Well, I’ve moved again. I seem incapable of staying put anywhere for more than six months at a time; this probably says something profound about my character, but could also just perfectly illustrate the fact that I have always had, and probably will always have, incredibly itchy feet. So, as of this weekend, I am now delighted to call Harlem home. I love it! It reminds me, in many ways, of the mean streets of South London, where I was born and raised. I feel a bit like I’ve come home, despite the brownstones, baseball pitches, fire escapes and people who seem to spend all day sitting outside talking/yelling, which aren’t very much like London at all (apart from maybe the talking and yelling). What reminds me of home are the variety of multicultural shops, the general dilapidation mixed with regeneration, the ethnic variety of the residents, the vibrancy of the neighbourhood, and the juxtaposition of the huge tower blocks that make up the projects and the streets of old Victorian rowhouses. It’s not pretty, and it’s not glamorous; it’s certainly not the New York most tourists see. But I like that, because it’s real.
People yell at each other in the street; proper rows with hand gestures and everything. People still use payphones, usually to have arguments with their significant others, who are invariably not where they should be, and need to be told exactly why they’re a complete waste of space – in far stronger language than I can write (!). Groups of kids stay out on street corners into the night, hanging out. Music blares out of apartment windows into the wee small hours. Shopkeepers actually talk to you, rather than just wishing you a nice day with an eyeless smile. I feel like I’m part of a community here, just like I did back at home. I’ve already got my routine; my place to get my morning bagel on the way to the subway, the deli where I get my essentials, the fruit cart where I pick up an apple or orange or whatever I fancy to eat that day, the thrift store I like to browse for bargains in, the route I like to take to walk across to Central Park. I see the same people at the same places every day. It’s a joy. I can’t wait to explore more of this amazing, historically and culturally rich part of Manhattan. A lot of people think it’s the ghetto up here; I can promise you, it’s not. There are amazing museums (such as the Museum of the City of New York and The Hispanic Society of America), fantastic architecture (like St John the Divine), lovely parks, and great restaurants reflecting the multi ethnic make up of the community here, such as Patsy’s famous pizzeria, and Sylvia’s Soul Food, which have been feeding Harlemites for over fifty years and counting.
What does the title of the post mean? Well, it’s the name of one of my favourite songs, by Adele, an amazing British singer who I adore – I’m going to see her at Madison Square Gardens in May (I can’t wait!) – and it’s all about South London, because that’s where Adele is from too. If you haven’t heard her songs before, go and listen to them. What I like best about her is that she sounds like me! Not her singing voice, obviously, but her real voice. Yes, sorry – if you have been harbouring fantasies that I’m a wonderfully well spoken English Rose, then now’s the time I have to disappoint you – I’m from South East London, and I have the awful accent to match. But I’m proud of it. Just like I’m proud of living in Harlem. I am going to sign up for a walking tour of the neighbourhood soon and I can’t wait to tell you more about my new hometown!