The Statue of Liberty

Today we took the Staten Island Ferry from the southern tip of Manhattan to the north-most point on Staten Island (and back, of course). For a long time the ferry cost only 25 cents for a return trip, then it went up to 50 cents in 1990. But in 1997 they made it free, and it’s still free today.

It’s a 25-minute ride, and a ferry goes every 15 minutes during rush hour, every half hour during the day, and every hour all through the night (this is New York, after all). There are about five boats that carry an average of about 2000 people each trip. It’s a lot of ferrying. Here’s what the ferry looks like:

But the great thing about the ferry is that it goes right past the Statue of Liberty. Despite the Statue being the most iconic hunk of copper in the world, most people don’t know much about it (and that includes me). “Didn’t the French have something to do with it way back when?”

So the real title for this blog post is “I read Wikipedia so you don’t have to.” History is serious business — so from here on it’s all learning, no laughing. Oh, and forgive me if this bores any U.S. readers to death.

In short, France gave the Statue to the United States in 1886 as a gift to commemorate Americans having been free from the British Empire for 100 years. (Well, the U.S. had been free since 1776, which is 110 years, but the French aren’t very good at maths.) France had become best buddies with the U.S. in the American War of Independence.

I guess it went something like this: “We hate the British.” “Yeah, us too.” “Well, let’s be friends! And by the way, do you want a big copper statue of a Roman lady holding a torch?” “Sure! Give us a hundred years and send it on over. And did you say copper? Won’t that turn green in the sea air?” “Copper? Green? No way!”

So some facts about the Statue (more here): the Lady herself is 34m tall, but the Statue is 93m from the ground to the tip of the torch. Her face is 2.5m high. She’s made of pure copper on a steel frame, though the torch in her right hand is now coated is gold leaf. The copper of the statue is only 2.5mm thick — less than the thickness of a New Zealand $2 coin.

The statue was also intended to be used as a lighthouse (the “torch” in the Lady’s hand was the first electric light in a lighthouse). It was used as a lighthouse for only about 16 years, till 1902.

The reason Lady Liberty looks like someone from ancient Rome is because she’s wearing a stola (a female toga), and because she’s based on Libertas, the ancient Roman “goddess of freedom”. The torch is supposed to represent enlightenment. The tablet she’s holding in her left hand (representing knowledge) is inscribed with JULY IV MDCCLXXVI (July 4, 1776 — the first Independence Day). There are seven rays in her crown, one for each of the seven continents. At her feet lie broken chains of tyranny, that is to say, “down with the Brits.”

Oh, two other important facts (thanks again, Wikipedia): in 1912 one Frederick Law was given permission to jump off the Statue with a parachute. He fell a full 23m like a dead weight, then his parachute opened, and according to The New York Times he descended “gracefully”, landed hard, and limped away. And in 1982 a girl named Jessica Skinner was born inside the Statue. Her mother went into labour while climbing up to have a look-see, and gave birth before she could get back down. Listen up, all ye pregnant women who want to get babies out!

Enough history and culture for me for today.

I’ll leave you with a pretty average photo we took today from the Staten Island Ferry (though there’s a much better one here):

Ye olde green cards

I am happy to report that Marica, Esther and I are now the proud owners of U.S. green cards. (Not just the temporary paperwork, but the Real Thing.) The cards arrived in the mail yesterday, so we are now officially Permanent Residents of the United States of America.

And as wonderful as it is, I hope that permanent doesn’t mean forever. Two years seem like a good amount of permanent to me. :-)

Goodbye Christchurch, Hello New York

It’s been a hectic last few days! The days leading up to our departure were filled with last-minute packing and cleaning (thanks to everyone who helped!) and lots of goodbyes. I hate goodbyes, but as far as they go, the ones we had were good byes. :-)

We had many good ‘last’ meals with friends over the last few weeks and a lovely dinner out with my parents on Tuesday night. We were also were so blessed by the farewell we got at church on Sunday. People said many kind things and there was even a ‘celebratory’ cake.

Right now I’m sitting on the floor of a tiny 5th floor apartment in a very hot and humid NYC (last night when we arrived at 2am it was 30 C!) while Ben and the kids are sleeping. I hope it’s a good thing that they’re sleeping and that we don’t all sit awake tonight.

I haven’t seen much of New York yet, but so far I’m not in love with it yet. Apartment living is going to be a challenge, that’s for sure. It’s a good thing we’re in a couple of apartments for the first month while we look for our own place, so I at least know a few things that will be very desirable: something that’s not so *very* tiny, and aircon would be a definite bonus! Heh, the bathroom in this little place is about the size of Marica’s sandpit at home!

