Over the years, I’ve developed a knack for being able to slip pretty easily into the flow of most places I travel. I think it’s a certain combination of knowing who you are and having an unfailing sense of curiosity. What I’ve found is that each city has its own energy, and I can usually more or less figure out in half a day or so.
I didn’t get to spend much time exploring Austin, but I immediately got the sense that it is a city that takes great and serious pride in its weirdness. It is the sort of place where, if you want to create — be it music, film, art, food, or even new ways to do old business — you will be welcomed with open arms — as long as you embrace and encourage the quirky.
New Orleans, an amalgam of Southern and Montmartre-like charm with a cheeky sense of humor, insisted I relax and enjoy the heaps of serendipity it tossed my way. Anything goes in New Orleans, and it drives home the notion that sometimes you just can’t plan for life, so you’d better just take what it gives you, learn to go with it, and always take the time to laugh.
Paris first stole a piece of my heart more than a decade ago. The innermost aspects of my personality, the ones that only come out in their truest forms in solitude, feel at home there. It’s a place that has always invited introspection, a focus on art and beauty, and an emphasis on slowing down a bit and savoring the life you’re living.
And then London — beautiful & smoggy, grand and quaint London — charmed me with its contradictions. The modern energy mingling with the respect for tradition and history is nothing short of intoxicating, and it took me in and made me feel like I was a part of something at a time when I desperately needed to feel passion again.
But Manhattan? It offered me no such engagement, no such hospitality, no such efforts to gain my affection. No matter how I grasped at its metaphorical wrist, I was never able to get my finger on the pulse of the city.
In hindsight, with all the legend and lore surrounding the city, I probably should have known it would be different. As
I stepped off New York soil and onto the plane home four days after arriving, I still had no clue what to think. To put it succinctly, I was thrown for a loop.
The city offers no comfort when you’re feeling down, and it’s just as happy to chew you up and spit you back out as it is to inspire you. There’s no coddling to be had in Manhattan, and maybe that’s part of its appeal. It’s not that it doesn’t want you to succeed. It’s that it expects you to pull yourself up by your own damn bootstraps and can you get out of the way while you’re figuring out what the hell that means because it took care of its bootstraps a long time ago and its got people to see and things to do.
Manhattan is like that intimidating, stern-faced college professor who gives you the facts but expects you to put them together yourself — the one who gets a twinkle in his eye or the tiniest of smirks on his face when you finally do. (Professor Fred Lamer, I’m looking at you.)
I knew it would take writing my thoughts out to wrap my head around Manhattan, and when I left, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever really want to return. But now I know I do. I want to show the city that I finally got it. And goodness knows there’s plenty more to explore, to be baffled by, to experience and observe.
I’m well-versed in travelling solo at this point in my life, but I feel very lucky to have had a travelling companion for this particular trip. As frustrated as I felt with the city, I still spent most of the trip talking, learning, laughing and smiling.
As I recall my four days in Manhattan, what comes to mind is much like those dreamy flashback sequences you see in films sometimes. My memories of the city itself are admittedly fuzzy, due in large part I suspect to the incredible sensory overload from the people and the lights and the noise. But they’re providing that soft glow, faded-edge background that makes the clear human moments in the foreground seem magical.
- Tucking my arm into the crook of my boyfriend’s elbow and laying my head on his shoulder as we waited for the subway, or a show, or the line to move.
- Marveling at how the rain on the streets was snow at the top of the Empire State Building, laughing whilst running around the perimeter as fast as we could to get pictures before escaping the frigid wind & going back inside.
- Sneaking sugar-encrusted nuts from our pockets into our mouths whilst warming up inside a church in Lower Manhattan.
- Watching him tap story ideas into his phone.
- Feeling entirely too human over slices of pizza in the middle of a crowded, chain restaurant, yet with the distinct notion that no one at all was aware.
- Enduring endless teasing about my supposedly high frequency of bathroom visits.
- Three blissful words for the Perpetually Cold like myself: shared body heat.
- Sharing tins of lamb over rice from halal carts.
- Learning and playing chess as the midday light turned into an afternoon haze in Central Park.
- Sitting next to each other in an airport, immersed in separate novel-inspired universes, but still connected by intertwined limbs.
Perhaps this was Manhattan’s plan all along — to teach me that you can still find bliss and comfort and laughter in the midst of life’s frustrations and obfuscations. Those stern professors are funny like that — always handing you lessons behind the lessons.