Finding My Feet

New York continues to amaze me afresh every day. I notice new things constantly, even in places that have started to become familiar to me. One thing I love the most about New York is the attention to detail shown to the city’s architecture, and it is so wonderful to spot mouldings, ghost signs and lovely old lettering on my daily walks around the city. I especially enjoy looking at structures built during the Art Deco period; invariably there are metal inserts with lovely designs etched on, intricate stonework, magnificent sculpture and clean, sinuous lines that rise high into the sky. Good design is not hard to find here; of course, there are plenty of featureless concrete blocks too, but they are far outweighed by their majestic neighbours, built to reflect New York’s fast growing status as the Greatest City on Earth in the early part of the 20th century. Contrasted with these streamlined, eminently fashionable structures are the beautiful and more humble Brownstones and red brick buildings that are dwarfed by their loftier neighbours. These quiet treelined streets Downtown and also in Brooklyn remind me of my beloved England, yet the web of fire escapes and ‘stoops’ are quintessentially American and add a very metropolitan feel that the quiet white stucco squares of London don’t have.

I am fortunate in that I get to go to Grand Central Station every day; such a beautiful, lofty hall dedicated to the mere milling about of men and women waiting for trains I have never seen the like of elsewhere. Each time I walk into its cavernous, blue tinted space lit by floor to ceiling windows that reflect the majesty of the city it serves, I spot something else to be delighted by. On Friday it was the tiny strip of blackened paint in the top corner of a section of the ceiling, which was left as a reminder of the damage cigarette smoke does after fairly recent renovation work that restored the magnificent paintwork, previously obscured by tar built up over decades. Smoking kills artwork too!

My favourite place so far has been The Metropolitan Museum of Art; a truly magnificent museum that will take me months to explore properly. This sprawling building contains a collection somewhere between my old workplace, the V&A, The British Museum, and The National Gallery, from what I have gathered , and I spent a very pleasurable couple of hours there on my fourth day in New York. From a Temple lifted from the Egyptian sands to its current resting place in a glass pyramid surrounded by Central Park, to the recreation of a genteel parlour of the highest fashion in mid 19th century New York, the Museum showcases a fascinating array of objects that made me feel like a child in a very lovely sweet shop. I particularly enjoyed the airy glass atriums that offer a terrific view of Central Park, as well as the rooftop, whose panoramic view of New York is quite something to behold. What I found of real interest was how similar yet also how different British and American art history is; many objects looked very familiar to me, and the period room recreations didn’t look overwhelmingly American, apart from the Shaker one. However, there is a definite influence of Native American culture, and also an overwhelming incorporation of immigrant cultures, in the art and design of America, which English design tends to lack. I like the ‘melting pot’ style very much, and I also love American Folk Art; the American Museum of Folk Art is still on my hit list, and I can’t wait to visit.

On Sunday I went to Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market; I am drawn to old and largely unnecessary objects like a moth to a flame, and I was in raptures as I wandered down the small stretch of 39th Street between 9th and 10th Avenue that was filled with every kind of random tat you could ever wish to see. Trays of costume jewellery sat alongside fur coats and vintage cameras; boxes of records jostled for supremacy over stacks of video tapes that have apparently now become ‘retro’. I was tempted to pick up an old suitcase for my planned weekend trips away, but the thought of carting it around with me all day in 30 degree heat was enough to put me off. A slice of pizza from a hole in the wall pizza parlour and a cup of watermelon later, I meandered down 8th Street, where a market filled with palm readers and tat from off the back of a truck was taking place. At 5o something street I hit Columbus Circle, where I shopped in Whole Foods, saw a movie being filmed, and then entered Central Park for some peace and quiet. My friend and I chatted while lying on a shady spot of grass, before making our way to Strawberry Fields, where we listened to a Beatles Tribute Band and tried to work out which of the huge buildings outside the railings was the Dakota Building. Then we caught a subway down to Union Square, student hub of New York, where we melted at puppies in a pet store window and did some more shopping, before catching our subway home. Yet another busy day, filled with random and exciting things only New York can provide. Can you believe that in two short weeks I have seen two movies and two TV shows being filmed? And been shouted at by a film director for attempting to cross the street in front of his shot?! That’s New York!

