As I mentioned in my previous post, I want to revisit my thoughts and feelings on New York, the United States and 9/11, having not done so for over fourteen years, or over 7,463,640 minutes.
In getting back to writing, and trying to use words to bare and be open, reflecting on two things I love (New York City, the USA) and something that deeply pierced and hurt that love (September 11, 2001), will be an interesting journey. (Side note; I’ve been looking for my Statue of Liberty, USA flag pin that I mention in my previous post, including digging around in my parents house. Has not been found yet…).
I have been mesmerised by New York City the three times I’ve visited. Although I’ve fallen in love with San Francisco, I find myself often thinking of the Empire City. I won’t compare the two, because that isn’t fair, each one touches my heart, but I will venture into how New York City has taken ahold of mine.
Most recently, I we visited in July and August 2015. I was amazed at the breadth and depth of the city. Where in Melbourne, Sydney and San Francisco, one can traverse a good portion of the city in a day on foot, New York offers a density that doesn’t allow this. Streets and Avenues offer too many interesting sights, sounds and sensations (including smells!) to rush past them. Everywhere is filled with a richness, there is no empty space except the sanctuary of Central Park. Street art here, an interesting window display there, a rich lady walking a poodle here, an amazing musician on that corner. But no horns tooting. Sirens everywhere, usually ambulances and firetrucks instead of police, and incessant. The city is abuzz and is a hive of activity. We had to plan our days into small sections of the city, surrendering in knowing we couldn’t possibly see and experience all the city had to offer, despite trying gamely on the first day. In other cities, one can get a pretty good feel for the layout and find some favourite areas. I felt like New York City was a huge mystery that no one in a lifetime can possibly unravel entirely; almost like a fractal in that the closer you look, the more there is to see and the more immersed you can become.
Central Park seems to be the only true ‘park’ with grass that can be walked and sat on. Many of the little parks had their grassy areas fenced off from dogs and people alike, including the tiny tree plots on the sidewalk. How awful for the dogs! Bryant Park did offer grass to lie on, which a lot of parks seemed to lack, and it was funny being told off by a policeman at midnight, “Time to go home.”
Flat White. Coffee. Cawfee! The lifeblood of any metropolis, and New York’s density, corporate reputation, and Wall Street mentality surely meant there would be good cawfee. Not so much. We spent hours walking from Yelp recommendation to recommendation until stumbling across Caffe Vita in Ludlow Street. With it’s attitude on life, Lower East Side clientele, chilled barista and rock & roll roaster, this was the alarm clock each morning.
Bagels, Bagels, Bagels. A New York religion, and a specialty that seemingly can’t be exported beyond the five boroughs, bagel tastes are specific to each person, but a New York bagel must meet a few criteria: chewy inside, crunchy outside, ‘blistered,’ shiny and boiled. Our perfect morning consisted of leaving our Lower East Side AirBnB apartment, past the crazy neighbour hoarding-lady’s flat, get my bearings (always a challenge for me figuring out east, west, north, south in a grid city for some reason…), walk south to Russ & Daughters (deli, not cafe, important), grab our bagels then continue walking to the aforementioned Caffe Vita for a boost. It is so much fun experiencing the streets of New York before midday, like being behind the scenes of a movie, the mystery is revealed! Beer trucks with kegs refilling cellars of pubs and bars, street cleaners sweeping gutters, no one about, rubbish bags everywhere with the threat of a hot day warming and stinking them up (where the bags go, we never officially found out, just got some local advice that “that’s what happens. The rubbish gets cleaned up.”
With coffee in hand, and bagels wrapped in wax paper, we would find a park bench to enjoy our breakfast before exploring Gotham.
Strawberry Fields (Forever). A moving place in Central Park, opposite John Lennon’s former apartment and home. ‘Imagine’ is inscribed in a circle on the pavement in the memorial space. Many, many tourists scramble to take photos and selfies of the word, usually with a peace sign made with their hand, or flowers, but I think this should be a space of reflection. There are also several artists and musicians around Strawberry Fields.
Pizza, Pizza, Pizza. Another New York institution, the many 24/7 pizza bars around the city. The rules and expectations are simple: thin crust, bigger than your face, freshly made, eat the pizza standing, one handed is best, and flat to get the most taste, not folded. If you’re a fan of Louis CK, then Ben’s Pizza at 123 MacDougal Street near Washington Square Park is a nexus of the universe. It’s not the best pizza (that accolade goes to Joe’s Pizza at 150 E. 14th Street), but it is where strange things happen… First, it’s where Louis CK of the show Louie, is seen in the opening credits (he demonstrates how to eat pizza Noo Yawk style). Second, it’s where we met Antonio Polanco, a guardian Angel, completely by star-crossed chance. Antonio is a poet who lives in Brooklyn, we connected via Instagram, and in the five-borough area where there are more than eight million people, we accidentally meet in the pizzeria of a show we love, who’s creator we happened to meet at Comedy Cellar two nights prior! Whattttttt…
Randolph Moment. This is what happens when stars align and the universe has a plan. The first documented example of this occurred on the 28th of July, 2015. I was ready to go home after exploring the city, only three blocks away, fortunately Luana said “nope, we’re going this way…” towards Randolph Beer (343 Broome Street), where we sat down. I messaged my friend Jeff and his fiancé Stephanie, and they came to meet us. What was a tired moment turned into a fun evening, thanks to not following a plan and just going with it. Randolph Moments are rare, though, and can’t be planned by their very nature. It’s like trying to spot a very faint star, you can’t stare directly at it,you have to look at it from the corner of your eye and never for too long or it might disappear. But when you learn to embrace them (and I’m not very good at that), they are vastly rewarding.
Like the city itself, my writing scarcely does any justice to the scale of wonder The Big Apple offers. Maybe a scratch on the surface, if that. I find it difficult to express my thoughts and feelings on the city, because there is so much that I hold for her: love, amazedness, sadness, intrigue, mystery, sublime. This is a very different post to what I imagined it would be when I started, and that’s ok. Maybe I will close with a poem…
Anything can happen, in a New York Minute.
Love, Louie, laughter and smell.
If you follow your heart, you’ll just stumble in it.
People everywhere, the crowds will swell.
High Line, Lady, Promenade and Met.
But step aside, watch them pass,
Find the hidden gardens and park.
That is where magic will happen,
Don’t look too closely or it may go dark!
Just step to one side, onto that path less travelled,
Be a little afraid, but know something special will hark.
You might just feel your heart aflutter,
And connect with those, and that which matter,
Close your eyes if need be, or take hold of her hand.