Saturday, August 28, 2010

Winding Down

Once again, it has been awhile since I have written (crazy New York life tends to get in the way of enjoyable activities such as blogging) but I just wanted to wrap up my New York arts & society blog with a post that sort of summarizes my experience here over the past year and three months. It is very difficult to completely incapsulate my experience as a resident of Manhattan, but certain encounters, images, and places have stuck with me and inspired me a great deal. Here are some of them:

When I first moved into my new apartment in the Upper East Side, I was approached by a woman walking dogs. We were both interested in the set being filmed across the street, which was apparently the set for a movie starring both Harrison Ford and Rachel McAdams. We struck up a conversation and I remember thinking how friendly she was for a New Yorker. She owned a dog walking business and had many stories to tell about the various people (including celebrities) that she met while walking dogs all around the city. Her enthusiasm for living in Manhattan truly energized me and made me excited to be there in that moment, despite my anxiety over being completely alone in a city of eight million people.

My walks around the reservoir in New York will be missed greatly. I found the reservoir to be one of the only places in Manhattan where I could calmly collect my thoughts and unwind. The great expanse of the city before me always took my breath away. During my walks, I remember feeling so proud that the city beyond the lake was my city- that Central Park was my backyard. While living in New York, it is a comfort knowing that it is possible to escape the chaos of urban life and find refuge in nature, even if it is man-made.

One of my favorite weekend activities in New York City was, of course, shopping. I never had enough money to buy much, but this never stopped me from browsing the myriad of beautifully decorated, fully stocked stores such as Bloomingdales, Seven For All Mankind, BCBG, DKNY, French Connection, etc. Although I have always seen fashion as a somewhat shallow sector of the world, I truly came to appreciate the artistic qualities of clothing while living here. Fashion is, above all, an art form. New York ingrained that in me.

There is such a spirit of eagerness in New York. Throughout this past year and few months, I have met so many people who have been so alive with ambition- ambition that is both frightening and inspiring at the same time. Countless people have come here to not only break into their respective industry, but rise to the top, and there is certainly an unparalleled energy to be found on every corner. One night in the winter, I went to a party with a group of people from Spain at a loft in Soho. The owner of the loft came to America to establish himself as an artist. Both his clothing and apartment left me in awe; from his large screen mac to the sketchbook lying open on his desk, his surroundings were his canvas. During a party in a loft overlooking the New Yorker building, I struck up a conversation with a freelance writer and we exchanged business cards. He excitedly explained how he had his own online publication and hoped for it to gain popularity in the city. I never had business cards until I came to New York. My aunt made me a set for my publishing program and I still carry them with me, even though they are handmade. This city has taught me to be always be prepared and to never lose that fire. I believe that to get too comfortable with anything is a mistake and will carry that belief with me everywhere I go.

What would New York be without its food? Well, to be quite honest, it would really be very bland indeed. Living here on a budget has made it difficult to fully experience the cuisine, but I am confident that I have tried a large portion of the restaurants that I was interested in visiting (mostly due to generous guests), which is a satisfying feeling. The best brunch I have had here, surprisingly enough, was at Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill on fifth avenue. There are a few places that tie for best dinner. Il Buco, a cozy, rustic Italian restaurant decorated with pots and pans is definitely one of my favorites. I also loved the Thai restaurant Kittichai for its unique presentation and bold flavors. BLT Prime Steakhouse has the most delicious Steak I have ever had and Maya has the best Mexican. I also really enjoyed Rayuela, a Latin American restaurant with flavorful cocktails and zesty seafood dishes. One of the things that sets New York restaurants apart from the rest is atmosphere. Each of the restaurants I mentioned has a romantic, sensuous vibe and is filled with beautiful people. Dining out in New York is truly indulging for all of your senses. Apart from all of the restaurants, there are so many small cafes to enjoy a cup of tea or coffee. The abundance of Starbucks around every corner makes one truly appreciate the privately owned coffee shops, where the ambiance is actually relaxing and the coffee is freshly brewed. Coffee and bagels are an art form here, similar to just about everything else. Unfortunately, my favorite coffee shop, which was located in the Upper East Side, closed recently. This is how many private businesses end up, due to the intense competition. Moving on-It is nearly impossible to mention food without mentioning drinks. The Blind Tiger was my favorite bar, hands down. They feature a wide variety of micro-brewed beers that can't be found anywhere else in the city, let alone the nation as a whole. The interior gives off a comfortable basement-like feeling. I found the bar Rare on Lexington to have the most beautiful view of the city from the rooftop.