I have done much and relaxed little; I am reluctant to take subways as I am trying to find my way around on foot as much as possible, so walking fifty or sixty blocks a day, if not more, has become normal. I am also, of course, going to work every day, so I am really quite exhausted at the moment. This week I start classes, and I am also starting volunteer work. On top of this I am planning on taking a writing class, and I also need to find time to explore the city, read, make new friends, and, oh yes, sleep. So life is busy, and full; there is no time for homesickness, and also none for regrets. Of those, I have none. One look out of my apartment window, which shows me a beautiful panorama of Manhattan in all its glory, twinkling from across the other side of the Hudson River, never fails to remind me how lucky I am to be here, and of all the wonderful possibilities there are to come!

61 comments

  1. Yay, you are in New York now!! Suffice it to say that you could live in New York your whole life and there would still be a million things that would be hard to visit — but you hit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so that is fantastic!!

    During your time in NYC, try to see if you can visit all of the other fantastic cities that are now so close to you — incredible Boston, Massachusetts; Baltimore, Maryland; Washington, D.C.; and without a doubt, see if you can head to upstate New York or even to Vermont or New Hampshire (even Boston) to really see the colors of the leaves change! I’m so excited for you and am so happy to be a part of your journey by reading about it!

    1. I sure am! I know – New York is a place that you could really never get bored of or run out of things to do in. It’s amazing!

      Oh yes, I very much want to visit all of those places! New England especially, when the fall colours really start showing. Perhaps next month I’ll take a trip. I’d love to go to Maine as well. I have time, I have time!

      Thank you so much! It’s a pleasure to share my journey with you!

  2. Wonderful post and wonderful experience! I’m so happy for you. I lived a little closer to New York for a while and I miss visiting it… I hope you continue to enjoy yourself, I know you will. And if you can fit in enough time for your American reading, one of my favorite things to do is to find myself on a street or a place mentioned in the book I’m reading (Washington Square for Henry James, etc etc)

    1. Thank you, Audrey! I can’t see how I won’t enjoy myself here. The only thing that slightly tarnishes my joy is being so far from my family and friends in England, but with the internet and phones and stuff being as good and cheap as they are, it’s not hard to keep in touch, so it could be worse.
      Oh yes! I am looking forward to those moments…I used to love that in London. Henry James is on my list…though I’m reluctant about reading him I have to admit!

  3. New York tourism should hire you or at least steal your posts about your impressions of their lovely city. This post and your last are quite a testament to what a wonderful city New York is. I have enjoyed reading about your new venture. I only know of you through reading your blog but I am happy your move has proven so rewarding.

    1. Oh thank you Elizabeth! Wouldn’t that be an amazing job to have?! I am so glad you are enjoying my posts about life in New York, and your good wishes are much appreciated. Thank you for reading!🙂

  4. How wonderful to read your first impressions of New York. You describe it all so well. Hope you get the chance for a little bit of rest too! I look forward to reading about your further adventures.

    1. Thank you! I try my best. It’s difficult to put everything into words sometimes, it’s all so overwhelming. I am not getting much rest at the moment but things will settle down soon I hope – I’m surviving on 6 hours sleep a day at the moment and that’s not enough for me! I look forward to having you read along.🙂

  5. You write so beautifully about New York, you are making me want to move there, which I typically rather dread. :p And you are particularly making me envious about the museums. I love museums soooo much.

    1. Oh thank you, Jenny! Though why you’d dread moving here, I don’t know! Do it! Then we can be friends! The museums here ARE amazing…I’ve only been to one so far but the rest are going to be seeing a lot of me in the weeks to come!

  6. Rachel, for a moment you had me thinking you’d picked up that Tiffany fountain on the fleamarket! Was torn between wild jealousy and the thought of you lugging it home, before I recognised it!
    Sounds like you’re having a wonderful time. I thought of you on Sunday when I found a 25p Persephone on a charity bookstall. (No need for wild jealousy, it was Little Boy Lost, you’ve already read it and so have I but it had to go to a caring home, don’t you think?)

    1. Mary, I should be so lucky! Could you imagine?!
      I am having a wonderful time, though London will always be my true love. Oh goodness! 25p! Of course you had to get it! No such joy here…books are so expensive! I went to a charity book shop and the books were all $7! I had to pick my jaw off the floor!
      Hope all is well with you in London x

  7. You taught me something. For as many times as I have gazed up at the ceiling of Grand Central, I did not know that they left a strip uncleaned. Something to look for next time I am there.

