I’ve been in New York City for 5 days now. And I’m gonna be honest. I haven’t had as incredible a time here as I thought I might. I’ve been thinking about writing the whole time, and if I’d posted something before now, it would have had something of a dejected tone about it. I even wrote a couple of draft posts, but looking over them I can see they’re tinged with cynicism and indifference. While I toured the city, I’ve felt a little exasperated, deflated, peeved, uninspired, hebetudinous… The reason this post won’t have such a melancholy slant on it because I finally made a breakthrough in understanding the place. And why I’ve been such a grump.
There are two sides to New York. Night, and day. And I made the mistake of exploring the city primarily during the latter. Well obviously I had to cus that’s when everything is open, but during these long exhausting days, where I walked for miles and miles, often in frustrating and unrewarding circles, is also when I formed my opinions of the place. Which is how I began to feel annoyed by the city and its people and its traffic, searching for opportunities to escape the crowds, the choking smells and the maddening sounds. After walking from 11am to 8 or 9pm, I was fed up, and I’d catch the hour-long train back to New Jersey and try and build up the motivation and excitement to tackle the city again the next day. I felt like I was missing something; I was close to finding that thing that would get me to fall in love with the place but it was just escaping me.
Well I just realised what it was – night.
By the time I walked back over the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday, sunset was fast approaching. So I got the subway across town to the Highline, something I wanted to check out before it got dark. It turned out to be a longer walk than I expected, so by the time I got down to 17th Street, the sun had disappeared in a explosive burst of orange behind New Jersey and the city lights were just starting up. Because I had finished the only book I had with me, a Boston based crime thriller, the day before, I resignedly started The Great Gatsby on my tablet, as it was set in New York and I had run out of excuses not to read it. I settled myself in a sunken part of the Highline and as the yellow traffic of 10th Avenue snailed beneath me, I was transported back to the time of New York’s heyday. People were beautiful and frivolous, conceited and greedy. The city was a powerhouse that existed as a hopeful beacon for the entire world… you can’t deny it’s a romantic setting even if you deplored the book.
My point is, even though there have been 90 years of dramatic vicissitudes since then, that magic of New York is palpable when you’re walking the streets at night. It’s glamorous, cacophonous, mysterious and gregarious. I almost feel transported back to that time when I walk up Broadway. It’s effortlessly romantic, and all it is is a bunch of inanimate concrete towers squaring off against each other. How does it happen? You feel tiny. You feel like anything is possible. Sat on this bench now in Madison Square Park, with the Empire State Building gleaming triumphantly to my left, I can honestly say New York is one of the most incredible places in the world, and I’m super excited to be here. Shame I couldn’t have had this epiphany a few indifferent days ago!
Another explanation for why I haven’t been enjoying myself so much is because for some reason or another I’ve felt obliged to walk the same paths and see the same things as every other tourist who comes to this city. Things I’ve done before! Why? It was talking with a friend from home that made me realise I should just do the things I like to do. New York has everything. Bars, shops, shows, restaurants… so I had a great time exploring the amazing bookshop that is The Strand (finally found Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffanys!) and I went to a live jazz show in an intimate basement bar named Smalls in the West Village. My opinion of NYC has changed massively, and I can’t get enough of the place… as long as it’s dark of course.