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Chris Sayer’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 05 Jul 2014

Location: New York City, USA

MapThe word “iconic”, in its strictest sense, refers to an object of religious devotion, so to call New York City as “iconic” is probably not accurate. Then again maybe it is, when you consider the number of songs that have been written about it, or the frequency of famous landmarks that you pass as you stroll its streets and avenues.

After a short flight from Montreal to NYC’s regional airport La Guardia, we checked into our hotel on 79th Street, and then headed downtown on the subway. Getting off the train at 42nd Street and emerging at street level, we found ourselves in the middle of Times Square. Crowds of people were around us (in fact, half a million people go through Times Square every day), and you are compelled to look up. You find yourself in a glass canyon, the sides soar into the sky around you, and there are huge advertising televisions everywhere you look. Gigantic screens in colour blast you from all directions, while cars, trucks and taxis all sing the same song as they honk horns as if in a choir.

Our first full day in New York was actually spent out of New York City. Due to complete chance, our visit coincides with a concert by Crosby Stills and Nash at an outdoor amphitheatre at Bethel Woods Centre for the Arts, which is a two-hour drive from New York City. We were able to catch a bus from the city to the venue (although the return journey was another story, one for relating over a wine and a couple of hours. Thank goodness we had Dayna still in NYC, able to hire a rental car for a rescue mission). Why would we want to go to that trouble to travel so far? Bethel Woods Centre of the Arts has been recently built on the site of the Woodstock Music Festival of 1969.

The setting was idyllic – pasture and farmland surrounded by thick forests and serene lakes. Before the concert, we ambled a short way down a country road to where a plaque has been placed to commemorate the concert. Standing at a farm fence, I could’ve been looking over any large grassed paddock anywhere in the world, except that 45 years ago, this paddock had more than 400,000 people, for three days making it the third largest city in New York State. I have listened to the Woodstock soundtrack and watched the movie so many times, that standing there looking at an empty paddock gave me goose bumps.

The Arts Centre had a museum of memorabilia from Woodstock, and it was a fascinating snapshot in time – a time when the world was rapidly changing in the late 1960s. The concert that night was great too.