New York – no place like it.

You can’t do everything you want to in New York in three days. I tried. Twice. I came back overwhelmed and exhausted. So, I’m still trying to figure out how to experience that crazy, beautiful, noisy, smelly, exciting city without knocking myself out.

The first time I went in 2011, I was part of a bus tour of women escaping families for a shopping/Broadway/sightseeing trip. I didn’t fit in, nor did I have money to spend on most of those activities. I broke free one day and experienced some moments that stayed with me and kept me hankering to go back. I was blown away by the architecture, the skyscrapers, the sheer number of people on the street at all times and fascinated that, in a city so engulfed by noise, it was still possible to experience quiet.

That solitary day, I started out at the 9/11 museum, where the only sound was muffled crying, me and every single other person. At St. Patrick’s Cathedral I stumbled into a all-black high school graduation ceremony and cried again at the sentiment the young valedictorian expressed while thanking the women in his life for keeping him in school. I lit a candle for my mother because I’d been walking around New York for two days thinking of how much she adored the city when she visited as a still single woman before my dad and five children complicated her life.

I then moved on to the Algonquin Hotel, a must-experience for a writer since it’s the birth-place of the New Yorker and the second home to most of its writers. (also figures prominently in Mad Men) I sat enjoying a beer (cheapest thing on the drinks menu) when the couple beside me, in town from Philadelphia celebrating their anniversary, invited me to join them and generously bought me a couple of drinks. It was magical and, I thought, could only happen in New York – or at least, it was the kind of thing you can experience when travelling alone and feeling free of the everyday stress of home and the shackles of at-home identity.

This trip was a bit different and for some reason I felt myself even more overwhelmed by the city. Perhaps, having been there once, I felt I was more prepared for its offer. Wrong. I doubt it’s a city you can judge in one or two experiences… or a million.

Here, a list of my impressions this time around:

  • I haven’t flown in 3 years and it’s not my fave thing to do. I’m edgy about it, but my excitement to be in NYC trumps the nerves. Plus, my pal is distracting me with chatter, at my request. I barely remember taking off or landing. It’s a short flight – less than an hour in the air. I’m curious about the islands we’re passing over just before landing. Must look them up.
  • We’re in NYC! Though my trip this time is more street level than bus level and less tourist, more traveller, every once in awhile you just have to say, “I’m in New York!”
  • The city is so mythical to me in so many ways – all those films, TV shows and books set in New York that live in the imagination – walking around feels out of this world, at first.
  • Chelsea is a cute area, the best part of which is Cafe Grumpy on 20th, in between 7th and 8th. A good independent shop, great coffee and just about the best almond croissant I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot of them! Our hotel, not so much. Note to self for next time: stay out of the noise, you’ll need it as a nightly refuge.
  • Chelsea art galleries are delightful. We happened upon an art
    Hippies, 2013

    Hippies, 2013

    class while looking at the fascinating Lisa Yuskavage exhibit in the David Zwirner gallery. What luck! The instructor was a wealth of knowledge putting the pieces we were looking at in feminist and artistic context and good thing because I’m not hugely art articulate.

  • The Mad Men exhibit at the Museum of Moving Image is
    1960s secretary's desk

    1960s secretary’s desk

    fabulous – I appreciated the program before, but so much more after seeing the painstaking, intricate detail Matthew Weiner & Co. took to make sure it was as authentic to the time as possible. If you’re a fan of the show, go see it! (it’s on until June 14) I never saw this series as a period piece since all the props, costumes, etc were part of my childhood experience. Walking into Don and Betty’s Ossining, NY kitchen was like stepping into my mother’s kitchen. (No photos allowed, heavily guarded, but I snuck a pic of the secretary’s desk.)

