“but i always felt free in [new york city]. i found safety in its enclosures. the city let me relax into being myself. being who i am in new york didn’t feel like an action i took – it just felt like living.”
– Melissa Febos in Goodbye to all that: Writers on loving and leaving New York
it may be true that i did not wake up at 5:30 am on the third day in nyc ready to hit the streets of nyc with the joy of a kid on her birthday. it may also be true that it was because i was quite tired from the previous day’s adventures all over manhattan. nevertheless, the excitement was still there, even if the energy level had waned a bit. and even though we didn’t leave the apartment at the crack of dawn, we still got moving pretty fast. this day we had a plan. ok, not so much of a plan, but an idea and some goals of places we wanted to see. the only thing we actually knew, though, was that we were going to meet jonas and peter (lina’s brother & cousin at 1pm in chinatown) and we are going to meet laura, a long-time blogging friend of mine who i’d never met face to face, at 7pm for dinner in west village. so, lunch and dinner were covered. now, what about breakfast?
lina and i decided we’d head south toward the financial district and just see what pops up along the way. it had worked wonders the day before. so, we strolled south down avenue c toward houston street. on the corner of avenue c and houston we noticed a little market. or, i actually thought of it more like a convenience store. but, we needed coffee – big time – so we went in to adinah’s farms.
we found the counter with the coffee stuff, and in slow-motion due to lack of caffeine, we filled our cups. i grabbed some cream to put in my coffee, then set it down, as lina was doing something else. in the meantime, a 20-something chick came in, clearly a very cool local, and did her thing: cup. ice from a cooler. coffee. cream. lid. time to pay. i think i stood their with my mouth gaping open, admiring her ease and flow at following her morning routine. here we were fumbling around with our coffee stuff, not wanting to look like tourists, but clearly looking like we didn’t know what we were doing, and she whizzed in and out. but, not before lina had an little encounter with her and the cream. a funny little misunderstanding, miscommunication, but once again, another new yorker who was just as kind as could be.
we grabbed two chocolate croissants (not exactly the same level as the day before at the cafe), but they’d do. paid at the front. then hit the streets of the city again, walking, talking, and sipping.
just across houston street there was a cute little park, hamilton fish park, where we decided we’d have a little picnic breakfast. so, we grabbed a bench and enjoyed the morning. the parks are totally amazing throughout the city. of course, you can hear everything going on outside of the park, but for an instant it feels like you can breathe – no people rushing, just a moment of stillness and peace. little children and their teachers walked through the park as we way, waving hello to us – and lina and i reflected on what a different kind of childhood they have when compared to our childhoods in more suburban-ish areas.
when we were good and ready, we picked up our coffee cups and walked toward the subway station that would take us to the site of the september 11 memorial and the freedom tower. as we emerged from underground onto fulton street, there was the tower right in front of us – easy to see even as we walked up the stairs. i had no idea what to expect around the site and on the ground. i don’t think i was even thinking about it, like i couldn’t wrap my mind around it all.
before we reached the tower and the memorial, we reach st. paul’s chapel, the oldest surviving church building in manhattan. which, in and of itself is amazing. but, when you arrive at the church, you see how incredible close it is to where the world trade center towers were, and i wondered how it is still standing. but, it is. and not only is it standing, but it was, and continues to be, a place of respite, care, and worship for any- and everyone who comes through its doors.
inside, it looks a bit like a museum, with chairs in the center to allow for worship services. but along the outer walls, exhibits and memorials have been placed to allow people to grieve, learn, and grow. it is powerful. very powerful.
right after 9/11, the church was a place that volunteers found a little bit of rest. it became a kind of center for volunteers to receive food, rest, and help. outside, on the iron fence, people left mementoes and photos of people who were lost. the graves outside are left over from the 1700 and 1800s, and clearly people are working to replace and repair headstones.
what a miraculous, amazing testament to time, humanity, and the spirit of love… we had to walk a couple of blocks to get to the 9/11 memorial, which is at the base of the freedom tower. it is free to walk up to it and gaze into the deep hole. it is also eerie and creepy and scary. i felt such a heaviness there, such a sense of loss. and the abyss in front of us… it made the sense of loss seem even more profound.
lina and i realized after standing in silence for a while, that we needed to make our way to chinatown for our lunch date. but, it felt weird to just turn and leave. still, we did it any way. time to move and and move forward…
we went back down into the subway and we knew which train to take. there were even signs directing us to the train we wanted, only they directed us down some stairs, then around, then up again, then down a hall, the down the stairs again, then up. it was ridiculous. we couldn’t find out train. dammit. we were tourists. a nice young woman saw our frustrated faces and asked if she could help. she tried. but she got confused as well.
now we were late for lunch. and the whole 9/11 memorial/church/tower thing had put us in a weird mood. and we were just wandering in the underground corridors. we gave up and decided to get out and hail a cab – no walking because we didn’t have time. and what do you know? there were no cabs in sight. at. all.
finally, after speed-walking a block or two, irritated, depressed, and hungry, we caught a cabbie’s eye and high-tailed it across the street to jump in the cab. i sat in the front – don’t ask me why and told the guy where we were going, the address and everything. whew. pro-status back (minus the sitting in the from crap. hehe.). we were let out in the middle of canal street in the middle of chinatown – and let me just say this: it was pure nyc chaos and craziness everywhere around us. not in a scary way, but in an exciting way.
