“New York is strange in the summer. Life goes on as usual but it’s not, it’s like everyone is just pretending, as if everyone has been cast as the star in a movie about their life, so they’re one step removed from it. And then in September it all gets normal again.”
-Peter Cameron (Someday, This Pain Will Be Useful To You)
You’ve Got Mail is my favourite movie – of all time. I watch it whenever I’m sick and sometimes just to fill the noise space when I’m home alone. I’ve memorized the lines and consequently made me fall in love with the characters and well, I guess New York City too. And I think that’s where the problem began.
Everyone loves New York City. Mainly because their favourite movie, show, or song is based there. We all see the city through other people’s eyes. I thought I love it because Tom Hanks loved it and it made him want to send a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils in the fall. You may love it because Carrie Bradshaw often stomped all over the streets in her Manolos. We identify with the characters and in turn, we swoon over their images of New York. But those aren’t our own.
That realization bothered me. Though I love Norah Ephron, I don’t want her New York, or Truman Capote’s, or Woody Allen’s. I want my own! So I decided to find it and the perfect opportunity presented itself: my friend/SGMC photographer Jessilynn Wong’s birthday trip!
Day 1: From one island to another
Our flight was scheduled to leave at 9am from Toronto’s Island Airport. I had drinks the night before and started packing at 3am the day of – what could go wrong? Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport is God’s gift to Torontonians. a 3 minute subway ride from my home, a 5 minute ride at a complimentary shuttle bus, and a 35 second ferry ride. Sure there are a few transfers in between but all with the convenience of waking up 2 hours before your flight! Also, Porter Airlines will serve you complimentary alcoholic drinks any time you wish. It’s really a shame they don’t fly out of North America.
The flight was 1.5 hours and promptly arrived at Newark International airport by 11am. Our pre-landing thoughts: Why does everything look rusty?
Landing at Newark means that we have to take a train to get to Penn station. You may be wondering that in light of my Uber addiction, why did we not simply ordered a car. Well my friends, that’s because the Canadian dollar hath betrayed us. The CAD to USD exchanged rate at that time was .77 cents. Also, Jess wouldn’t let me get an Uber.
We figured out the maze that is Newark airport and finally boarded the trusty NJ transit train to Manhattan. We felt pretty proud of ourselves, but then I remembered that once we get to Penn station, we actually have to navigate through the even bigger mess that is the Manhattan subway. Our AirBnb was located in the East Village and the directions to get there seemed straight forward. The subway system was efficient. Old but efficient – though in terrible need of a new speaker system. Sorry next stop is what? I think New Yorkers understand the vague mumbles the way I sense when my Mother is angry and about to unleash her fury once we get home.
We finally arrived at our AirBnB, exhausted and in terrible need of a shower. The humidity that weekend was through the roof and it felt like the air was drowning us. Still, we were glad to finally reach our home for the weekend. Our room was overlooking one of the East Village’s many community gardens. I think I may take a liking to the East Village.
Feed Me And Take Me To The Hudson!
After a much needed shower and a nap, Jess and I felt energized enough to take an afternoon stroll and we were starving! So we put our hair on buns and set out to catch the sights and find dinner. We were thinking pizza, no wait Chinese food, no wait burgers, no wait steak? Guys, if you think it’s hard to get your GF’s to decide what she wants, don’t ask her what she’d want to eat in NYC. Just don’t.
In all seriousness, how do you pick what to eat when you’re in a city that literally has the best of every cusine imaginable. Filipino, Chinese, Thai, Latin, American Italian, Burgers, Steak – literally everything my hungry brain could think of. With options not being the problem, we decided that we’ll stop in at a place when we’re absolutely hungry, but for now – we’ll stroll.
We headed west from East 11th Street and reached Washington Square park! It was lovely and of course a popular first shots in movies. The arch was dominating but it does so in a sweet manner. Jess and I sat by the massive fountain which at that time was being used as a local cooling venue.
