Things that I forgot I love about New York

kanes diner

Before returning to the city after two years away, I made a list of the things I was looking forward to. Several important items didn’t occur to me at the time, but now that I’ve been back for six months, I’ve rediscovered them with delight. In no particular order:

diner tour

Decades old diners

I feel like diners are to New York what bistros are to Paris. At first glance they all look the same, but each one’s character is uniquely shaped by its history, the people who work there, and the clientele who frequent it. Many years ago, two friends and I went on a historic diner tour of northern New Jersey. This spring, we revived the format and spent the day eating one meal after another at various Bronx and Manhattan diners that have stood the test of time and gentrification. In August, we did a Brooklyn-Queens tour and blurred the boundaries to include a 100 year-old soda fountain and not one but two decades-old roast beef joints.

eddies sweet shop

It’s a shame to see so many vestiges of New York’s neighborhood past disappear year by year, but I’m trying to live it up in the ones that are left.

mets gameMets games

Without ever realizing it, I deeply missed the “green geometry of the playing field,” as former baseball commissioner A. Bartlett Giametti called it. Being back in the stands on a blazing hot, crystal clear day and cheering my team on to victory during an otherwise (highly) lackluster season was heavenly. I wore the Mets cap I received for my tenth birthday (and which still fits because, as an optician pointed out at my glasses fitting right before I left for the game, “You have a tiny head.”) I was surrounded by people with thick New York accents, whose love for the team is intergenerational. I felt a deep sense of New York City continuity that I hardly ever feel anymore. On that note…

New York accents, fast disappearing

I read a prediction once that they will die out within one or two generations, replaced by Michigan standard, I suppose. Not sure if it’s true, but it saddens me.

Chowards violet gum and violet mints

Most people think it tastes like soap; I do, too, but in a good way. I have a thing for flower flavors and Chowards is no exception. Plus the packaging is both beautiful and vintage. And it’s a New York City original, since 1934.

general electric building

Excellent art deco and mid century signage and buildings

Design from the period between 1890s-1960s is my favorite, and in my angst about disappearing New York, I forgot how much beautiful typography and architecture the city retains from those times.

pocket park

Pocket parks

I most often think of New York greenery as within the purview of massive parks like Central Park and Prospect Park, but there are also so many tiny, peaceful squares of green dotting this city. They are lovely places to stop and sit amongst a tree and a flower or two.

murray hill

Magic in the everyday

I’ve stopped short several times at the sight of something blatantly apparent yet heretofore unseen by me in my millions of walks around the city. For example, I never noticed the ghost signage and old lettering on two buildings by Astor Place even though I’ve walked down the block they are on countless times. I stopped dead in my tracks when I realized there’s been a circa 1700s house (above) planted right off 3rd Avenue in Murray Hill this whole time. And I discovered a hidden-in-plain-sight cemetery a few months ago while walking a very well-trodden path in the East Village. These new-to-me, old-to-the-city gems remind me that there will always be places for me to explore and delights for me to discover in this city. It’s the embodiment of one of my all-time favorite quotes, by Roald Dahl: “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

Looks like it takes approximately two years away to jumpstart my NYC wonder.

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(get over the) hump day inspiration: Tennessee Williams edition

TennesseeWilliamsQuoteI haven’t posted an encouraging quote for awhile but I crossed paths with this one via Brain Pickings a couple of days ago and it seems eminently appropriate for the times we’re living in. To say the zeitgeist has been getting me down is an understatement. I keep coming back to the conviction that community, connection, and love is the only thing that can save me – us – from chaos and despair.

I have been saying it to myself in much less poetic and profound ways than Tennessee Williams does here, though. This is a beautifully wrapped reminder of what it means to be human.

My gray places

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Much as I wish I were a laid-back person who could live easily with uncertainty, I am not. Though theoretically wonderful, in practice I don’t like gray areas of any kind. One of the gray zones I am most annoyed by is the one created by layovers in states or countries I’ve never been. Having touched down on Chilean tarmac and spent three hours in the Santiago airport en route to Buenos Aires, for example, I might claim to have been to Chile. But having never actually stepped foot on Chilean soil or breathed in fresh Chilean air, I don’t feel that I can. Instead, I imagine myself occupying an uncomfortable liminal state between having been and not having been, that must be rectified by going on a real visit to Chile as soon as possible. Most people could shelve that feeling, or would not have it in the first place. But I like things black and white, and so it nags at me.

