Why I Love NY

It was like Sex and the City.

Except Carrie (that’s me) had loaned her wardrobe out for a fortnight, and was keeping the company not of her three best gal pals, but her 26 year-old cousin, and was sleeping on a bed which was more ‘sofa’ than ‘four-poster’.

Don’t get me wrong. It really was spectacular, waking up and looking out over the water, on one side towards the Statue of Liberty, on the other to the New York skyline, stretching from the Chrysler Building and the Rockerfeller Centre, across Soho and Greenwich Village, right down to the Financial District.

{{ quote If you want to fall in love with an eligible bachelor, go on a singles cruise. Traveling to New York alone- as with Venice- will have you falling for one thing alone: the city itself. }}

It was incredible to watch the sun go down over Central Park, seen from the rooftop garden of the Metropolitan Museum.

But if you’re after a conventional fairytale, read on and be crushed. No holiday romances here. If you want to fall in love with an eligible bachelor(ess) , go on a singles cruise.

Travelling to New York alone– as with Venice– will have you falling for one thing alone: the city itself.

In my New York, the two Ls were conspicuously absent. Unless by ‘Labels’ Carrie meant luggage-labels or discount tags.

And unless by ‘Love’ she was referring to ‘LOVE’, the subterranean bar-club on MacDougal Street, in the heart of downtown Manhattan, nestled cosily beneath a tattoo-parlour.

Let me tell you about this New York. My New York.

First glances at any city are rarely unbiased. They have always been impressed upon by some external influence, usually the media, or the tales of travellers, all with their own ‘favourite bits’, ‘least favourite bits’, ‘bits you simply have to see’….

New York for me meant TV and film- Friends, Sex and the City, Manhattan and Annie Hall, Fame, Coyote Ugly….the list goes on. Scriptwriters tend to choose characteristics of the city which best fit their plot and concentrate on those. If you were to see Sex and the City, but not Coyote Ugly, you might think New York was paved with handbags and shoeboxes (in the same way that London is paved with gold!). On the other hand, the number of venues in the city where waitresses heckle at bad tippers and dance on the bar are very few.

After visiting the Dali: Painting and Film Exhibition at MOMA, I realised that everyone is vulnerable to the downfall of formulating such misconceptions. In his ‘The Surreal Mysteries of New York’, Dali envisaged a city completely overrun with murders, from Fifth Avenue to Harlem, and Mafia Gangs heading over in swarms, on boats from Jersey City. He was pleasantly surprised.

As was I.

Fly to New York. Stay with cousin. When plans advance no further, days can be passed quite simply. Or not. The thrill is all in the chase- the adventure and the exploration.

I couldn’t not see/do certain things. But one day really was enough to hit midtown– the Empire State Building, the Rockafeller Centre, the Chrysler Building, Grand Central Station….

…all of which are impressive, to say the least.

The potential for magnificence in a city of blocks and glass windows had me in awe. As modern as it may be, New York has managed to retain elements of the authentic old. Reflected in every mirrored window is the spire of a church steeple. The old and the new combined. That is how the city was designed. Architecture which is centuries old still has the ability to allude and trick you in seemingly hi-tech ways.

#### Secrets on this note

* Outside Grand Central Station is a huge clock, whose face is made from the largest example of Tiffany glass in the world.

* On the dining concourse of the station, near the famous Oyster Bar and Restaurant, the curve of the domed ceiling, in the “Whispering Gallery”, allows whispers to be carried across from one corner to its opposite, sounding like a shout. It is a popular spot for marriage proposals– I only wish I was there with somebody at the time, to really put it to the test.

* The mural on the ceiling of the main concourse depicts the stars with the zodiac painted backwards. People often think this was a mistake on the part of the artist, Paul Helleu.

In fact, he really meant it this way– the idea was to depict the zodiac as they might appear if seen from the other side of the celestial sphere. Which I find truly inspiring.

It wouldn’t have been right for me to omit such things from a list of ‘must-sees’. There is a reason why they are famous spectacles. Nor would it be for me to skip past the galleries.

I did give a day for the Met., a day for the MoMA, a day for the Gugenheim. Outside the Met., I met an interesting old man who insisted on taking a tour around Central Park to show me ALL the scenes of the Hollywood movies. Oddness aside, he turned out to be an incredibly influential fellow- the chairman of the Advisory Committee of the Met., in fact. Some good can come of talking to strangers.

