Thursday, October 15, 2009

Here Come The Dutch

This week I took an audio tour of the New Amsterdam Trail, which spans from the southernmost tip of Battery Park to Wall Street in lower Manhattan, as part of a class. Put on by the New York Harbor Parks Conservancy, it's available as an mp3 -- just follow the above link -- and divided into ten tracks to allow for walking time between stops (thanks, guys.)

I've organized my reactions in a Q&A format below. It must be said that I am both interviewer and interviewee, which is handy.


Let me know if there's anything I missed, or begs further explanation.

__________________________________________________________________

INTENDED AUDIENCE?
Although the tour has a great deal to offer curious residents, tourists are the true audience. Some of the early narration holds a clue, casting New York as “a place where Lady Liberty stands as a beacon on her shores,” etc. No one talks this way about New York to New Yorkers.


OBJECTIVE OF THE TOUR
To honor the arc of early NY history, especially the role of the Dutch; to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s landing in Manhattan; to drum up tourist business amid the “dynamism and renewal of downtown today.”


HELPFUL TO BE FAMILIAR WITH THE SUBJECT / SETTING?
I wasn’t very familiar with the harbor or the financial district at all, which cut both ways. I backtracked once or twice because I was off the “grid,” but seeing Castle Clinton for the first time and picking out seals of Dutch trading companies on the façade of a modern building – pretty cool.


WHAT'S THE NARRATION LIKE? ANYTHING NOTEWORTHY ABOUT THE STYLE/TONE
The narrator is never named – or, rather, he never announces himself. He might work for the National Park Service, or the New York Harbor Conservancy? Quite often he hands off the narration to historians, scientists and authors like Russell Shorto to provide insight and commentary.

Authorial in tone, like a '50's nighttime newscaster. To be fair, it was clear from the outset we would be hearing from experts. Even so, it didn’t seem like the experts were reading from scripts; the commentary sounded loose and conversational. Hearing an excerpt from Hudson’s journal, or other first-hand accounts, helped to ground the tour.


WHAT WAS THE PHYSICAL EXPERIENCE?
Cold! I made the mistake of under dressing for a waterside tour in the early evening, in October. But the length of the tour, in terms of walking, didn’t feel very long, and walking through Battery Park and lower Manhattan was pleasant.


ATTENTION DURING THE TOUR: HELD OR WANDERED?
Mostly attentive. More so when there was a physical object anchoring the tour stop (a plaque, landmark, etc.), less so when there were long stretches of narration without a break. When my attention wandered, a sound effect – birds squawking, a shovel hitting dirt – always brought me back.


ANY AWKWARD MOMENTS?
Well, belying the audio's cheerful tone, there were times when the issue of slaves and slavery (Peter Stuyvesant, ahem, or building the wall of Wall Street's namesake, AHEM) couldn't be sidestepped. And no matter how benevolent and morally sophisticated the Dutch were for their time, they brought slaves to Manhattan, and they treated their slaves like slaves. End rant.


HEAR FROM ANY LOCAL VOICES?
It was noted that park rangers, who added narration, work in Federal Hall, the last stop on the tour. And maybe the writers and historians live in New York, but I didn’t feel like I was hearing from local voices, necessarily.


ABOUT THE PAST, PRESENT OR BOTH?
Both. The tour was historical, of course, but it took great pains to acknowledge the lasting Dutch influence on American government and language (Harlem, cookie, etc.)


RECOMMENDED FOR FRIENDS? FRENEMIES?
Friends, especially tourist-friends with a strong interest in history. Resident-friends in need of a new lends through which to see the financial district and / or who possess an abiding love of the Dutch, might also enjoy the tour.


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