Tuesday, September 8, 2009

400 Years of Friendship Call for a Big To-Do

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, along with Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Orange and Princess Máxima, as well as Frans Timmermans, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs (above and at left) on the deck of the Intrepid this morning for the welcome ceremony for NY400 Week. Photo by Julienne Schaer/courtesy of NYC & Company.

MAYOR Michael Bloomberg rattled off some impressive stats as a flotilla of ships passed behind him on the Hudson River:

“It’s a heritage that persists today in the names of the boroughs of Brooklyn and Staten Island, in communities known as Harlem and Midwood, streets named Flatbush, Stuyvesant and The Bowery and, in the name of our hometown basketball team, the Knickerbockers.”

MB was referring to the enduring legacy of the Dutch, who laid claim to New York City 400 years ago September when the English navigator and sea explorer, Henry Hudson and crew arrived on the shores of what is now New York Harbor on the ship, Half Moon aka Halve Maen, financed by the Dutch East India Company.

The city’s weeklong celebration – NY400 Week – of that fateful voyage started this morning (through 13 Sept.) with the welcoming ceremony on the deck of the former battleship, Intrepid and included a 21-gun salute (I counted) and performance by the Marine Band of the Royal Netherlands Navy. In addition to MB, in attendance were Secretary of State and former New York senator Hillary Clinton and special guests, Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Orange and Princess Máxima of The Netherlands, whom MB presented with a Tiffany vase depicting iconic scenes of the city.

“New Amsterdam lives on in the distinctive, inclusive spirit of our city,” said MB noting that in 1660 the Dutch colonial governor proudly disclosed that the inhabitants of New Amsterdam spoke 18 different languages. “Even then when we were little more than a frontier outpost we were already in the process of becoming what we are today: The world’s most international, city, open to all those who seek northwest passages to their own heart’s desires,” he said referring to HH’s route that did not take him to the Orient, as planned, but to the New World.

A huge number of events and activities — arts, expertise, history, lifestyle and travel-related — is planned to celebrate that happy accident, some associated with what has been a yearlong celebration by all Hudson River communities of HH's arrival in the state. Boating enthusiasts may get a thrill from “The Flying Dutchman Sailing Race” (regatta) scheduled each day at New York Harbor. A glimpse of how a Dutch American family may have lived in Brooklyn aka God’s country, is possible in “When Brooklyn was Breukelen: A Celebration of the Schenck Houses”(through 31 December). Couch potatoes or those who don’t/can’t leave home could potentially enjoy “The Live in Your Living Room NYC Festival” (13-20 Sept), which brings live music by artists from both New York and the Netherlands into the intimacy of the homes of New Yorkers.

In Battery Park, it is possible to get an upclose and personal look at the “Replica of the Half Moon” (9 Sept.) and meet the captain and crew. Battery Park is also the site of the “Peter Minuit Plaza/New Amsterdam Plein,” a gift from The Netherlands to mark several centuries of friendship. The Royals will be there for the presentation ceremony (11 a.m. on 9 September.) From noon to 6 p.m., the public gets a preview of what may be yet another lovely place for New Yorkers to gather. Governors Island is the venue for the “New Island Festival” (10-13 Sept. and 17-20 Sept.). Not all festival events are free, but if it lives up to its billing of concerts, deejay sets, theater, visual arts and so forth, it may be worth the price of admission. NY400 Week wraps with Harbor Day, essentially events at six waterfronts in the city – the Battery, Battery Park City, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Governors Island, Hudson River Park, and Snug Harbor.

Seemingly, the city is pulling out all of the stops for NY400 Week, sparing little expense, which may raise eyebrows and cause some to wonder whether in this economic environment taxpayer money should be spent on such a party when a simple anniversary card would do. No worries. The Dutch are footing a good part of the bill, and some private money has been thrown into the pot.

Incidentally, Madame secretary Clinton in her comments also shared an impressive stat, courtesy of the mayor: If the Dutch paid $24 for New York, that $24 invested 400 years ago would be more valuable than all the real estate in New York. “I’m glad they did invest. I’m glad they took that risk and very honored to be here to be part of this ceremony,” she said to the crowd of about 200, many of them Dutch citizens, including supermodel, Frédérique van der Wal (See post below, "'Dutch New Yorker', Frédérique van der Wal.")

In reflecting on HH’s journey, she remarked, “The anniversary of the arrival of Henry Higgins and the crew of the Half Moon gives us a chance to celebrate all that New York has been, is today and will doubtless will be in the future, not only the greatest city in the world — which the mayor does not overstate when he says that — but still a beacon of freedom, of diversity of excitement and dynamism, in the extraordinary collection of those who have called this great city their home over all of these centuries.”

Visit www.nycgo.com and www.ny400.org for a complete list of NY400 events. New Yorkers can also phone 311.

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