Here are my gray area places. Fortunately, I actually do want to visit most of them. Unfortunately, I don’t have plans to do so anytime soon. As the list grows, so does my discomfort.

Countries:

Chile

(The most notable detail of my layover was when a woman in the bathroom stall next to me puked all over the floor and it started seeping into my view. How can I have not truly been to Chile when I was traumatized by an experience I had there? It’s a paradox.)

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Mali

(Below, a view of Bamako, where I spent an hour sitting on a plane with the doors wide open, troubling my “no fresh air” rule.)

bamako from the air

Monaco

(I took a train from Nice to Rome and it went underground through the entire tiny country of Monaco in less than twenty minutes. I only saw a glimpse of it out the rear view mirror from Italy, so to speak.)

U.S. States:

Georgia

(I’ve been through the Atlanta airport twice. Georgia remains the only state on the East Coast that I haven’t officially visited.)

Ohio / Kentucky 

(This one is a double whammy because I flew through the Cincinnati, Ohio airport only to later learn it’s technically in northern Kentucky, which means I now have to visit both states to put the discomfort to bed…)

…Or I could just learn to live with the gray areas of through-travel, and life in general.

Does anyone else have this particular brand of neurosis or am I the only one wasting brain space on it?

 

 

Vietnam part 4: Trang An

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The day after my Halong Bay trip, I boarded another bus, this time to Ninh Binh Province. I spent the day touring Trang An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site consisting of the Bai Dinh Buddhist temple complex (the largest in Vietnam) and a system of waterways and grottoes in which other temples are hidden.

The landscape was just as beautiful as Halong Bay (in fact it is sometimes described as Halong Bay on land), and the temples were stunning, too. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.  Continue reading

Vietnam, part 1: Hanoi

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In March I spent a few days in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi on either side of a shoot in northern Vietnam for an NGO that works throughout the region. It was my first time in the country and I was so lucky to see it from many different angles: urban, rural, natural wonders, hyper-local color.

I’ll share more photos over the next few weeks, but for now here are highlights from Hanoi:  Continue reading

joie de vivre

LES sunlight.jpgApparently the unexplainable feeling of wellbeing I found in Paris last fall was not city-specific. I am very grateful that it has stuck with me in New York, despite the fact that I am cold and penniless. The other day I sat down on a bench at the intersection above, spread my arms out like a preacher, and started smiling maniacally about how gloriously bright it was. For perhaps the first time in my adult life, I seem to be carrying this good feeling around inside of me like Baby Brute in the little Brute family.

It is surely chemically enhanced but it is authentic nonetheless.

The sun helps, of course. There is so much more of it here than in Paris. Knowing when to quit does, too.

My usual tendency is to behave like I’m living in an environment of scarcity. I hold on to every good person, place, or plan as though it’s the last of its kind. When they run their course and come to an end, it kills me. I expected to feel awful about leaving Europe before I was ready to. But I think I have finally internalized that there are opportunities for me around every corner, so I can more gracefully let go of things that just didn’t work out despite my best efforts.  

It helps that the universe is now smiling upon me after months of shit storms. The luckiest break is that I’m off to Vietnam this Friday for a shoot. I’ll be M.I.A. here for two weeks, but then I’ll have lots of photos to share from foreign lands. (I also have a one-day stopover in Hong Kong, which I am super psyched about.)

See you in a few…

My Dakar places

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On Valentine’s Day two years ago, I flew to Dakar. So much has happened since then that it feels more like a decade.

It also feels like I left Dakar ages ago, but it’s actually only been eleven months, which is so unbelievable to me that I redid the math twice. Still, eleven months is long enough to lose touch with a place, and the list I’m about to post may be a little outdated. But I’ve been promising it to myself and others for too long to let it evaporate. And things change far more slowly in Dakar than in New York, so even though there are surely new places to discover, almost all of these old places could still be going strong. (I’ll edit the post accordingly if I learn differently.)

Without further ado, and in no particular order, my favorite places in Dakar… Continue reading