It’s an inaugural visit to the Big Apple for Bronte and I. Alas, it doesn’t smell like an apple nor from the look of the map is it shaped like one.
Stepping onto the street above the subway station we have just exited, I am accosted.
Patchouli. And then like a flurry of freshly blown soap bubbles popping: sour beer, cigarette, cigar, flowers, stale wine, the scent of curry and fresh baked pizza pie. Yes, my first impression of New York at street level EVEN before the sounds of street life is distinctly memorable: The scents that are floating about my head as I walk down a mildly crowded and cracked sidewalk.
Then it is as if my hearing is turned back on. I hear the Patchouli smelling girl, talking to the guy smoking who I can’t see clearly as he is backlit by streetlights in the dark. The F Train that brought us to our final first desitnation in the East Village was a newer subway train according to our host for the week, and therefore both looked and smelled cleaner than the A train we took at the end of the Air Train we caught at the Airport.
I have never felt called to come toNew York Citybefore now. I am genuinely feeling excited about the day before us with Nate and son Alejandro and Bronte.Central Parkis our first group destination that Alejandro can play catch with dad with his new glove and ball. I have been assured by at least six different people, I will LOVENew York.
Nate tells me that it is hard to get lost inNew York, at least inManhattan. The Grid of streets I presume will always lead one back to having a sense of where one is. Provided you have a map and understand the orientation of Streets versus Avenues and which runs East to West and which run North to South? I’ll think about that later and rely on the map for today.
Waking this morning, I recall my last memories of falling asleep; staring out the window into the center of the tenement apartment building he
Nate tells the story of getting the piano into his small two bedroom apartment he bought in May 2010. He tells a story that goes down in the memory books.
The first four steps of the 38 to his third level walk up were easy. Navigating the tight turns four times with an upright piano in straps being bumped up the stairs one by one takes an uncomfortable 2 hours and not the supposed ½ an hour. The movers to help with the lifting job arrived late. Neighbors who wanted to take their baby out for a walk on an upper level were turned back with a sorry. A younger and spry young woman headed to the theater shimmied herself over the piano and over the banister to freedom.
Nice first impressions to give as the new neighbor in the building that was once upon a turn of the century tenement building; no elevator and larger spaces that have been cut up into smaller apartments with occasionally odd angled walls. Nate’s apartment has five windows (a plus) that all face the airshaft.
Talk from the apartments around and below rises up–as does the incessant cooing and wooing and flutter of pigeons and the occasional blare of a passing siren. These sounds seep in from the one point of exit to the street that I can see through the open window with the fire escape attached to the exterior wall about it. The iron of the fire escape looks like it has been painted over at least six times and I question how safe is that fire escape. Nate assures me it can take the pressure of a human on it.
Last night we arrived via JetBlue at 9pm and managed within an hour to take the trains from JFK to Lower Manhattan (East Village) where Nate has lived since May of 2001. He knows this neighborhood like the back of his own hand and foodie that he is I am surprised he hasn’t tried every hole in the wall food joint in his immediate vicinity, but that would be a big task given the density of bars, cafes, and shoebox size “restaurants.”
We have determined we will step out for a slice of pizza for Bronte is hungry and we are now in a city that never sleeps and some places seem to be open all night. How is that place we passed on the way from the subway I ask Nate. He hasn’t tried that place but Alejandro likes Nino’s which is an easy couple of blocks away. Having deposited suitcases and gotten a tall glass of iced water (which for tap water tastes fine to me!) we head out for a late night snack.
How many times have I been talking to Nate at 1am my time as he was headed out for a late night snack? He is still a nightowl. And for us it is still really only 7pm PST.
On route to our intended destination I am again assaulted with a riot of smells and the density of people in the streets on a sultry summer evening is being felt by my body and its empathic ways. I realize I must consciously buffer myself for the week, knowing we will be always surrounded by thousands of people be they seen or not.
There is a trio of Indian restaurant two blocks from Nate’s place that are competitively lit up with Christmas lights in the front windows; it is like Christmas year round says Nate. Three men on the stoop are monitoring passers by and wooing respective customers in. Last night in my half-dazed state, I thought it was all the same restaurant.
Hukka Bars and More
There is more than one hukka bar with dim lighting casting an eerie warm glow on the hukka’s glass bellies filled with water to cool the flavored smoke being inhaled by silhouetted figures lounging on low dark velvety looking couches. My eyes are drinking in as quickly as they can EVERYTHING as we walk down the moderately uneven sidewalks with age old cracks. I recall how thankful I felt for the age of roll aboard suitcases with lighter framework as we maneuvered our way through crowds the minute we got off the Subway F at 2nd street not fifteen minutes ago. People though don’t move out of your way so swiftly. They seemed to be either not inclined or less aware as we were barreling toward them with suitcases behind us. It was up to us to slip in between their smoking and joking as they bled out of the café or bar they were patronizing.
Two Boots Pizza and Brooklyn Lager
How many bars have we passed I wonder? We’ve gone left and right and left and right as we weave our way to Nate’s suggested Pizza by the slice joint. Nino’s is on a corner and even before we approach the wide open doors I can feel the heat escaping from the inside and pouring into the street. Pizzas with thin crust and strombolis and calzones are behind glass on a double-decker glass shelf. White pizza with fresh mozzarella, margarita, Hawaiian, pepperoni, and to me they all look “dry.” I tell Bronte that she must be selective about food when we are eating out this week, for I don’t want to be spending $5 on a slice she said looked good but didn’t taste right on a first bite. Or she will be eating protein bars in these instances. I brought a half dozen as backups.
Of course my hope is we try new foods and Nate knows the culinary landscape well, foodie that he is.
11:11am: Angels thank you for the easy first 12 hours.
Last night the final memory I had staring out into the airshaft and onto a weathered fire escape was the sound of sirens and the buzz of someone talking somewhere, unintelligible to me but not important either. The City that never sleeps. But I did and under the cover of a chocolate brown sheet with a wide open window and a final brief thought of, “What if anything will crawl or fly in while I am unconscious?” I determine I won’t worry about the momentary thought of rats, roaches and pigeons. InBellevuewe have an abundance of birds and squirrels and insects of course. I have spider webs constantly in my corners. I have yet to see evidence of a spider web in Nate’s place.
“Listening” through the window at 3am, having captured a few notes of today’s travels for myself, I hear the following, “Where are the mosquitos?”
And I hope that this isn’t like my first night in Kuaui was so many years ago when I was 12 and a mosquito kept buzzing in my ear in between biting me and leaving welts that itched for days in the heat.
Till next time. Aloha from the Big Apple which is as hot as hot can be.