Published: January 1st 2010August 23rd 2009
Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan Skyline
Taken on-board the ferry in New York Harbor
When Andras and I first arrived in New York back in August, it was with an anticipated mixture of glee (at having never been to NYC before), uncertainty (at the prospect of settling into to an entirely new environment), and sorrow (at having to say goodbye to each other at the end of the trip). I had already made a reconnaissance trip back in July to sign a lease and meet my new roommate, whom I would be living with while I attended graduate school at NYU, so for me this trip was all about the big move. For Andras, it was his week of vacation to help me get settled in before we embarked on our hardest journey to date - a long distance relationship separated by over 2,000 miles of the sprawling North American continent. Writing this reflectively as I am, I am happy to report that we have weathered the detachment none worse for wear, although at the time anxieties were high and any feelings of "Oh my goodness we're in New York!" were tempered with the equally sobering realization that I would indeed be in New York for quite a while, long after the vacation was over.
Washington Square Park
The 'quad' of New York University where I imagine I'll spend quite a while reading in good weather.
We arrived on a Monday, trash day, unbeknowst to us at the time, so the piles of garbage bags lining the sideways combined with the overheated summer days did not in any way assist the city in putting her best foot forward. With temperatures stagnant in the high 90s, the cosmopolitan and cultured city streets permeated with the stench of yesterdays refuse and dog urine mingling curiously with the occasional waft of taxi exhaust and old lady perfume. For living in such tight quarters, everyone here seems to have a dog, and with few if any green-spaces available for the canines to make use of they all just 'do their business' on the concrete walkways, which in no way helps to counteract the odor and, I've got to say, is just downright unpleasant. But the next morning at least the trash bags had disappeared, trucked off to who-knows-where for someone else to deal with.
It took a few days to get the furniture together as we tried to transform my 350 sq. ft. box into something resembling a living quarters. Having just moved out of our 500 sq ft studio in Seattle to a larger apartment because we
The Lake in Central Park
Taken through the details of Bow Bridge.
felt cramped, the idea of living in something nearly half the size with someone I hardly know isn't particularly appealing, but on the plus side, both bedrooms have walls (and doors!), the toilet isn't in the kitchen, and well, yes, there is
actually a kitchen as opposed to a hot-plate - all things I didn't realize you had to specify but, turns out, aren't standard in the New York real-estate market. Who knew?! Anyhow, I have taken to calling my decorating motif "Ikea-chic" as that is about the only affordable place to buy furnishing of any-kind and the sparse functionality if all is vaguely reminiscent of dorm-life, albeit a bit more bright and cheery.
There wasn't a lot of time left to do any sight-seeing but we did try to hit some of the highlights on this trip. As if there was any question where are first sojourn would be, we booked the last available tickets to the Statue of Liberty. Since we didn't plan ahead we couldn't get tickets to access the crown, nor would we be able to actually go inside the monument, but we were able to take the ferry boat out to the island and
Life in the Fast Lane
Watching traffic zip along the East River via FDR Drive, a few blocks from my new apartment.
explore the old fort grounds which is what you get when you don't plan ahead. Lady Liberty herself is much smaller than I would have imagined, but when she was placed upon her pedestal in 1886 I imagine the height relative to the other buildings in Manhattan would have been more impressive. Now the monument and adjacent Ellis Island stand as a symbol of the national immigrant heritage and the diversity and promise of the American dream. It seemed as though most of the other visitors to the monument, at least those who weren't visiting from abroad, had some sort of familial connection to the immigrant experience. Andras and I seem to be two of the very few Americans whose family story doesn't somehow trace back to New York - what with my paternal relatives living in Kentucky at least seven generations back while my mother's family hailing from Canada, and Andras' father obtaining citizenship through the Army in the midst of the Cold War during the Hungarian Revolution. So it was a bit strange seeing everyone else relate to the exhibits in a much more personal way, where to us it still felt a bit removed, very much something
Pretzel stand, hot dog carts and yellow cabs. Could there anything more quintessentially New York?
from a history book even though it was the lived experience of so many.
The rest of our tourist adventures stayed much closer to home. The grand Metropolitan Museum of Art is only a few blocks from my new apartment, so it was an easy walk down the street to see some wonderful artwork. I'm a particular fan of the armory but the collection of American paintings and sculpture garden are also nice. I have a love-hate relationship with universal survey museums - I like how accessible it becomes to experience and appreciate global works, but at the same time, it does feel a bit like cheating and/or appropriation of cultural material to be able to do so without traveling there. Not that I was complaining when I eagerly attended the Vermeer exhibit that was currently on display. Hmm...maybe temporary traveling exhibits suit my tastes.
Then there were the parks, and while we walked through Central Park a bit the majority of our time was spent in Washington Square. The eastern portion had recently be renovated so the newly sod grass and colorful flowers flanked by the tall architectural styling of New York University campus buildings bestowed upon
Washington Square Park
Taken in July from the newly renovated west side.
us that urban je ne sais quoi we had been looking for. A stop at one of the many small deli's for lunch and the perfect picnic was made. Oh the deli's! Andras didn't stop talking about the pastrami sandwiches for days, to the point where I started bringing them back to him every time we traveled back to meet up with each other. Pastrami on a kaiser roll, swiss cheese and onions with lettuce and tomato. Not sure why he loves them so but his does and the 24-hr deli around the corner from me serves them up any hour of the day (which is good, because the last time I headed to the airport I left at 3am and picked up a sandwich to tuck into my carry-on before I departed!).
Before we knew it the week was up. We both headed to the airport, but only one of us got on a plane. It was heart-breaking, and probably the reason it has taken so long afterward for this entry and photos to be published. I sobbed quietly to myself on the hour long subway ride into Manhattan, feeling utterly alone in a city of over 7
million residents. Andras got held up on the tarmac and missed his connecting flight, leaving him stranded in Detroit overnight, drawing out the already prolonged sequence of goodbyes and the return to routine. It was a rough couple of days. While it may seem paradoxical that couple who yearns to do nothing more than explore and celebrate the diversity of the globe cherishes the technology that makes the world feel ever smaller, Skype has been a godsend.
For the longest time I almost made the conscious effort not to go to experience the city it too great a depth, and while I told myself it was because of budgetary issues or the need to submerse myself in academic work, I suspect I was unconsciously waiting for a time when Andras and I could go and share those moments together. Ever so slowly I began to take up the task of exploring the intricacies of the city on my own, and I suppose that's where this travelogue will pick back up.
Top Panorama: Sunset over the Upper East Side taken from the fire-escape.
There are more photos below