The MOMA has an incredible garden area where you can buy gelato, and the Met. A wonderful tea-room overlooking Central Park, which is open late after closing into dinner time. So if art’s not your thing, but it is for your better half, there are always ways to pass the time…

But really, when it came down to it, I found my true home downtown in Soho. I would say to anyone considering New York as a travel destination that there will be places you like and those you loathe. After I went to Times Square and Saks Fifth Avenue once I never wanted to go again. After I went to Prince Street once I was smitten, and I never wanted to go anywhere else. Find your home, and then enjoy it.

#### Secrets of Soho

* A huge Apple store bang-smack in the middle of Prince Street. Open until late, with free internet access. There were regulars in there who I’m sure spent every hour of every day there, dancing to iTunes or using Skype. Maybe not so much a secret as a fact. But a useful one to know, which you won‘t find in any travel guides.

* On the corner of Prince and Greene streets, you’ll find a street cart that sells the most incredible burritos you’ll ever taste. There’s always a half hour wait. But head into Apple and check your emails and the wait will be worth it.

* Directly outside the Wolford store is a an ice-cream van, permanently stationed, which makes elderflower ice-cream and bilberry fro-yo. You simply must try the Strawberries and Cream.

* All of the best Soho bars are on Mercer Street. The best pubs, however, are on Spring Street.

* Sullivan and Thompson Streets tend to be quiet, but hold some hidden treasures. Underground bookshops full of dusty volumes remind you of the ones along Charing Cross Road, and ‘thrift stores’ are aplenty, many with $1 rails for the wallet-conscious.

After only a couple of days, I learnt that what it is to be a stranger in New York is almost the same as being a local in New York. Stranger or local, loneliness– or independence– in such an adventure comes with its pros:

One: You are, somehow, licensed to talk to anyone. Anyone. Because there is nobody else to talk to besides those you haven’t met before.

I got talking to a street artist about his liberal use of acrylic. I said I valued how he was letting paint just be paint. He handed me a brush and let me let paint just be paint.

I saw a guy who looked like a cross between Patrick Dempsey and Dermot Mulroney walking his dog along Greene Street beside me. “Cute dog.” I said. “Thanks…you like dogs?” he answered. And thus the conversation began….

Two: You can wear anything. And I saw some weird get-ups. Maybe it’s more about how you wear it, but the feeling is that whatever you wear, if you feel comfortable in it you’ll look comfortable in it. And that’s how you blend in to the chilled, casual ambience. Everyone in New York seems comfortable in themselves– there is a kind of balance between total anonymity and individuality that I haven’t ever felt as strongly in any other place in the world.

Three: You don’t have to go shopping. You don’t have to wait patiently (or impatiently) outside changing-rooms, holding ‘definitelys’, ‘cast-offs’, and ‘maybes’, in three different hands. You don’t have to do anything. Except what you want (does that sound selfish?).

Four: You can go for coffee on your own. With a book. At a table on the edge of the outdoor veranda. And you people-watch. Not because you’re waiting for someone. Not because you’ve been stood up. But just because you fancy a coffee.

Five: You can eat street food or an expensive haute cuisine spread- without looks of judgement in either case.

It is one of those places ‘you just have to go’. Though I never knew quite why I ‘had to go’, that is precisely why I did.

You might be living the high life, shopping at Barneys’ and Bloomingdale’s, or simply treading the well-trodden streets, living at least the experience, if not the Dream. Whichever road you choose to go down, New York is a place neither to be underrated nor underestimated.

The truth is, there are two sides to every tale, and there are two faces to every city.

In the case of New York, however, the city is less a flippable coin, more a rolling dodecahedron. Its faces are black, white, Asian, European… Its sides are graffitied, mosaiced, old brick and stainless steel.

So my final piece of advice to you is this:

With Manhattan’s population density of 25,846/km² (that roughly equates to one person per every 40m²), and with over a third of its residents foreign-born, it’s not hard to see why it‘s an exciting place to be. The intricate politics of the U.S. overtly influence every region of the country, except the economic capital itself, which is too immersed in culture and art to even seem to notice.

If you want to get to know America, don’t go to New York. It is the whole world upon one island. If the whole world as your oyster is an idea you can deal with, however, then New York– that oyster sitting in one destination– may just be your kind of place.


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