One of the cool things about Mike and Halle visiting last weekend was that it allowed me to vicariously experience New York through them. In other words, we had one weekend to show them the best of the City, and we got to do some of my favorite things for what might be the last time before we move. There is so much that I love about New York, but what I love most is that it never stops being exciting (for the husband the charm wears off every time he rides the subway).
On Saturday morning I loved walking around the corner and seeing a movie being filmed. That night I loved that we sat down to dinner at Lombardi’s at 9:30 and the restaurant was packed to the gills (as compared to Hingham, where every house on Main Street is dark by 9 pm). I loved that we met up with KT at one bar on the Bowery, then walked over to meet Chels in Greenwich Village and it was a completely different vibe, though equally teeming with interesting people. And of course I loved not only going to a diner at 2 am, but that the streets were still filled with people and traffic when we rolled out afterward, sated by eggs and pancakes and latkes.
Around the time that we found out we’d be going to Australia, I headed down to the Strand to pick up a copy of Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon. In 1995 Gopnik had the chance to move to Paris with his wife and son, just to write for The New Yorker about what he saw and experienced as an expat in France at the end of the century. A pretty sweet gig, no? The book is a series of essays – some that were published in the magazine and some that were private journal entries – and they cover everything from the 1998 World Cup, to the French proclivity to striking, to the crisis in French cooking. I first encountered Gopnik and an excerpt from the book a couple years ago in Cynthia Gorney’s long-form writing class at j-school, and that’s when I made the mental note to read the book at some point.
The only word I can use to describe Gopnik’s writing is “precious.” And I don’t mean that in a cloying or creepy Lord of the Rings kind of way. He just has a way of putting such a fine point on things, and it somehow comes across as both meticulous and effortless, often with a pinch of whimsy and humor thrown in for good measure. Anyway, I figured that if anyone could articulate the expat experience – even though living in Paris is surely quite different from Sydney – it would be Gopnik. He wrote an annual Christmas journal during his five year stay, and I just finished the one from 1998. Entitled “A Machine to Draw the World,” the essay starts off with Gopnik talking about how they almost had to leave Paris early because their landlords returned unexpectedly from a stint in Tokyo. I loved the following excerpt (found on p. 254 in the paperback version):
The curious thing was that with the loss of Paris threatening, we became more Parisian. The same thing, I had noted, had happened in our last few months in New York. The city, which had become increasingly difficult, suddenly seemed like a playground – people eating outside, in T-shirts and shorts and sneakers in the Italian restaurants in SoHo; the open all-nightness of New York; the sweet funkiness – registered as it hadn’t in years…
Is this simply the unique perversity of the human heart that wants (and wants and wants) what it doesn’t have – Italian food in Paris, American jazz in Saint-Germain- and, only when it is about to lose it, returns to the things that drew it to the desire in the first place? Or was there a kind of peace in it too? Loss, like distance, gives permission for romance.
I think I’ve been experiencing something similar. Basically every time I do something now, I find myself wondering, Is this the LAST time I do this before leaving? Is this my last time at Saks? My last Ess-a-Bagel? My last Dunkins iced coffee? (Now that will be a sad day). Back in February there was one Sunday where the weather was unseasonably warm– like 60+ or something. The hubs and I ran errands and grabbed some lunch, then I headed over to the East Side for an appointment. Though the sun was starting to set when I got out, I decided to walk home through Central Park, which has always been – and will surely always be – my favorite thing in New York. Original, I know.
Anyway, although I have a general idea of where the park’s various landmarks are, I couldn’t find my way straight to any of them if my life depended on it. It’s always a meandering, luck of the draw situation. On this particular day the fates were smiling on me, as I ended up at The Mall, my absolute favorite place of all. This may be because I associate it with When Harry Met Sally, but more than that I just love the Mall’s grandeur and tranquility. Last summer I’d often run in the park in the mornings and the best days were always those where I found my way to the Mall, sprinting under the canopy of gracefully arched Elms while the gravel crunched under my sneakers. When I think of New York at its best, I picture the Mall. It’s literally my happy place.
So anyway, on this particular Sunday I came upon the Mall just as the sun was setting somewhere over the Hudson. It was the perfect moment, and I knew I’d want to capture it for posterity. Unfortunately the only camera I had with me was my iPhone, but it’s better than nothing:
For the past few months I’ve been taking quick pictures of things I see that are quintessentially New York (or my New York, anyway). As our departure date approaches (and maybe when we get to Australia if I’m feeling nostalgic) I’ll try to post pictures here and there. In the meantime, the romantic in me will keep trying to drink in all of New York’s sweet funkiness. And I don’t mean germs on the subway.