As I sip the last of my coffee, I wrap this blog up with a few final thoughts. My time in New York has been precious and awe-inspiring. I have become so strong and independent; I have learned to truly defend who I am as a person. Over the past year and few months, I have grown a sort of thick shell that will be hard to crack. This doesn't mean that I have changed completely, because I haven't, but it does mean that I have been exposed to many things that have broadened my horizons and thickened my skin. When you live here, you are in survival mode and I dare anybody to disagree with that. There has been beauty in this experience, though. Living here has made me appreciate the simple things- conversations, glances, smells, sounds- peace. I find it ironic how living in such a lonely city makes you at peace with yourself. I also find it ironic that being immersed in such a materialistic city can make you want to don sweat pants or jeans every day for the remainder of your life- (hah!) It all makes sense, I guess, but it is an interesting phenomenon nonetheless. Ultimately, the glamour of New York is stripped away when you become a resident here. Brief moments will fill you with the awe of a tourist (such as those breezy, windows-open cab rides home at 4 am) but these moments are only fleeting. Transience is abundant here, but its affects are permanent. Living in Manhattan changes you forever, in many ways, both good and bad. I suppose It can be summed up in one sentence: New York leaves an indelible mark.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Brooklyn Flea

It has definitely been awhile since I last updated; I've just been very busy with a lot of different things! Now that the weather is nicer, it is more enjoyable to be outside. The brutal cold of winter has finally disappeared and the overall mood of the city has changed significantly. Everyone seems happier! I have been more active than I was in the colder months, which has affected my mood in a positive way. The only bad thing is that I find it harder to concentrate at work now that it is constantly sunny outside! Several things about my routine have made the grind of work a bit easier though. Recently, I have started to take the express train to Grand Central and then walk to 26th and Madison, where I work. This wakes me up and gets me going in the morning, so I have been making a concious effort to do it every day for the past week. After work, I have been walking to Central Park occasionally and have also been going there on the weekends to take some casual strolls. There is no question that New York is a more enjoyable city when the weather is nicer.

Last Saturday, I went with a group of people to the Brooklyn Flea Market. It took us a good half hour or so to get there, as it was far out in Brooklyn, but the trip was more than worth the effort. The sun was shining, but there was a cool breeze blowing, so it wasn't too warm. We slowly made our way around to all of the tables and chatted along the way, making sarcastic comments about odd items that we saw at each table. For example, we saw an extremely terrifying stuffed animal that looked like it was possessed. I hope that no child ever purchases this thing. It had flaming red eyes and was very battered- not a pleasant sight to behold. I happened to fall in love with a purple sequined coat from the 80's, but when I saw that it cost $20, I decided that the price was not worth it to sport for one night (we were going to an 80's cover band at the canal room later on). We stopped to get some lobster sandwichs (apparently a specialty here) and a homemade margarita pizza. I got an iced coffee to feed my out of control caffeine addiction that has slowly but surely taken over my life as a Manhattan resident. There's no avoiding it when you are working a desk job in the craziest city known to man; it is inevitable that one will become dependent on it and feel as though an IV leading straight to the arm would be ideal. After sitting on the stairs and sunning ourselves while chatting and eating, we got back up and continued our exploration of the oddities around us. We were extrodinarily amused by some large plastic letters that we found laying in an old sandpit; we held them up and began taking lots of pictures of ourselves holding these. This kept us entertained for longer than it probably should have.

