New York City is a friend and also a place where its characters actually healed me and my pains. It used to and will always be.
What are the character elements of this city, not just any city but one of the largest cities in the world. Its parks? Its historic treeline streets? Its surrounding bodies of water? I will say yes to all of those. It is certainly more than that. The nature of New York City has something to do with its buildings, its public transportation systems, its art structures, and mostly its people and their cultures. I avoid mentioning foods in New York all at once. It would be another essay dedicated solely to the dynamic and exquisite New York City food scene.
Long time ago, I first met New York City on a summer day. It was hot and uncomfortable. I have grown accustomed to the condition-controlled environment where I was living, where I technically maneuvered my daily life moving from one fridge to another.
I was sweating away when a subway station full of people greeted me. I was half excited and half scared. What if I got on a wrong train? What if I missed my station? What if I got lost? And there are just so many people sardine in this tiny train. The train is indeed not small, just the intense density made it feel like it. But I got used to that by the third day in the City.
Central Park is grand but a different story. I didn’t like it at first. Fascinating about it and disappointing about it at the same time. There are trees and curving pathways. There are ponds connecting into small and bigger lakes. Some strange angles can make the buildings fade out momentarily and in a split second, you even think you are in an exotic land. Remember we are talking about summer time. Central Park in the winter is a different animal.
Yet there was something missing that I could not put my finger on. I watched families with kids, wedding shooting sets, carriages, bicyclists, people doing yoga and exercises, and readers with a book in hand in many corners. Once in a while, there are topless human beings lying on the grass enjoying sunbathing and (pretending to ignore) people’s attention. I am talking about the facts and people. It’s endearing with no judging here. My missing element could be the connections between people, perhaps. It was my second day in New York City and I was lost.
After spending two days in Washington Square Park, I understood that ‘off’ feeling. Washington Square is right in front of New York University, a medium size square or a small size park with a fountain in the middle and a quasi-impressive Arch gate, mimicking the iconic European Roman Triumphal Arch. I sat in between a sit-sleeping young guy and a performing violist. It was amazing to listen to live music with no distraction from next doors. Other people close by were so immersed in their doings too. They acknowledged the performance and some clapped at the end of each song but they never bothered to interfere by any means. It was so natural to a perfection. That is a pretty unique thing about New Yorkers. They connect on a different level that might not be quite as transparent for a visitor like me.
And there are tons of midsize and small parks* in almost every corner-hood of New York City. They each have a name and history. If you stay long enough you will remember them by heart and they will remember you as well. They have witnessed changes in each neighborhood throughout the years. Many of them are renovated and fixed up. Somehow they retain the honors and spirits no matter how they look at the time.
As a rule, I was tightly budgeted for the whole trip so my main visits to NYC museums are on their free days. It’s quite crowded on those days too but I don’t mind. If I like to go for free, I would have to adjust my tolerance and also donate a small amount to not feel bad about myself. If you have been to a museum, you must know what it feels like. There are some nuances in New York City museums but they are more on the surface of emotional displacement. I won’t go into details here. They are great to the differences of your selected liking. I enjoyed a few free private collections as well. There are stories to tell behind pieces and the reasons they are there, so open but also very private. Museums and art collections are everywhere within the neighborhoods, east side upper and lower, west side upper and lower, West village, Meatpacking District, Chelsea, Tribeca, Noho, Soho, and then many in the boroughs, Bronx, Queen, and Brooklyn. The whole museums and art collections scene in New York City will forever be a mysterious and exciting thing to check out no matter how many times you have visited or even live here. They are very the inseparable and priceless part of New York City as in its body and soul.
I remember my first most exciting public experience in New York City was in Bryant Park where I was sitting on the lawn one early evening watching “Catch me if you can” with a bunch of strangers. They were making small luring sounds while we watched the movie. I didn’t recall hearing noises from vehicles and the city’s movements. My excitement must have blocked everything. It was a perfect night. I was all by myself.
When the movie ended, I walked around the corner toward New York Public Library, right by the Park facing Fifth Avenue. The left lion statue I saw in many movies was two feet away. I was striving to take a poor selfie and eventually giving up. It was poorly lit and I was not so comfortable with the thought that people think I am a visitor. Later I learned to come to term with myself and finally accepted that despite my subtle hope, nobody cares. That opens up a lot in my mind, dries out the wounds that hurt and seem infinitely unhealed before. You see, I like to generalize things and apply them to my other issues as part of some resolving processes. It might come across as irrelevant at first, it might actually be useful, trust me..
Yesterday, I impulsively went on a couple of strenuous elevated hikes. My sore body reminds me of one thing that has been a constant in every of my New York visits: muscle pains. All the times I went there, I counted the walking distance I have conquered everyday. It is usually ten to fifteen times more than I do daily at home. How I was able to pull those excessive physical activities is still a mystery. I love to walk around in Manhattan. That’s something I can do every day despite my whining like a kid each night after a long day. It is physically exhausting. I could feel it on my toes and my feet the first night. Then it is in my calves, my thighs, my ribs, my entire back and shoulders. By the second or the third day, they cried out altogether like a choir singing with surrounding microphones and amplifying speakers at their max level. Walking is painful but it also results in one of my biggest senses of accomplishments. My pains create joy and satisfaction. and that is the magic of the City.
Maybe muscle pains are reminiscent of my New York City antidotes. I miss the time I was push-spinning Astor Place Cube with a few youngsters and cracking up like a silly. I miss wandering around Union Square farmer market commenting on fresh cut flowers with the locals. I miss my walks along small quiet streets in a neighborhood and all-of-the-sudden found myself in a cool indie bookstore; to end up having an enthusiastic conversation with the owner over a favorite author. Those smallest moments I always cherish. I was so full of life, able to feel my entire body and connected to my inner self. Those moments teach me to be thankful to everything that make me who I am as a person. My dear n y c, I am forever grateful to you.
* According to nycgovparks.org, there are 1700 parks in New York City