New York is a people watching city – and that we did. From children splashing and laughing in the fountain, to couples taking selfies in front of the arch, to cute musicians playing away – it was the perfect introduction to the city.
We were prodded along by our grumbling stomachs. We walked further west into Greenwich village, breathing a sigh of relief whenever we pass a shady street. It was hot and thankfully the narrow streets in the West village kept most of the sun out. The old apartment buildings were dreamy with fire escapes sprawled on their sides like ivy. We don’t have much left of older buildings in Toronto and I think that’s really unfortunate. I like to think about the lives lived in these old buildings; the families started; the hearts broken. There is so much history and to me – that’s beautiful.
I have a confession, we weren’t really walking aimlessly west. I mean yes, we wanted to stroll but I had an ulterior motive heading this way. Last fall, the BF took me to this exact area for brunch and on our stroll we passed by Pasticceria Rocco. We found out that their shelves are loaded with the most drool-worthy pastries! So yes, I wanted to take Jess to see the West village but also I wanted eclairs. Win-win?
With our hearts set on pizza originally, we finally decided on a restaurant – Risottoria at Bleecker and Morton! This is hilarious because unbeknownst to us, Risottoria is the best gluten-free Italian restaurant in town. While all I wanted at that time was to cram up all the gluten I can fit in my tiny body. We ordered a Neapolitan style pie with prosciutto, spinach, and parmesan cheese, the waiter asked if we wanted it gluten free and I said NO! With a puzzled look on his face, he left the table and grabbed us some freshly baked bread sticks…with gluten.
Everything was delicious. I felt full but not enough to pass up on getting some to go eclairs from Rocco’s! Jess and I dragged our carb filled bodies to the west end to see the Hudson at sunset – it was beautiful. Well apart from almost getting run over by gorgeous half naked joggers – it was a perfect NYC afternoon.
Day 2: Brunch and the Brooklyn Bridge
On Sunday morning, we woke up so famished. The night before, we walked across Manhattan from the east end to the west end, and finally all the way up to Times Square and the Rockefeller area. We strolled by Saks Fifth, and gawked at all the pretty things but ultimately abstained from shopping – which is not an easy feat! But I think it was a combination of our aching feet and the promise of shopping at Soho the next day.
As you know, I take brunch very seriously and long before our trip, I’ve always admired The Wren in the East Village on Bowery and East 3rd. It’s a mixture of American and British fare but set in the prettiest spot. Think mason jars filled with Narragansett Creamery yogurt, pretty plates of Bubble and Squeak, hearty potato rosti, and coffee pressed right at your table. Who can resist?
After brunch we hopped on the subway to check out the Brooklyn Bridge. A small advice on riding the NYC subway when you’re from out of town – before nosediving into the city’s abyss, try to figure out the direction you are going and the name of the station you’re getting off at. I was told that only native New Yorkers actually understand what the subway announcer is saying and I even doubt that. Also, the subway was blisteringly hot in the summer and you wouldn’t want to spend any unnecessary minute down there. We got out of the subway and was greeted by this familiar sight. The pillars of the bridge stood there with the cables stretched out welcoming; as if saying, “Hello friend – we finally meet!”.
I don’t need to tell you that the Brooklyn bridge is pretty long. But what I didn’t realize was that once you start crossing it, you eventually have to walk back. You can’t stay in Brooklyn! So crossing it is literally walking the lenght of two bridges. Needless to say, I got a sweet tan, almost got run over by bikes, and burned off all that delish brunch – but the view was spectacular and worth every step.
New York is a giant busy place filled with strangers – hoards and hoards of them. All with something to do and somewhere to go. If you’re not looking, you literally could get run over. No wonder Bob Dylan said, “New York was a city you could be frozen to death in the midst of a busy street and no one would notice.”
A familiar friendly face was indeed welcomed! My friend Yurie Lim – whom I spent my early years with in the Philippines has been living in Manhattan. The little troublemaker from my 3rd grade class is now a young Fashion Designer who recently showcased his SS 2016 collection yesterday at NYFW and has irrevocably become a “New Yorker”.