After negotiating a few purchases (I did learn a thing or two about bargaining in Europe), we stopped to browse through some vintage postcards and commented on how much we like the old, beat up ones as opposed to the more modern ones. They just have a romantic quality about them. I feel that way about a lot of things, though. Personally, I find myself drawn to the items that look as though they are straight out of the 20's- 50's, things that would probably look better on my grandmother. I almost purchased a vintage Gucci knockoff clutch that was ragged around the edges, but declined, as I am now picky as ever about purchasing anything. Living on a publisher's salary has taught me a thing or two about opportunity cost, or whatever the technical term would be for making smart purchases based on necessary sacrifice. I'm glad I passed it up, as I just don't see the point in purchasing anything unless I'm absolutely "in love" with it. I do feel this way about many things in life nowadays, which seems to be a good thing.

After our Brooklyn Flea Market excursion and long trek back to Manhattan, we were exhausted and ready to take a mid-afternoon nap before our fun night watching the 80's cover band. And that is exactly what we did.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Epic Walk

In New York City, sometimes the only thing that saves the restless soul from going crazy is the” epic walk”, as I like to call it. Since the day I arrived here, I have cherished my aimless strolls around the city, where window-shopping, or even occasionally stopping into a store is commonplace (as if I actually have the ability to buy anything). Sometimes, on my epic walks, I will grab a coffee and head down to the river near Carl Schurtz Park. There is something liberating about the tall trees in the park, the openness of the river, the seemingly endless boardwalk that runs alongside it. The sight of people sitting and reading or chatting on a sunny day is always calming. Gracie Mansion, which sits right on the edge of Carl Schurtz, makes you feel as though you’ve stepped back into a different era; it is a welcome anachronism in the middle of the busy city, where loud construction and herds of impatient people can sometimes be just a little too overbearing.

Spending all day in a tiny cubicle and cramped apartment is enough to drive anyone crazy; a New Yorker will quickly learn that the “epic walk” must become a part of their lifestyle if they are to maintain any sort of sanity in the big apple. Usually the epic walk has no destination, which is what makes them so much fun. You just never know what you will stumble upon- a small, privately owned bookshop that specializes in children’s literature, an antique jewelry store, market, or even a wide open natural space that may become your favorite place to unwind. The “epic walk” is all about discovery. Even if you do have a destination, you will still end up surprised at what you find.

When I take my “epic walks”, I not only like to discover new places, but I also simply like to observe the people around me. There are obviously a lot of amusing personas in this city, and there is never a dull moment here, purely because of the variety of people you find here. As an upper east side resident, I often see perfectly put- together mothers pushing their children in a stroller, always looking as if they are on a mission. These mothers usually have a crazed look in their eye, and I try to steer clear of them, for fear of being run over by the stroller. Sometimes I will walk around texting on my phone and accidentally almost crash into them. This is very dangerous. One does not want to accidentally bump into an Upper East Side mom. This may be a fatal collision. When walking around the West Village or Soho, I love to observe the “hipsters” around me, i.e the people who think they are too cool to speak to anybody else, especially a short blonde gal with cheetah print ballet flats and knock- off wayfarers from canal street. These avante garde personalities have a distinctive way of walking. They almost seem to hover or something; usually you can spot them with their jacket thrown over their shoulder, beret on the head, oversized sunglasses on the face.

These epic walks are a saving grace for the lonely, restless souls of New York City, or even just a temporary cure for the moments of restlessness; they are a chance to find yourself while observing everybody else doing the same. They are also a chance to stumble upon something that would otherwise not be on your radar. It is so easy to stick to your own neighborhood and find comfort in that, but that can become dull very fast. During some of my toughest points at the very beginning of my time here, epic walks made me feel free. They gave me a chance to escape the loneliness of my apartment and the rootlessness that I felt in a place that I was trying so desperately to make into a home all by myself. Now they have become more of a chance to explore the city that I am falling in love with as time goes by. Is the “epic walk” really as aimless as it seems to be? Maybe there's a subliminal purpose to it.