  • Is there anything more NYC than the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, founded by Tony Bennett? It’s across from the Museum of Moving Image in Queens. A prof chatted to us about how students don’t know how to spell or write, but they can sing and play, I guess. Just when I was thinking this, a young man belted out a song on the sidewalk.
  • Getting around on the subway is a challenge for a person from a city with two defined routes and a poor sense of direction. I figure it would take me at least 3-5 years of living in New York before I understood how to get around by transit. Thankfully, New Yorkers are friendly and obliging to two lost souls.
  • The Rockwood Music Hall is a wonderful venue to see music. Small, comfortable and with great sound. A fellow called Andrew Ripp is a talented up and comer, originally from outside Chicago but lives in Nashville.
  • Greenpoint, Brooklyn – the Polish district – feels a lot like home in Roncesvalles. A young stylist named Stephanie gave me a great haircut and told me about  Ovenly – a cute bakery
    ovenly

    Ovenly: Sweet and Salty Recipes from New York’s Most Creative Bakery

    where I bought their recipe book because, unlike so many I have in my collection, this one has some unique baking tips, plus rare but welcome process photos. This only has to do with New York in the sense that the bakery is situated there and the baked goods were delicious – quality ingredients, expertly executed. And the joint was hoppin’.

  • Who knew you could take a NY Ferry from Brooklyn to Manhattan. We did and it was great! (brought Vancouver to mind, a cross between Seabus and Granville Island Ferry). Why can’t Toronto transport some of its commuters by ferry? For that matter, why do we only have two (and a half) subway lines?
  • Central Park is always an oasis, even on a crowded Saturday.
    me and Zach Rance, from BB16

    me and Zach Rance, from BB16

    Down time in New York from our whirlwind New York mini-vacation. The perk for one Big Brother fan like myself is that my fave contestant from last year, Zach Rance, was in town from Florida and hanging out at Strawberry Fields talking to fans. In Toronto, I would never show up at such an event. In New York, why not?

  • My travel companion took me for an authentic Lower East Side experience at Katz’s Deli (which employs security people to make sure you don’t slip out without paying!) – then on to a comedy/music show at Fontana’s (a huge bar with a tiny performance space in the basement). My tiredness got the better of me on Night Two so I went home to the 8th St. hotel and attempted to drown out the relentless noise. (During a restless night before, I noted that people don’t stop partying at 8th and 30th – and probably everywhere else – until at least 4:30 am. Then, the city quiets down for at least a couple of hours, on the weekend at least.)
  • The outdoor 9/11 memorial  was not yet built on my last visit. My pal and I reminisce about the horrific event on the way there, but we know our impressions are nothing compared to what New Yorkers went through that day. The waterfall and pool, with names of those who lost their lives is a fitting and remarkable tribute. After my visit to the museum last time I knew I couldn’t do it again. Too unbearably sad.
  • The only reason to walk into Macy’s is to experience the wooden escalator, a relic from, if not the original store, one of the early incarnations. I put off going to New York for years because I mistakenly thought I had to have a boatload of money to even step one foot on a NYC sidewalk. I’m not much of a shopper anyway, but on both my trips I never felt the need to spend money in stores. There’s seriously too much else to do! Having said that, I did splurge on a pair of coral Birkenstocks – which saved my feet and legs on this trip.
  • Stopped into Grand Central to meet up with my friend and
    Grand Central Terminal, Information Booth and Clock

    Grand Central Terminal, Information Booth and Clock

    didn’t realize until I got home that I can never spend enough time in that great hall of antiquity, a feat of architecture and design (and didn’t that day). If ever there was a time to shout out, “I’m in New York!” it’s surely when standing at the information desk in the middle of the atrium, the scene of so many, many films.

  • Bryant Park is delightful, from it’s food kiosks to its Reading Room, and ping pong tables. Another (needed) respite from busy NYC – truly, I could’ve sat there all day long. But.. place to go, things to see…
  • The Highline – what a great idea that is! Take an unused elevated train track and turn it into a green space with
    The Highline, NYC

    The Highline, NYC

    spectacular city views and an excuse for a simply lovely stroll. Chelsea Market, a spot I wish I’d discovered on day one. A relaxing dinner with two good friends in New York, then off to see Lucy Wainwright Roche, one of myriad number of musical Wainwrights and Roches. First, the Highline Ballroom is a special venue with, again, great sound. Then, talent galore and even more when Loudon Wainwright III got up to sing. Only in New York, where the family hails from and lives.

