographs in front of aged memorials and historical monuments. Travel for me is about being in the moment. It’s about inhaling a fresh breath of history, of standing someplace reminiscing its story and sensing the elation that comes with knowing that I’d become part of that history. Knowing that everything we consider essential and grand in our lives is futile and will fade away just like the people and the stories of which I was hearing. Travel, in that aspect, teaches that nothing we cling to is permanent.

And with that thought, I turned away. I later learnt that the name Strawberry Fields comes after a song he wrote for The Beatles, Strawberry Fields Forever—which, in turn, was his dedication to a children’s home called Strawberry Field back in Liverpool, England near the house he grew up in.

As for the residential area I’d seen while walking around the edge of the field are the Dakota Apartments—where Lennon lived in his later years and where he was killed in 1980.

I didn’t know all these when I stood in the field but knowing it now magnifies my experience and adds a whole new layer of meaning to my trip.

Stopping at the Grand Central Terminal

You have to understand that when someone says Grand Central Terminal, not everyone thinks of a train station. That’s how it was for me when I read about it online. Weeks before my trip to the US, I scoured the internet for things to do in New York City. We had three and a half days and a lifetime’s worth of experiences to expect.

And so it was on a travel website that I came across this must-see place. Upon reading a review, it dawned on me that terminal referred to the train station, but I still was nowhere close to prepared as I entered the station.

Grand Central Terminal display boards

Grand Central Terminal display boards

My friend and I walked a long path, scanning the map to identify the exact entry point. And when we, at last, figured it out, we rode down the escalator to the actual lobby of the station.

In hindsight, that moment of my life was like a movie. My jaw dropped on its own accord, and my eyes grew wider than in a long time. For someone who’s accustomed to dingy stations overflowing with weary travellers who clutch five or six carry-on bags, wailing children, the stench of uncleaned coaches, the whiff of engine smoke, and months worth of grease on every wall and railing, the central terminal was a make of pure gold.

It’s funny, but the station walls were mustard, glowing in gold because of the thousands of lights that lined every inch. People flocked, of course. But nothing else seemed even to remind me of the train stations back home. Arches to my left and right led to tracks on both sides. A stairwell on either side made up a path that went around the centre of the terminal. And right in the middle, facing me was a grand gold board displaying departure and arrival times.

Blinking in slow motion, I tilted my head upwards gawking. There, stretched out across the entire ceiling was a mural—a gorgeous work of art—illustrating the night sky, the stars, the moons and, the zodiac signs. Orion seemed to wave at me, and the majestic Scorpio slithered in a corner. I spotted Cancer and Leo and the good old Libra weighing, analysing every situation.

My mind felt amused. My heart elevated. And my body transfixed. It was grander even than the setup palaces in movies. And trust me, Tamil (my mother tongue) movies have a lot of castles.

I couldn’t imagine the genius that went into building such intricate works of beauty into a train station. Its purpose was the same as any other train station in the world: helping people find their trains. But this station went way beyond: there was a massive food court in the lower levels featuring the best of culinary experiences like fresh gourmet bakeries, Shake Shack, and the Oyster Bar. And as if that weren’t enough, there were over 40 retail shops within the station, including the likes of Starbucks, Apple, and various other chain stores.

It’s no wonder that Wikipedia claims that in 2013, over 21 million tourists visited the station—not to board trains but to experience architectural marvel and elegant interior designing. And of course, the Grand Central Terminal is a US National Historic Landmark.

While I was busy wrapping my head around the many glittering things about the station, most people around didn’t care as much. New Yorkers. They were more worried about missing their trains or losing their seats. Alas, I realised, perhaps the Grand Central isn’t as exciting when you’ve been there a hundred times.

Grand Central Terminal, New York City

Grand Central Terminal, New York City

Tourists, on the other hand, seemed satisfied with posing for a few photographs against the glowing granite walls, or with the shiny display board in the backdrop. It’s a memory worth keeping and cherishing. Would they spend another evening of their vacation at the same place, I wondered doubtful.

In my case though, there’s every chance I missed many little noteworthy things at the station. And I’m sure that if I go back, it’ll still seem different, new, and impressive as the first time.

Perhaps that’s the difference between a tourist and me—it’s not about where I went or stood, but about the significance of the place and the spine-tingling sensation afterwards. It’s not about selfies or Instagram Stories, but rather more about the muse it leaves me with and the undeniable yearning for more.

Shades

NYC skyline

NYC skyline from the Staten Island Ferry

Hundred skin colours

and a million shades of light

admired world over