I Heart NYC
NYC and I have been ‘on a break’ for the last few years. It wasn’t Manhattan, it was me. We didn’t fall out, as such. Perhaps it was a case of too much too soon – after my very first visit to the city in 2008, I visited several times within a two-year period. Like at the beginning of any relationship, we had a magical honeymoon period where I just couldn’t get enough.
If you were in Manhattan during those two-years, you may have just spotted me. I was the one at the top of the Empire State Building gasping in awe at arguably the best skyline in the world. You may have heard me gushing “you must go up just before sunset and stay until dark” to any defenceless New York tourist who was unlucky enough to be captured with my seemingly endless enthusiasm and sparkly eyes as I spoke about my new love.
I was also the one who pranced up and down fifth avenue like a show pony – swinging my Bloomingdales and Abercrombie bags in celebration of the dollars I had managed to spend (this was back in the day where shopping in America was a financial victory to the then-strong pound) and staring longingly at the Tiffany’s and Co and Chanel window displays.
You may have caught sight of me in Central Park, taking a thousand photographs, walking around the pond, lake and pathways, getting puppy-dog eyes over the carousel and ice-skating rink and studying my map desperately trying to find the John Lennon memorial spot, Strawberry Fields. Back then, I think I may have even enjoyed the ‘atmosphere’ in Times Square.
And then, like even the very best relationships, we hit a bit of a lull. I didn’t stop loving New York, not at all, but it’s fair to say we plateaued.
I started to notice the grubbiness of the streets, and the way that its inhabitants barge past each other without an apology or even a second of eye-contact.
So, we took a break.
Here I am, three years later, back in New York and feeling those butterflies all over again.
I spent my first day back in the city falling back into old habits, but seeing the city through a different lens. Central Park is every bit as beautiful as I’d always believed it to be, perhaps more so. A true haven in the middle of a city so busy it doesn’t know how to stop. Central Park is green, well landscaped, with a perfect view of the midtown skyline. It has the perfect balance of entertainment – live music, volleyball, a fairground for children – contrasted with absolute tranquillity, if you search long enough for the right spot. On a sunny day, you’d struggle to find a better place to relax.
New York is referred to by Jay-Z as a ‘concrete jungle’ which is a refreshingly candid yet perhaps unfair description. I can’t escape the feeling whenever I’m in the city that I’ve been flown into the movie set for ‘honey I shrunk the kids’. I’ll never grow tired of looking up to the sky and finding the blue canvas invaded by buildings so tall that you question where they end and the sky begins.
Feeling small is an inescapable feeling in New York. If you have an ego or a sense of self-importance, spend a little time in New York. The city will soon teach you that you are an ‘anybody’. Unless you stay in a fancy hotel, dine in an exquisite restaurant or drink in the most on-trend bars – in all of which staff are trained to make you feel special – you may not get a second glance in the Big Apple. The city is too busy.
Having travelled to tens of American cities, I’m confident in my assertion that the American people are a faultlessly friendly nation – with the exception of New York. Taxi drivers bark at you, if you’re lucky, shop assistants sigh in despair if asked for assistance, and most of the other 8-10 million people you share the city with at any one time (this is the whole of New York, not just Manhattan) consider you an obstacle in their journey from A to B. In fact, one in every 38 Americans lives in New York – that should give you some idea of its density.
But New York City will give as much as it takes. While no-one is put on a pedestal, everyone is accepted. New York doesn’t discriminate. You can just be. You can walk the streets, in amongst the most incredible architecture, feeling like you belong.
I think it’s fair to say that my romance with Times Square has probably now expired. It’s still quite the sight, with the huge flashing billboards reminding you of the American dream, and excitement and happiness penetrating the air with as much ferocity as laughing gas. But gone are the days where I want to absorb the buzz 24/7 by staying in a Times Square hotel. A quick trip through the Square (which isn’t even close to being a square in shape, by the way) will be enough for me in the future. The colours on display at Times Square are worth a great big smile, however, boasting every colour in even the most diverse artist’s pallet.
A song called ‘Hey There Delilah’ by the Plain White T’s has the following lyric: “Times Square can’t shine as bright as you”. Every time I hear that I giggle, because the thought of anything – or anyone – shining brighter than Times Square, well it doesn’t bear thinking about.
The lesser-touristy districts – Soho, the meat-packing district, the upper west side, Harlem, to name a few - are more than worth a visit. When in any city, I love to visit the places where people actually live, and New York is not an exception. It’s these areas where you get a feel for the way of life, and can steal a glimpse of the life you’d live if ever you moved. Surprisingly many of these areas are actually very ‘lovely’ – not stunning and mind-blowing like the areas of Manhattan you see on a postcard – but beautiful and sometimes even tranquil.
Remember that girl I told you about who would gush over the views from the top of the Empire State building? Well that girl hasn’t quite traded in her sparkly eyes for a cooler look. I maintain that that view, at sunset, is the best in the world. Watching the city being gradually swept with a tidal wave of darkness, lighting up better than any Christmas tree, makes you feel part of something so very special. It leaves you believing that anything can happen, and you can be anyone.
That is why I’m confident that New York and I are in it for the long run. I’ve fallen back in love, and this time it’s for keeps.
Posted 13/08/2013 by Eleanor Dallaway
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