‘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.

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Central Park, New York City

Champion

Face world’s fakery

with a champion beside

enemy’s behind

— — —

Photo: Central Park in Manhattan, New York City
World Trade Center - New York City

Spine

Wowing, spine tingling

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comes spine of buildings

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Photo: The ceiling of the World Trade Center, New York City

Ferrying across

“Well, you can’t miss state-n island!”

“The what now?”

That’s how I reacted when my colleague suggested the adventure. I had no idea what that was. As he repeated it, I frowned trying to remember. The more I thought about it, the more it felt like I’d heard the word somewhere. Where, however, I couldn’t figure out. And then it hit me.

“Oh! Isn’t it the stat-en island?”

I didn’t know a thing about it, but word sounded familiar.

I think he insisted it was the state-n island, and I didn’t persist. After all, he should know - he’d lived in Boston for five years travelling back and forth New York City. Besides, he was the one who suggested my Wall Street experience.

But that was the end of our conversation.

Whitehall Ferry Terminal, Manhattan, New York

Whitehall Ferry Terminal, Manhattan, New York

We were in New York City for three and a half days, for two of which we’d be working all day. Although I didn’t discount the ferry ride, I didn’t expect to make it either. I’ve never been much of a tourist, and if the ferry was such a favourite activity, I figured it’d be swarming with crowds and selfie sticks.

However, when I found myself toying with free time on my last evening in NYC, I decided to give it a shot. After all, I’d enjoyed Wall Street despite it being a tourist magnet. Perhaps the ferry wouldn’t be so bad. And it was free.

Walking out of a famous bakery in Manhattan, I headed for the bus that’d take me to the Whitehall Ferry Terminal. Shuffling this way and that on the street, asking for directions and still losing precious daylight, I determined to walk the distance instead. Awaiting the bus would’ve delayed me further, and besides, it wasn’t too far.

Nevertheless, when I reached the terminal, the doors had closed, and the ferry had just left the docks. The next one wasn’t for another half hour. Heaving a sigh, I looked at the large clock inside the terminal. It was 7 pm. Banking on luck, I could make it back to my hotel near Times Square by 10 pm. Satisfied with that prospect, I turned to the scene around me.

The white walls and the white floor tiles reminded me of hospitals. A handful of staff mopped the floors, while anxious New Yorkers queued up behind the great gates waiting to board the ferry as soon as it arrived. The more relaxed folk sat on the waiting chairs, deep in discussion, sharing a meal, or downing a beer. Little stores lined the walls selling food, beverages, and magazines.

There were hundreds of people, buzzing hum of conversation, and yet so few tourists.

I hadn’t expected that. Everywhere I looked, I saw ordinary people-in men wearing comfortable pants and shirts, women in long everyday gowns, college goers with backpacks, and office workers with laptops. Why the party that sat next to me were employees at the terminal! They discussed shift timings and how one of their colleagues who worked overtime and still didn’t get enough pay.

As I sat there, unpacking my cinnamon roll and washing it down with coffee, I realised that I was amidst the true locals.

It wasn’t as I’d imagined, because there were no silly tourists, pouting lips, the pointing of fingers, or feverish chatting in a foreign tongue.

And I savoured every moment I sat there-my vegan cinnamon roll as well as the atmosphere.

Then a horn blared. The ferry was ready for us. As the doors opened, we streamed into the ferry. There I was, an outsider feeling like I belonged there, taking each step with purpose as if it were the most natural thing for me to do.

Heading to the upper deck (there was another one above me), I found a great spot to stand. I held the railings, waiting to hit the waters. Soon another horn blared, and the captain’s voice echoed through the ferry: “Thank you for riding the Staten Island Ferry.”

A few more horns and we were off.

The next twenty minutes, I’d say, was the best I’d spent in New York City. Thanks to Daylight Savings, the sun had just begun to set, and I happened to have a pretty steady hand while the video on my camera ran.

By the time we docked at the St. George Ferry Terminal in Staten Island, the sun had set, and I’d seen one of the best of it I’d ever see.

The ferry back to Manhattan was due in another half hour. But it took me about 10 minutes to get down from the ferry on to the terminal. I stayed inside the terminal, walking around reading the signboards, strolling through the souvenir shops, and trying to make out the massive map on the floor - of the islands in the Lower Bay area, around Staten Island.

And when it was time, I did it all over again. This time, however, instead of the sunset, I saw the infamous New York City skyline illuminated by millions of lights and lives that call it home.

It was an evening that lingered in my mind throughout the subway ride back and still does to this day.

Whitehall Ferry Terminal, Manhattan, New York

“We were very tired, we were very merry — we had gone back and forth.”

Find out more about the ferry: https://www.siferry.com/

A local pedicab guide in Central Park, Manhattan, New York City

Human hunger

Soothing, a joy ride

steaming, a cup of coffee

one’s treat is one’s meal