And I guess everyone would like to know how the trip went. It went pretty well under the circumstances! None of us got much sleep, but we all got some sleep. It’s interesting, but the 12 hour flight from Auckland to San Francisco was almost easier than the 5.5 hour trip between San Francisco and NYC. The latter was on a smaller plane, we had to have Esther on our laps the whole time (no bassinet) and it was mostly during the day. (Add into that the fact that we weren’t sitting together and had to ask some people really nicely if they’d swap!) The 12-hour flight was during the NZ night time, so the plane was dark for most of the time and everyone felt like sleeping. Esther also had a bassinet and it was a great relief to be able to get her off my lap sometimes and into there.

Upon arrival in NYC the taxi we had booked was waiting (man, American cars are HUGE!) and it was a pleasant ride to our apartment. Finding the apartment was fairly easy, but getting our stuff to the top was a lot of hard work for Ben and the taxi man – it was hot, and there was no elevator and we have a mountain of luggage!

So, here we are. We hope to go exploring a bit later on today, and take Marica to Central Park so she can get the promised horsey ride. We also need to acquire a stroller and a dummy somewhere because I think the dummy got left in the car before we left on our trip. A dummy would certainly have made the whole trip easier, but oh well.

A big thanks again to everyone who helped with packing, cups of tea, and kind goodbyes. We will miss you very much.

We hope to update you again soon!

Packing and stacking

When Ben came home 2 weeks ago and told me that we were leaving for NYC in 4 1/2 weeks instead of the original 12 weeks, I went into a mini panic, so to speak. We made a list of all the things he needed to do and what I needed to do. His list was quite long and included things like “cancel utilities”. My list was quite short – it said “pack”.

I have to pack up all our belongings to go into storage for 2 years, except for the things that we can fit into our suitcases, which even though we have 8 pieces of luggage, isn’t very much.

So we’ve seen a lot of this kind of thing recently:

Even Marica has been quite useful (sort of):

She’s been really good at keeping herself entertained too:

And while there is certain satisfaction in seeing good progress in packing, it seems that there is something inherently wrong and desolate about an empty bookcase.

It reminds me of when my parents moved to New Zealand from Namibia and were selling truckloads of stuff and a guy came to my parents and asked if he could buy their bookcases “with the books”. It was intended to go into his office (I think he was a local pastor) and he didn’t care what the books were, he just knew that lots of books on the bookshelf makes you look intelligent and important. :-)

I’m really looking forward to buying books in the States – it’s so much cheaper there. And then we might have to expand our bookcase collection from 4 to 5!

What you notice when you’re going to NYC

It’s amazing what you notice about a place you’ve lived in for ages when you’re planning a trip overseas. For one thing, Christchurch has a lot of center-city apartments — never noticed ’em before, but now they’re everywhere.

And the other night we went out for dinner to Subway. It’s obvious now, of course, but we’d never connected the name of the restaurant to actual subways. And just as we were sitting down we noticed the decor on the walls … images of a old subway map, New York City’s no less:

Why and wherefore

Several people have asked us why we’re heading away, so here’s a brief run-down. We’ve been thinking about a U.S. holiday for a few years now, but then we thought it might make more sense to save up for a U.S. holiday in the U.S.

I (Ben) am a U.S. citizen, so it’s fairly straightforward for me to work over here. But the first step was me finding work. It turns out that Oyster Hotel Reviews saw my CV online shortly after I put it up early this year. Coincidence? Methinks not.

We weren’t looking in New York City by any means, but that’s where Oyster’s based. And Oyster wasn’t necessarily looking for programmers from New Zealand. So we both thought we’d give it a try, and I went over there to work for them for three weeks in March. That went really well, and they somehow convinced us that the Big Apple wasn’t half bad. :-)

The next step was Franci and the kids applying for visas. It turns out that because we were planning to stay two years, and because I’m a citizen, “they” didn’t trust us not to stay, and that would have made Franci and the kids overstayers. Kinda weird logic. So we had to apply for immigration visas — quite a drama, reams of paperwork, and no small cost. But now we’re all in!

So there we are: trying to finish up and pack up here, and flying to NYC in about four weeks. Oyster’s offices are in Manhattan (NY city centre), but it’s likely we’ll live in Brooklyn. It looks like we’ll be in a temporary, furnished apartment for the first month, and we’ll look for a longer-term rental after that. We’ll post photos when we can!