I adore bookshops. Everywhere I go, I seek out the best bookshops, preferably mom-and-pop shops that smell of paper and knowledge. And the Strand isn’t really a mom-and-pop shop, and I realize this –but it’s got 18 miles of books (18 miles!!). Everyone I spoke to was incredibly friendly, even though I was there close to closing and the line wrapped around a few shelves. (Side Note: I bought John Cleese’s autobiography, which is hilarious, and a postcard, which is on my fridge) If you’re in the Big Apple and looking for a book fix, add Strand to your list.
Bakery: Zaro’s Bakery in Grand Central Station
I know, I know, it’s so cliche, but I’m not a food blogger and I’m not a New Yorker, so let me have this: it’s the black and white cookies. Of course it is. Grand Central Station is easily one of the best train stations I’ve ever visited, ever. It’s beautiful. Just plain fantastic, with book shops and bakeries, and fancy sushi places I could never afford. And the hustle and bustle of people coming and going, the high vaulted ceilings, the murals, the clocks, oh my. And the food, oh, the food. I’ve always loved those black and white cookies, something that’s so essential to my picture of New York, and I fulfilled a lifelong dream when I sat at a sticky, wobbly table in the crowded dining area of Grand Central Station and ate one of those fist-sized frosted cookies. Please read this and send me cookies. Please.
Theater: The Apollo
The Apollo. I mean, c’mon. The theater is absolutely gorgeous, the neon sign outside lights up the night like a beacon in all directions. I was there for MLK Day weekend in 2016 and saw the ceremony, which featured community leaders engaging in a discourse largely having to do with the then-upcoming presidential election. Even if you don’t go for an event or show, the architecture on the in- and outside of the building is worth a trip.
A Slice of Life
I arrived in New York City on a bus full of college students who’d been trapped together for the past 12 hours, huddled in blankets and praying the batteries on their phones lasted until the hotel. The noise level in the bus fluctuated throughout the night, but rose in an excited hum as we hit a tollbooth, started seeing road signs, caught a glimpse of the skyline.
It was a rainy January morning, snow and ice covering parts of the sidewalk. We had to wipe condensation off the windows to see out. The lights of the buildings distorted through the raindrops, coloring the streets as they relished the few moments before the sun rose to drown them out. We’d made it.
After picking over the scattered remains of the hotel’s breakfast and throwing our bags haphazardly down, we rushed out into the city.
Walking the streets in the early morning, the chill of the air cutting through your coat and tearing at your cheeks, I felt a great feeling of peace. Flags fluttering in the wind, little coffee shops, food trucks, steam rising from the sidewalk grates. Yellow cabs, lights flickering on in windows, weary eyes heading to and from work, snippets of conversation from passersby.
A picture can’t do it justice. The smell –asphalt and mouth-watering food. The sound –cars honking and laughs, floating from farther down the street. The cacophony of sensations, hitting you all at once, the need to stand still and take it all in. Just stand still and look.
Crowds of tourists, of which I most certainly was one, clogging sidewalks and stopping in the middle the road to snap a picture. Trains screaming through stations, blowing up newspapers and trash from the tracks, sending a rush of hot air into your eyes, providing a momentary relief from the bitter cold. And the neon lights of Broadway really are a sight to see.
When it comes to cities, I am a fan of ditching the map to explore. Maps are great for when you’re lost, or to familiarize yourself with an area, but a bird’s eye view doesn’t let you explore as well as your feet can. Lose yourself in the grid of streets, see the shops unmarked on any map.
New York is a sensory experience.
For some, sight rules –gazing up at the buildings, feeling so small in their presence, and yet so large, like an ant facing a mountain.
For others, it’s the sound –the subway trains squealing on the tracks, impassively moving people from place to place, from life to life, from time to time.
For others, it’s the taste –the warmth of a morning cup of coffee, from one of the multitude of coffeeshops and bakeries, held between freezing, numb fingers.
For still others, it’s the smell –sometimes overwhelming, the exhaust from the constant stream of cars, cut by the occasional breeze which carries with it an unidentifiable smell, one that touches you in a way you can’t name.
For the rest, it’s the feel –every city has a feeling, one that hits you as soon as you step out off the plane, train, bus, what have you. A sense in the air, one of belonging or one of apprehension, one of hatred or one of acceptance, one of joy or one of fear. Every city has its own, different to each of us.
To me, New York felt like possibility and progress. To me, it felt like giddy apprehension. The thought of what could be, the fear of failure.
The wonder of who I could be.
Music of the Town
Everywhere I go, I listen to music. And that music gets associated with wherever I happen to be, both physically and emotionally, at that moment.
Here’s New York City’s music: