“This ain’t Manhattan.”
“Yea, they’re not gonna stop.”
The words felt harsh and the faces looked unwelcoming. I was in the middle of trying to wave down a cab in a neighborhood out by JFK airport.
“What should I do? We’re in a hurry, our flight leaves in an hour and a half,” I answered.
We had been so close, just a few stops from the airport’s AirTrain when the subway came to a halt. Hundreds of us were corralled up onto the street where we were chaotically transferred onto busses that slowly took us onwards. After another delay and time running out we decided to look for a cab.
“Just wait here at the taxi stand,” The passerby answered. “They’ll come for you.”
Soon a convenience store worker, watching from inside, came out to ask if we’d sorted out our taxi situation. A couple of people hanging out on the sidewalk updated him. Assured that we were taken care of, he went back in. While waiting we acquired a small team of strangers who seemed to feel like our problem was also theirs.
When we finally climbed into our cab, we were waved off and then engaged for the next twenty minutes by a lively driver who wanted to debate the situation in the Middle East. He was passionate but open-minded and we eventually came to an agreement on what needs to be done, solving the world’s problems and still making it in time to catch our flight.
Moments like these are what come to mind when I think about my first trip to New York City. Americans are often accused of being over-sharers, irking many Europeans who find it disingenuous. I get why it can be off-putting for those not used to it: there are the unsolicited opinions about the jacket you’re trying on in the store, impromptu soul-spilling sessions on the subway, sarcastic jokes from people acting like they know you and debates with the taxi driver. Like Italians, we sometimes just talk for the sake of interaction, not necessary to make a new friend. I’m biased, but I love this constant back-and-forth with strangers and New York culture epitomizes this habit. Your business is their business.
It’s tough to sit down and write about such an iconic place. THE New York City. Am I even allowed? It seems untouchable, enshrined in history, the property of those made filthy rich off its excesses or imprisoned by its projects. I guess the experience is free for the taking and interpreting, even by the tourist with one six-day visit under her belt.
We stayed in an AirBnb in the East Village on St. Mark’s Place. Lined with fashionable bars that were just edgy enough, it was the perfect place to come back to in the evening to enjoy happy hour. That 5-8pm window is your ticket to getting lost in the glamorous Manhattan high life or its hip underworld for half the cost. Sitting and people watching in the early evening with a microbrew or fancy cocktail in hand is almost necessary after a day of nonstop stimulation.
On our first day in the city, we stumbled across a tiny Xi’an noodle shop on the corner of St. Mark’s Place and 1st Avenue. It wasn’t mealtime, but we read eachother’s mind and bolted for the door. We had practically extended our stay in Xi’an, China, for the noodles. I thought we’d never find them again and until now, we hadn’t. I’m writing this in agony remembering how good it was. Spicy and spongy and sloppy…mmmm. We were transported back to China and the simple pleasure of sitting on a street curb and slobbering over a bowl of noodles. Check it out next time you’re there. It’s called Xi’an Famous Foods and there are a few throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn.
There were also the busy Jewish delis and smoothie shops, which became our daily fuel stops. A banana/coconut/peanut butter smoothie counts as healthy right?
Everyday was noteworthy: second-hand shopping in Brooklyn; the Little Italy Market (talk about a unique slice of America); spying on Kanye’s fashion show and its paparazzi frenzy from the High Line; the farmer’s markets; the Smorgasburg food festival in Central Park; the 9/11 Museum; brownstones, street fashion and the Met. I could talk about the Met for a solid three paragraphs. I’m not a museum person but it won me over, and not just because it’s donation based.
There are infinite experiences to be had in New York City and infinite microcosms to get acquainted with in, for most of us, a miserably finite timespan. My usual strategy when visiting a city, be it Paris, Bangkok or Istanbul, is to walk, walk, walk. This is how I soak up its life rhythm, the local chatter and the geography, finding streets less trodden along the way. NYC is the first place I’ve visited that has trumped this method. The bright, noisy avenues that need to be traversed in order to get from one cool neighborhood to the next left us drained upon arrival.
We did our best and saw as much as we could in six days without breaking through the top layer of what the city has to offer. New York owned us this time, but we’ll come back prepared. I’ll cave and get an unlimited subway pass, rent an apartment with a patio, never miss happy hour, bring a map (the skyscrapers screw with GPS), skip the main tourist sites and get more specific: visit the Broken Kilometer art exhibit, B&H photo shop, southern Brooklyn, a jazz show…*
*Now that I’ve seen the city’s endless possibilities, I think it’s only right that this post ends with ellipsis
For photos click here: NYC Blocks