Wednesday, April 16, 2008

New York!

So it has taken me long enough to get my pictures back from New York. I was waiting to post this recap until I got them back. Anyway, I wrote most of the following a few days after I got back from my fabulous New York adventure:

New York, New York. Maybe like all of us, before I went there I had a sense of what kind of city it was, a pastiche of everything I had ever seen on TV or in movies or read about (actually, now that I look at it, mostly on TV). The New York of Friends, Law and Order, Sex and the City, Saturday Night Live, When Harry Met Sally, The New York Times, Felicity, Project Runway, reruns of Taxi, and even the first book I ever read that was set in New York, a special installment of the Baby-Sitters Club. Etc., etc., of course. My sense of the city was trendy and artsy, fast-paced and exciting, a little mean and unforgiving with a cozy cafe on every corner and yellow taxis roaming up and down the streets. When I thought of New York, it was always night, and the background music was always jazz.

You almost forget that the city is a physical place and not a concept, a narrow island conveniently gridded out into numbered streets. There's a big park in the middle of it, trains running under it, and water surrounding it. And the sun shines there; it's not always night. Surprise. It was kind of fun to see which of my conceptions held up and which were illusions.

One of the first things I noticed was that life does move a little faster in New York. People in NY don't kid around when it comes to going places. My first impression of New Yorkers was taking a taxi from the airport and being rushed through a line for taxis by a woman with a thick New York accent. Walking the sidewalks with my sister, I noticed how people walk way faster on the streets of New York than they do in El Paso. They don't ever wait for the "WALK" sign to come on; a second after traffic comes to a stop, they're rushing across the street. If you're waiting in a line for a museum or a restaurant, you'd better know exactly what you want when you get to the counter. Sauntering around aimlessly is not the New York way. Either keep up or get out of the way.

In many ways the city was less glamorous than I expected. Take the subways, first of all. I thought the stations all smelled like a public restroom. I kept asking my sister why the city didn't clean them or upgrade them, spray them with Clorox occasionally, at least. She shrugged. "Well, they're always open, so I guess they really don't have time for that." Makes sense, but still, in a city with so much money, why can't they come up with some kind of solution? At the same time, street performers perform astoundly professional live music at the subway stations (yes, jazz, but one day I even heard some opera down there). It's strange.

The museums also surprised me: the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the American Museum of Natural History (outside of which the picture above was taken). Well, first of all, because they are so grand and so huge. You start seeing works by the big-name artists, the Picassos, the Warhols, the Van Goghs, the Monets, and your jaw drops, but even more surprising to me was how out in the open these pieces of art were. The museums were swarmed with people, but the pieces weren't roped off or otherwise restricted, for the most part (though a couple of pieces did have sheets of glass in front them). Museum monitors were stationed in every corner, but they only intervened if a person got way too close. Non-flash photography was allowed. I thought that was cool. These museums really are for the "masses," not just for art snobs.

Really, the openness of the city to anyone and everyone is what suprised me the most, in the museums and elsewhere. There were so many different types of people in the city. Everywhere we went, we would encounter people speaking different languages--French, Chinese, Italian, Russian, Spanish, German--and it seemed like everyone belonged there equally. There were really no "outsiders" in New York; it's a true cosmopolitan city.

The food in New York was, of course, amazing. There are a huge number of restaurants. A Starbucks is located on every corner, which is kind of unfortunate, but there were thankfully few McDonald's or Burger Kings in the city. Bagel shops are plentiful. My sister and I ordered eggs on a roll a couple of times. The rolls were fresh and covered with poppy seeds and absolutely delicious.

Apparently my sister V. is a bit of an expert on restaurants. It seems this is her "thing" in NYC: trying out new restaurants every weekend. One night she gave me a tiny taste of the trendier side of New York by taking me to a restaurant called Rayuela, where we ordered dishes like red snapper ceviche topped with what looked like kiwi seeds; chicken sweetbreads with bacon; fried shrimp, octopus, and potatoes in a spicy mustard-type sauce; a papaya stuffed with duck; and a platter of three custards (lemon, caramel, and cinnamon), each in a tiny ceramic cup. Yeah, I know, these sound weird, but believe me, they were delicious. I had never had food as artful as this before. This, to me, seemed very "New York."

On my final day of touring the city, V. and I went on the NBC Studio Tour at Rockefeller Center (the outside of which is pictured above). OK, so as I mentioned earlier, I like my TV, maybe a little too much, and I was really excited to see where the Today show, the NBC Nightly News, Saturday Night Live, and Late Night with Conan O'Brien were filmed. On the tour, our group got to stand in the actual studio where Brian Williams reads the news most nights. We got to see the control room where the NBC signal is monitored. We saw where Saturday Night Live is performed. Wow. But, of course, it was Conan's set that I couldn't believe I was actually seeing. I couldn't believe I was actually sitting where the audience sits when watching the show.

After we sat down, the tour guide asked the group, what's the first thing you notice? "It's so small," is what most of us responded. Indeed it was. Conan's monologue is performed in a very small cube of space. It amazed me that the band could all fit on the stage, much less the wall of space they play in. And finally, Conan's wooden desk, the blue seats the guests sat in, and the round coffee table looked so small I almost had to laugh. They seemed almost child-sized. Our guide told us the reason Conan never sits with his legs under the desk when interviewing guests is because he literally can't comfortably fit into it. I actually felt sorry for Conan for having to use this studio for 14 years. Even for average people, this space seems small, but for a tall person, it must seem hobbit-sized.

In the end, I think it's that kind shattering of illusions that sums up my experience in New York. It's strange how the real New York is smaller than it is on TV and movies, but not in a disappointing way. In fact, it's a relief that anyone, even a person as un-trendy as me, can go right up and touch it. There's nothing mythical about New York. The streets are definitely not made of gold; the people aren't gods and goddesses. In fact, the best thing about New York is that anyone can go there and partake of world-class art, music, food, and entertainment for a relatively low price. Anyone can ride the subway and walk the streets. Anyone can pass by skyscrapers and stroll through Central Park. It's truly a city for everyone, and that's what I loved about it.

1 comment:

NewMexiKen said...

I am SOOOOO envious.

I'm glad you got around to writing about it. I've been waiting and wondering. Well done.