“You want the real New York?” He said, “I’ll show it to you.”
The first time I visited, I thought my favorite part of Manhattan was the Upper West near the park. The beautiful rows of expensive buildings (with a door man) with gorgeous views of the Central Park; not to mention the grandeur of Madison Ave made me want to almost abandon Queen West and get lost in the crowds of New York.
But this time, Yurie wanted to show us his neighborhood – in the East Village and then I fell for it.
Much like about 8 people in New York, Yurie has never had French macarons – which Jess thought was absurd. So we headed to Soho to drag him to Laduree. The place was packed but we thought, if someone has confessed about never having tasted these little bits of heaven, we better take him to ‘the spot’.
We grabbed a couple and scarfed it on our way to Chelsea. Yes, we ate while we walked – how brash.
New York is more romantic at Night
We spent the rest of the afternoon at Chelsea and agreed to get dinner at China Town – I was craving baos as usual. I am convinced I can survive on baos alone, but no one believes me.
After dinner we walked down Lafayette towards Canal Street. I could feel the Italian seeping through my skin – it was romantic.
If the Brooklyn bridge was beautiful during the day, it was breath taking at night. That weekend, the city was immersed within a pocket of intense humidity – everything was sticky and slow. But it seemed that the only haven from it all was on top of the bridge.
I’m convinced that nothing cures Quarter Life Crisis better than looking over Manhattan at night. Try it once, when you’re in town. Look over at the bright city lights and see the vastness. Maybe put on your head phones and crank up a tune from Broods .
After solving our existential crisis at the bridge, it was time to drink. And New York is good at this. We skipped the fancy clubs and headed back to the East Village to scour one of the many neighborhood pubs. We saw a sign advertising beer + shot for $5! Certainly that’s a rabbit you gotta follow down the tree hole. It was The Library on Avenue A and East Houston. Not to be confused with the Fairmont Library Bar – because there is a vast difference. While the Fairmont prides itself with expensive tea, scones, and house made jams, Library Bar has cheap drinks, dim lighting, and awesome music – oh and of course the inside is decorated like a library.
Whiskey and old books, I guess it works.
Day 3: When You Start Feeling At Home – It’s Time to Go.
It was our last day in the city and I was nursing a mean hangover – like Regina George type of mean. We needed brunch ASAP and when I mean ASAP, I meant as soon as we find a chic resto with a nice outdoor patio that also has a nice shaded area.
Right across from the Wren was the super chic Bowery Hotel and so bee lined towards their restaurant, Gemma – which I must say happened to have the cutest little outdoor seating. We ate our meal, I drank 2 cups of coffee, and we set off to stroll our new favorite neighborhood one last time.
Before I left Toronto, I didn’t doubt my affection for this city. Everyone loves it or think they do -and why not? Most areas are gorgeous, people certainly flash gorgeous photos on Instagram that makes it hard to not love. The movies portray it in such a perfect image – as if saying “This is it. You have to be here or you’re not living at all.”
Jess went to explore the shops in the area but I preferred to spend some time just sitting underneath a giant tree at Tompkins park – whilst eating a freezee. It was a Monday and a lot of people were breezing by, probably cutting through the park in order to reach Bleecker station. And then it hit me! This is why I love New York!
First of all, it was weird not sitting on my desk/running errands on a Monday but instead sitting in a park. It was odd not knowing what I’m supposed to be doing in the next hour. It was almost perplexing to just sit there being idle while I watch everyone else heading somewhere.
It dawn on me that I love New York because I feel like I belong. Almost everyone there is playing a game where winning doesn’t mean settling, it means achieving your goal and then moving on to the next one.
“Make it here, and you can make it anywhere”. They always say that and honestly it’s very cheesy but there is more than a morsel of truth in it. People seem to be bolder, risks are taken, nonconforming is a norm.
So I think that’s my answer. I love it because New York reminds me that the norm is just a state of mind and that it is OK to want something more – even if sometimes you don’t know what it is yet.