    And by the way, when you come down to DC the National Gallery (perhaps the second best collection in the US) is FREE.

    1. I’m glad to have passed that knowledge on Thomas! It’s literally the tiniest speck, you have to look closely to see it. As you walk in via the main 42nd and Madison entrance, it’s on your far right in the corner.

      Oh wow! That sounds amazing. I can’t wait for DC!

  8. It is so great to read your words and hear about your many explorations in NYC, Rachel. You have already seen more of this great city than most Americans have. Yea! The Metropolitan Museum of Art is huge and wonderful and inspiring and universal and the American Folk Art Museum is, as I remember it, small and hidden and wonderful as well in its very American focus.

    I admire your sense of adventure and your curiosity, not only of New York City, but of the world in general. Your spirit is contagious.

    The fall colors should soon be at their peak in upstate New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire. I do hope you get to see some of it. Whatever and wherever you venture, I know you will enjoy it all.

    1. Thank you, Penny! As always your comments are so generous and warm – I love them! The museums really are something else here and I can’t wait to get exploring – the Folk Art Museum especially. I am hoping there is a late night so I can go after work one day this coming week.

      Penny you are too kind to me – thank you! It helps that I have such a beautiful place to be curious about I suppose. Yes – I am so looking forward to the fall colours and I already have trips planned. I am going to Walden pond!

  9. Such an inspirational and enthusiastic post. You’re certainly going to pack it in and I’m impressed that you’re going to put a course on top of everything else. Do you know what volunteer work are you going to pick up – is it museum based, or something totaly different?

    But did you really almost come home with a suitcase when there were puppies on show? Shopping malfunction😉

    1. Thank you Jodie! I know! I like to keep busy! The course is actually a visa requirement so I didn’t have a choice about that, but the volunteer work is in exactly what I’m interested in- education. Once a week until next May I’m going to be helping underprivileged teenagers apply to college, so helping them choose where to apply, write their applications, apply for financial aid, etc. I’m so excited! Most of the kids have no adult support so they really need the help.

      Yes….puppies and my life don’t mix right now, as much as I’d love to have one!

  10. Sounds like you’re having a wonderful time! I’ve only been to one of NYC’s airports (no time to go out and look around a bit) so I am enjoying seeing the city through your eyes!

    1. I am, I am, Danielle! It’s such a fantastic place to be! I hope you get to stop off and explore at some point…JFK/Newark/La Guardia are not accurate representations of New York!! I’m so glad you’re enjoying the posts.🙂

    1. Maybe one day, Hayley…and you will already know it well by the time you get here! Thank you, I will, and you will always get photos and posts from me, don’t worry!🙂

  11. You must hit the floor each morning just raring to go! I love the image of you negotiating a path through the marketstalls, street vendors and tat. We call hotdogs sold from a cart ‘street meat’, you can add that one to your new vocabulary as well!

    No worries about you making the most of this experience, Rachel!

    1. I do Darlene! 6am, to be precise! Ha! I am a sophisticated New Yorker now – and I am definitely going to get myself some ‘street meat’ – I love that phrase!!

      I am going for it, Darlene! I am definitely getting up to Canada at some point so get ready for the knock at your door from a tired girl who needs a cup of tea!

  12. Glad you are enjoying NY. We spent about 3 days there in the spring and except for the Met, Central Park, and the Strand bookstore, none of us care if we ever get back. (I know, I know, that’s shocking.) We found it just a wee bit too crowded for our liking (we do live in a state of wide open spaces), but it should definitely be experienced at least once in a lifetime. If you have a chance, you might want to try one of the touristy red double-decker bus tours. We used those to get around instead of the subway and the guides all give wonderful details about the history of the architecture of the various buildings — the “art appreciation course” that it was proved to be worth the ticket price to us.

    1. Thanks Susan! New York isn’t for everyone. I know a lot of my friends wouldn’t enjoy it as much as me. I am a real city girl and get antsy as soon as I’m away from civilisation so I thrive on the bright lights and the noise. I can totally understand people who don’t like the people and the hustle and bustle and the constant noise. It’s an acquired taste! I am definitely going to be taking an open bus tour at some point – they are great for getting your bearings and for seeing things you wouldn’t notice otherwise. I must do one in London as well when I go back!

