New York

New York, New Perspective

new york skyline

IMG_5413

I have never visited a city as a tourist after having lived there. I’ve never left anywhere that I didn’t want to leave other than New York. As such, I had no idea what to expect when I went back. I was excited, but also apprehensive. Would I feel differently about it without my own apartment to go home to, my own neighbourhood to pad around in, my circle of friends to hang out with, and the warm familiarity of my old daily routines? Would the splendour of New York and seeing all the places and people I loved throw my current life into sharp relief, making me desperate to escape once again?

The High Line

south street seaport

I soon realised that I had forgotten so much. The oppressive weight of buildings pushing down on you from high above. The sheer volume of noise on the streets. The lack of sky. The visual overstimulation caused by so much being squeezed into such a small space. The dirt. The rats. The smells. Thrown into the throbbing heart of Manhattan every single day, I quickly found myself wondering what I had found to love. Could this be the same city whose streets used to fill me with awe?

west village

Brooklyn brownstones

Desperate to rekindle my love affair with New York, I spent my leisurely days retracing my favourite haunts. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Central Park. The Highline. The Bryant Park Film Festival. The South Street Seaport. Shake Shack. Union Square. The East Village. Brooklyn. I caught up with dear old friends in a series of delicious restaurants. I had a lovely time. But, to my enormous surprise, I found that the magic had gone. No longer did I see the joy and beauty and possibility that once sparkled for me on every street corner. As a tourist, I saw New York as it really is; not the mythical land of my dreams, but a noisy, crowded, dirty city, just like any other. The life I had there belonged to a person I no longer am.  As much as I often long for those halcyon days of adventure and discovery, this trip has taught me that I can’t go back, and what’s more, now I know that I don’t want to. I have changed and moved on. I don’t need New York to make me happy any more. The whole time I was there, I found myself strangely wishing I were back in London. Contrary to all of my expectations, I came home with the best souvenir I could have possibly hoped for; the realisation that I am perfectly happy right where I am.

London vs New York

Image

I have been feeling incredibly homesick for New York lately. I ache for its streets. I want to sit out on a terrace and eat dinner in the balmy warmth of a May evening. I want to walk along the river and watch the lights of the Queensboro bridge twinkling in the distance. I want to listen to free music in Bryant Park while eating a picnic from Whole Foods. I want to wait in the line for Shakeshack while staring up at the beauty that is the Flatiron Building. I want to sit on a skyscraper rooftop, watching New York throb with life beneath me. I want to get lost in the streets of the Lower East Side, I want to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, I want to hop on the ferry to Staten Island just for the fun of the ride, and I want to spend an afternoon wandering through Central Park watching the world go by. When I lived there, I never wanted to be anywhere else. It was always a relief, after going away for the weekend on a Greyhound bus, to reenter the city through the Holland Tunnel and see those skyscrapers looming above me; it was a comfort, a joy, to know I was back home again.

Image

It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been almost two years since I returned, and I haven’t been back since. Part of me doesn’t want to; returning to a city you love passionately and never actually wanted to leave can’t help being painful. There are memories everywhere; memories of a delirious happiness I had never felt before. Living in New York was euphoric; every day was an opportunity for adventure. In moving there, I had proved to myself that I had a courage I never knew I possessed; a courage that could conquer any fear if I allowed it to. That whole year, I felt brave, adventurous and confident in a way I never had before. It was the best experience of my life.

Image

Last weekend, feeling morose, I met up with my intrepid university friend Emma, who has coincidentally also lived in America. We went to the V&A and the King’s Road and I talked about how I’m bored of London again and it’s all just so dull compared to New York. She nodded sympathetically as we drank wine and ate pizza, and then went for a wander. We looked in Anthropologie, which sent me into even more reveries as I thought of the beautiful Anthropologie on Fifth Avenue, and then decided to walk up to Hyde Park, which prompted another moan about how our parks are so dull compared to the varied delights of the lovely Central Park. We popped into the pretty gardens of St Luke’s Chelsea (where Dickens got married) on our way, and I compared them with Riverside Park in New York (with a sigh, of course) before continuing on to Cromwell Road. It was here I had to stop making comparisons, because nothing in New York really does compare to the red brick gorgeousness of the upper end of Albertopolis, with the magnificence of the Royal Albert Hall flanked by the wonderfully curved mansion blocks, though I couldn’t help but comment that the big Federal style 1930s mansion block next to the Royal Geographical Society does bear more than a passing resemblance to the Museum of the City of New York in Harlem.

Image

As we passed the Royal Geographical Society, we noticed that they were having a photography exhibition related to the first successful Everest ascent, so we popped in to have a look. It is a small but perfectly formed display, and made me realise that actually, if I bother looking, London does have just as many quirky and interesting places to visit as New York. With hand metaphorically slapped, we headed into Kensington Gardens, which I have never properly explored. When I worked at the V&A, I only ever had time to walk up to the Albert Memorial and back, so there was never an opportunity to go off and find the Peter Pan statue, which I have been meaning to do for years. Emma and I decided that today was the day, and so off we went. As we walked, I found myself amazed by the beauty of Hyde Park. We passed a temple, and then a beautiful lake filled with swans, and then we found the Peter Pan statue (which isn’t as good as Alice in Wonderland, but you know) and then we came across the Italian Gardens, laid out to look like a terrace of a stately home. There are fountains and flowers and stone balustrades and urns, and it’s absolutely delightful. I had no idea it even existed. Sitting on a bench and surveying the scene, I thought that perhaps I might have been doing dear old London a disservice.

Image

After basking in the sun a while, we caught the tube and parted ways at Tottenham Court Road. I wandered down Charing Cross Road, popped into the bookshops, smiled affectionately at the tourists clambering over the lions in Trafalgar Square, dodged a red bus as I crossed the street in front of St Martin in the Fields and caught a glimpse of the Houses of Parliament as I rounded the corner to go over to the station and catch my train. No, it’s not New York, but London has its own special charm. I do love it really, and my weekend jaunt taught me that there is still much for me to discover in this city that I have always called home.

Image

But even so, I booked a flight to New York that evening.