we had finally removed ourselves from that depressing area around the memorial, survived our subway confusion, and made it to lunch – only to find out jonas and peter were running late too. haha! so, lina and i just sat and relaxed. talked some. reflected a little. and, you know it, people-watched.
after a while, it was time for some food. now, remember our street corner friend from yesterday who gave us lots of tips? well, this is that to-die-for vietnamese restaurant that he suggested, thai son. we went it, sat down, and ordered exactly what our new york businessman friend told us to order: spring rolls and pho.
after our late lunch, it was time to wander again. no real plans, we just knew that we needed to be in west village at 7. so, we walked. and walked. and walked some more. first, we wandered through little italy. if i hadn’t just eaten, i would have sat down at one of those red and white checkered tables on the sidewalk and ordered a big bowl of pasta and a slice of pizza – and i’m not even a huge pasta fan. it just smelled and looked that damn good. music was coming from speakers everywhere, i heard people actually saying, “fuhgettaboudit”, and fire escapes were decorated with italian flags, flowers, and banners. it was a friendly, boisterous, over the top place – exactly how it should have been.
we left the working class neighborhoods and made our way to soho – the place where all the coolest people shop (i say that with a little bit of sarcasm). it is a cool place, but a bit more pricey with high end shops. however, lina and i do love some shopping, and while we don’t have any specific places we neeeeeed to shop, we have some favorites. we didn’t really do too much shopping, but walked through soho to feel the vibe and experience the area.
somehow we quickly made it back to the west village neighborhood and my funky soul did a little dance. we found a bar that was opening up and snagged two little tables and four stools outside – the perfect place to drink beer and sip wine. i have no idea how long we were there, but it was just perfect. just spending time together was worth every second. but, the drinks came to an end and we decided to move on. after walking and exploring a few more blocks. we saw a little underground bar called bobo. they were advertising happy hour, we had an hour before dinner, so we felt it was a sign.
what a cozy place this was! dark, warm, inviting, and great prices for cocktails. after a little toast, we continued our conversations and laughs, enjoying each others’ company.
i had been excited about dinner all day, and it was finally time! many of you who have been readers of this blog for a while, know that i love blogging – and one of the things i love most about it is “meeting” people, creating new friendships, even just through the blog. i have had the pure joy of meeting another blogging buddy face to face earlier this year, and now i consider her family. but, with this trip to new york city, i was given another chance to meet another blogging buddy!
laura, the blogger at german-american abroad, and i have been reading and commenting and chatting with each other for about 3 years now, i believe. we have followed a lot of each others’ lives, so when i knew i’d be in nyc for a week, i let her know when – and we planned to meet up!
laura chose the restaurant for our meeting and brought along a friend – and, of course, i had my posse including my wife and brother- and cousin-in-law with me. so, it was gonna be a great dinner party!
we met at diablo royale, a mexican restaurant in west village. the atmosphere was so great – western, cozy, warm, and fun. and, of course, mexican is my favorite food. we sat down at the table and immediately starting chatting away – i love it when things just click like that. after getting some of the beginning chatting underway, it was time for food and drinks – laura and shubhra, laura’s friend, suggested that we try the diablo ricky – a mix of light mexican beer and margarita. sounds weird, but it was soooo yummy. so, food order received, drinks in hand, the rest of the dinner was just getting to know each other, laughing, chatting, and catching up.
at some point, i realized that my entire day had been focused on people – from the lost souls at the 9/11 memorial and st. paul’s chapel, to the ethic neighborhoods south of canal street, to hanging out with our swedish family all day, to meeting new friends and an old blogging buddy. the presence of relationships, the interactions that i shared with everyone from strangers to family members, these are the things that give spice to life. these relationships are what make full it color and meaning – and just spending time with each other, could there be anything better than that?!
during dinner, shubhra and laura started giving us lots of insider tips and suggestions about what we should do on our last full day in new york – they suggested so many fun, off the wall, amazing things. one of them mentioned eating banana pudding at magnolia bakery. that was the place lina and i discovered accidentally yesterday! turns out, it was right around the corner from where we were, so after dinner, all six of us walked to the bakery and ordered banana pudding at 10:30 at night. it was delicious – just like my grandma used to make. what kind of place sells banana pudding late at night? it was crazy fun.
shubhra needed to head home and the rest of us started walking that way too. actually, laura and i got caught up in conversation about all sorts of things, so the other three led the way – though i think they just walked and talked. which was absolutely no problem since the weather was fabulous and warm and amazing. as we headed down south, we decided that we’d just go ahead and walk on one of the three bridges connect manhattan with brooklyn and whatever else is to the east – i’m not great with what’s across the river from manhattan.
we happened to be very close to the manhattan bridge, the center bridge, so we started walking – deciding that we’d go halfway, so we could look back and get some good views of manhattan. it was a tiny bit creepy, but when i saw a young woman jogging at 11pm by herself, i figured it must be semi-ok. in any case, there were four of us – laura and i had said our goodbyes before we got to the bridge.
we walked slowly, just feeling the breeze and the intermittent shaking of the bridge when the subway raced past us. and then, once in the middle, we looked back – it was breathtaking, magical. here we were… all alone, in the middle of a bridge over the east river, looking back at the city with the pulse and vibe and heart and soul.