The next morning David, my aunt, and I took the subway back downtown, walked down fifth avenue and around the governmental area of the city, and visited ground zero. After having conflicted feelings about the terrorist attacks and the government's response to them, it was grounding to see the site and meet people who were directly affected. New Yorkers, ironically, seem more resilient and more matter-of-fact about the attacks than most of the rest of the country, though they lost the most. Many were ready to help at the time, and now are ready to move on.
We visited a couple of churches in the area (one with gravestones dating from the early 1700's) and walked down Wall Street. On Wall Street was the site where George Washington took oath as first president. Despite a general discomfort with my country's current views and position in the world, I felt stirrings of patriotism for the USA as a concept, or perhaps as it was in Washington's time. One can be cynical and claim that the Revolution was entirely economic and driven by the same selfish interests as most everything throughout history, but I don't fully subscribe to that cynicism. I think that the Constitution was well-written, and that the freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights fairly well-articulated. It's a tribute to the writers that they have remained more or less in place for so long, despite repeated attempts to undercut them. I only wish that current citizens had the same enthusiasm toward and involvement with the government, and the same sense of civic pride and duty, as citizens then did. (Aside: this exposition may be influenced by Lessig's book Code which I'm reading now: in the first chapter is a very interesting discussion on governmental "codes" and structural vs. substantive freedoms.)
We made our way to the free Staten Island Ferry, where we took a gander (from a distance) at Ms. Liberty. We contemplated walking the Brooklyn Bridge, but it was so cold - below freezing - and the wind was so severe that we opted to go uptown to get a pint at McSorley's Old Ale House, in the Ukrainian district. On the way, we were accosted twice by film crews, the first a group of students doing a piece on hats (David, my aunt, and I were all wearing them, so we were filmed), and the second filming a promotion for St. Patrick's Day 2005. After half a pint each (and another half that was somehow consumed between the three of us), we wandered a bit more, then got dinner at Fedora's, a friendly, old-timey place which served "American" fare in six courses, bread through dessert.
On Tuesday, David and I walked by the Empire State Building (which we decided was the classiest skyscraper we had seen, with its early modernist lines and art deco interior) and the flatiron building. We met up with my aunt at the White Horse Tavern (another old pub where Dylan Thomas hung out a lot) for lunch, found a lovely little cafe for tiramisu, then walked eastward through SOHO to the Brooklyn Bridge. Manhattan is definitely the most interesting American city I've been in. On every corner there was a nice shop or eatery, and almost every building has a history and a style. Most U.S. cities I've been in have either been boring and modernist, with a drained and ugly downtown due to suburban sprawl, or they've tried so hard to be trendy and interesting that the effect is equally flat an uninviting. New York doesn't try; it just is quirky and interesting and pedestrian-friendly. Even the ornamentation on buildings is ornate yet unpretentious. From what I've heard, Boston is this way too, but I've never been there.
We wandered across the Brooklyn Bridge (which I think is the most beautiful bridge I've been across) and into Brooklyn Heights, on the western waterfront facing Manhattan. Soon our feet were complaining, so after that David and I returned to our friend's. Later that night, two other Berkeley friends flew in, and the four of us went out for a late dinner at an Afghan restaurant on St. Mark's Place, and expensive dessert and drinks at The Coffeeshop Bar. I'm glad we got one night on the town. :~)
David left for the airport at 4 a.m. the next morning, but I was leaving later that day, so met up with my aunt to wander through the Met, have a celebratory lunch at the Boathouse Restaurant (I had just gotten the NSF email), and walk through Central Park before catching the A-train to JFK. The weather this last day was gorgeous, with temperatures in the fifties. I wish it had been that warm earlier in the week. :~)
Now I'm in Pittsburgh, hanging out in a hip funky coffee shop with relatively cheap internet. I haven't been able to find open wireless networks (which is surprising, mere blocks from CMU), but at least this is only $5/day, and it's a local company with many locations. A friend of a friend kindly showed me around campus and answered my incessant questions for a couple hours this afternoon before leaving for a class. I've also been corresponding with another friend of a friend, and someone on the ballroom team here. Everyone seems so friendly and willing to show me around and answer my questions. My general impressions are positive, but I'll post updates after the official HCII visit activities, which begin at 7 p.m. tonight.
Last night I got a call from the head of admissions at U. Washington Information School, telling me that I've been accepted, so now my decision is even harder. (I've also been officially accepted into the SIMS Masters program, but not the Ph.D. program, which I had unofficially heard a while ago.) Later I'll try to enumerate the pros and cons of each program I'm considering and post a poll, after I have a better idea of what each program is like.