More New York City Impressions
It was recently pointed out to me that I haven't blogged about any New York impressions lately, so let me remedy that with a few observations and experiences...
I've been doing a lot of walking lately, getting lost on purpose, trying to find my way around and discover the sorts of great, tucked-away treasures you can only find when you're not looking for them. I've found some wonderful areas. And, I've certainly found some not so wonderful ones too. But overall, I'm amazed at how quickly I'm picking up the lay of the land.
I've wandered into magnificent cathedrals, book stores boasting 18 miles of books, along the pier lined with modern and classical sailing vessels dwarfed by the city skyline, through beautiful parks, small grocers and street corners that look like a Sesame Street set, and sideswalk flower stalls you simply have to stop and take in, if for no other reason than to cleanse your nostrils from the smells of the street.
It's funny who's wandering the street with you. Women in $1,000 dollar dresses walking the tiniest dogs you've ever seen. Lots of those. The women. And the tiny dogs. And you can take these dogs into just about anywhere from the grocery store to the bank. It's like hundreds of Paris Hiltons running around. But with more brains. And better sense. Not that many of the people walking the dogs were actually the dogs' owners.
You'd think with a city this size, that the entire thing would be monolithic and overwhelming. But that simply isn't true. Manhattan is saturated with some of the most beautiful, intimate spaces I've ever found. Another thing I find amusing is how, when you first get here, you learn the city as a series of patchworks, zones centered around the subway stop you came up from, ignorant of how they all go together. The other day I was wandering just a block or two from NYU, when I stumbled upon Soho (a wonderful, artistically drenched part of the city) and the Anglelica theater where I'd eaten and seen a film just a few nights before. I had no idea that they were next to each other.
When I'm not on the street, I'm in the subway. Aside from some very minor hick-ups, I haven't had any major problems navigating. On the mornings I have to be in class, I always leave home early to avoid the rush hour crush. If you want to know what a sardine feels like, ride the NYC subway at 9am. At stops, people push and shove their way past each other with little care at all for thoughtfulness or politeness. The other day, as the train pulled to the Times Square station, a 50-something woman began muscling her way out of the car like a linebacker, shoving people left and right, and certainly would have knocked several down had it not been for the fact that the crush of bodies made falling impossible. When they turned on her angrily, she simply turned around, glared in my direction and exclaimed loudly that she'd been pushed.
One of my favorite moments on the subway is when the express train and a local train find themselves parallel to each other, both going about the same speed. You can look out your window and into the car of the opposite train and read the newspapers of the occupants there if you wished. It is as if you are standing still and simply looking out the window onto another stopped train. Then, as the local slows for one of its many stops, you peel away and rush again into the darkness. There have been several instances when I've been on the express train and literally wondered if I'd make it out alive. Racing down the tunnels at horrifying speeds and feeling and sounding as if they will shake apart at any moment, it is little consolation when I glance around the car to see only non-plused reactions on the faces of my fellow occupants.
I ate lunch at McSorelys the other day. Touted as the oldest, continually running pub in New York City, McSorelys dark wood walls are decorated with all sorts of pictures from its patrons down through the ages. You won't find many women in the pictures. Truth is, the pub only began admitting women when the government forced them to. That was in the late 70s! They serve Coke-a-Cola for the ladies and either a light or dark beer, brewed on the premiss, for the men. The appetizer consists of crackers, cheese, and onions. The menu is small pub fare. The floors are liberally sprinkled with sawdust.
Speaking of food, I've loved discovering the push carts that dot the street corners, where, for a dollar, you can get a coffee and a bagel. And coffee here follows a more European sensibility. If you want it black, you have to ask for it. If you just ask for a "coffee," it comes with cream and sugar already added.
The coffee is not the only thing that reminds me of Europe. The entire city has the feel of a major, metropolitan, European city with quaint streets, old buildings, outdoor cafes and a dozen different languages overheard by the people you pass on the street. It is an intoxicating, electric, liberating feeling.
All in all, I was struck the other day by the fact that I am loving being here. And I have yet to encounter any sort of culture shock. I feel as if I belong here and have been here for ages.