  13. Although I get to New York a couple of times a year, your meanderings make me want to hop the next train!

    The Metropolitan is a favorite of mine,too. You may be interested in this ebook of famous art paintings to help you know some of the must-see art paintings there. You can sort this list of 250 famous paintings by art museum and city… so when you want to explore other art museums there, this will be the start of an itinerary.

    Here’s the link: http://www.themasterpiececards.com/art-paintings-ebook-/.

    Have fun, and please keep blogging!

    1. Hi Susan! Hop on that next train! There is so much going on here right now to see!

      Thank you so much for that link – I’m off to check it out. I hope you continue to enjoy my adventures!

  14. Rachel,

    I have never wanted to visit New York City, but your descriptions of its many attractions are making me rethink that. And your picture and descriptions of the Brownstones make me think of The Cosby Show. I hope you continue to have a lovely time exploring the city!

    Virginia

    1. Hi Virginia. As I said above, I can totally understand that New York isn’t for everyone, though it is a place I think you have to see at least once!

      Thank you very much – I will do my best to post very inticing things to make you come!

  15. Your pictures and your description of New York is inspiring. I’m so glad you are enjoying our country. You mentioned the Metropolitan Museum. There is a wonderful children’s book that you might enjoy. It is called From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. If you haven’t read it, I’m certain you would enjoy it. I can’t imagine how you will find time to read it, however.

    I am enjoying seeing NYC through your eyes.

    1. Hi Janet, thank you. I’m definitely enjoying your country! I will check out that book, thank you for the recommendation! I will find the time to read it…time is a challenge right now but when things settle down I’m sure I’ll get into a far more manageable routine…I hope!

      I am glad…I’ll do my best to keep posting exciting things!

  16. Mm, the Met is so good. I don’t get there so often now as I did when I was in college and living uptown, but I do try to go at least once a year, and I love the Temple of Dendur so much, every time. I second Janet’s recommendation of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler – it was one of those books I read over and over as a kid, and I still enjoy it as an adult.

    Speaking of museums, The Cloisters, way uptown, is really wonderful as well, and I think especially perfect on autumn days when it’s warm enough to walk around outside and enjoy the blue skies and the view of the Hudson and the Palisades across it, as well as exploring the treasures indoors.

    And oh, I must be jaded by my time in the city – I can’t seem to react to movie/TV shoots with anything other than a hearty “ugh!” – even though I know it’s good for the economy, and even though I like that jolt of recognition when I see a familiar place on film, when it’s an obstacle in the middle of my day, that initial “grr this thing is slowing me down” is my knee-jerk response.

    1. Oh I love the Met! I really want to go to the Cloisters…maybe when it gets to be really autumn-like and I can see the lovely trees!

      Hahaha! I was excited at first but when it starts to obstruct me I get annoyed – I got stuck on the pavement during the President’s visit this past week and I got really annoyed because I had to get to my class – I felt like a real New Yorker then!

  17. Rachel – those pictures you took inside the Met Museum are exactly what I saw in April!! We stood in the same place but months apart – we need to go together!

    I am so glad that you are having such an amazing time. New York is such an amazing place.

    Miss you! x

  18. I’ve just finished reading “The Girl Next Door” by Elizabeth Noble. Couple from the UK have moved to New York due to husbands job. As well as their story, you get to peep at the lives of the other people who live in the same apartment block.

    Have also remembered that one of the Helene Hanff books has her exploring New York, “Apple of My Eye”.

    Glad that you are settling in so well.

    1. That sounds like a fun book! And the Helene Hanff should be on my list but isn’t…I’ll add it, thank you for reminding me!

      Thank you…I am really starting to feel at home here and it feels good! Though it would be better if I had everyone I loved here with me!

  19. I’m just catching up on your wonderful adventures! I’ve been out of blogland for a couple of months now as I’m in Africa and this news of yours is too exciting for words! Can’t wait to read more- am really rather jealous! Hope you’ll be visiting the Morgan library if you haven’t already… And Strand books! Enjoy yourself and all the twinkling possibilities.

    1. Jane, I’ve been wondering where you were – how wonderful that you’re in Africa! I hope you’re having a wonderful time! Strand books has already been graced by my presence many times…the Morgan library I am yet to visit but I’ve walked past it many times! Thank you, i will!

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