  • How’s this for a crazy NY moment: walking home from the Highline Ballroom, I ran into an old colleague/friend from Vancouver (who now lives in Toronto) whom I haven’t seen since before I left that city in 2006. Crazy.

Now that I’ve been to New York twice, I’ll probably keep visiting, if only in an attempt to get it right – which for me means balancing all it has to offer with my need to take all things slow and savoury in life and in travel. Still, I think I can sum up the experiences I’ve had there like this:

One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years…  Tom Wolfe

More than a feeling…

August 6, 1978 – I remember it well. It was probably the best night of my life. The Eagles were playing at Exhibition Stadium –  the mists of time don’t allow me to recall now which of my girlfriends I was there with. But I do remember meeting the cutest boy alive, with a gorgeous head of blond hair, an adorably infectious smile, and a voice so distinctive that, to this day, I can still hear it. We took one look at each other and spent the rest of the evening completely focused on each other… oblivious to the concert in front of us. I was 17, he was 16. I couldn’t believe my luck.

The rest of the summer we spent hanging out at Ontario Place, back to the Ex to hide in the bushes and make out… and eventually, his bedroom. He was my first. We spent hours on the phone learning each other. I just wanted to hear his voice, no matter what he was saying. His favourite bands were Boston and Genesis, he played hockey and football, he was good in Math, he had a brother and a step-dad, he worked part time in the sporting goods department at the Bay downtown, and… I found out later, I was a rebound from his long term relationship, a girl he reconciled with when the school year started. It was short, but meaningful… at least to me.

We kept in touch, became close friends and intermittently spent time together; usually when we both happened to be single. We seemed to linger on the possibility of rekindling our youthful attraction, but we never reconnected physically. That one time, my all important first time, is still a singular memory. And a very nice one, despite my infatuation, and extreme nervousness.Those were still pretty innocent days, and this step was serious enough for me that this boy gave me his school ring to take home as a token of respect or some kind of promise. Of course I was heartbroken when he ended it, but I got over it in time. Through it all he was sweet, kind, considerate and a really wonderful listener at a pretty delicate time in my life.

Somehow, weirdly, except for the years I lived in Vancouver, we always worked in close proximity to one another. So even if we had fallen out of touch, we ended up running into each other regularly. The last time I saw him was about 3 years ago.

His birthday is in early May, so naturally I thought of him, wondering what he’s been up to, is he happy, maybe he finally got married and has a couple of babies, where is he? I googled his name and found his obituary. He died of cancer last fall, at age 51.

I felt overwhelming sadness. What a loss. He was an incredible person. Bright, articulate, funny, caring. Still so gorgeous, with that voice. An accomplished career in communications, he dabbled in photography, loved the cottage and fishing. And so much more I didn’t keep up with. His obit said he didn’t want a visitation or a service. He was not married, had no children.

Mostly, I couldn’t believe someone that I’d known since 17 was now gone. Why hadn’t I stayed in touch?

What I wasn’t was shocked. It’s the second time this has happened to me. The first was in 2005 when googling an old boyfriend who’d remained a good friend but whom I’d lost track of yielded the same unbelievable result.

There’s a lesson here. Stay close to those you care about. I probably shouldn’t have needed to learn it twice.

IMG_2215

Spring 1999, Toronto

The only thing I have of this beautiful man who meant so much to me in my young life and who was a fun and trustworthy friend throughout, is a series of photos he took of me in 1999. I needed a picture for a column I had begun to write and he offered to photograph me. Obviously, he’s not in the photos, but I think you can see him by the look in my eyes.

I will miss knowing he’s in the world.