When it’s been 2 ½ years since you went to New York City, and you live full-time in a place where you’ve got a corn field around the corner and a dairy farm down the road, there’s a lot to forget about what is arguably the world’s most storied metropolis.
A good friend from Vienna was visiting last week, and I offered to take him into the city for a day, since it had been, as mentioned, 2 ½ years for me (last time I went I was one month pregnant and spent a great day at the Museum of Modern Art) and over 10 years for him. There’s a train from here that takes 1 ½ hours to get to Penn Station, which doesn’t seem that long when you consider that you step on a platform in an open field, with birds cheering you on your way, and step off into a thrumming, ever-moving, overpopulated and overheated sea of people.
Unfortunately, the train engine broke down halfway. After 40 minutes trying to fix it, the dispatchers decided the train behind us could push us to our destination but it would have to go local. We’d been on an express. Half an hour later whatever virus was affecting our train proceeded to infect the new one, and the journey – peppered with apologies from the staff – took 3 ½ hours. The conversation my friend and I had involved a whole lot of comparisons with the European train system and how very much like a 3rd world country the United States is becoming. Needless to say we ventured off into the lack of universal health care.
When we broke down the second time and I looked out an open door at a dusty platform with hot, rather resigned looking people scattered around, it reminded me so much of my time living in Soviet Russia that I almost searched for someone selling paper-like cones of soft marozhonoe ice cream.
But we made it eventually, disembarking into the city that I think you have to love with your whole heart if you’re to live in it peaceably.
It was nearly 90 degrees out, and brutally sticky, and so crowded I could hardly breathe. We took a subway downtown, looking for a restaurant near Washington Square Park. That mission failed, as we called the place and found out it was actually in Brooklyn (nothing like “You’re where? That’s in Manhatten. We’re in Brooklyn,” to make you feel like the most idiotic kind of doltish tourist).
So we do what you do in New York: walked around, watching people and the hectic, vibrant, congested life its residents live. In Washington Square Park children (and often their overheated parents) jumped and ran through the fountain to cool off under the beating sun (pictured above). Musicians vied for attention: a bagpiper, a folk guitarist, and a rather good young punk band with a vintage feel to their music.
I couldn’t live here, I kept thinking. But then the thought moderated itself. “I could only live here if I really, really loved it,” I told my friend. “You’d have to love New York heart and soul to put up with all this.” ‘This’ being the heat, the heaving crowds, the decrepit, stinking subway stations, the dusty, overused parks. I don’t love it. I don’t think I can. But there is just enough glimmer of thrill and satisfaction in its residents that I can see how people do fall in love with the Big Apple.