I roll the window down in the back of the taxi so I can smell New York. Diesel trucks and car stereos saturate the humid air on the Williamsburg bridge. After we check into our hotel in the Lower East Side we set off for the subway, eager to make it to the southern tip of Manhattan before the sun sets. We lose some time figuring out the turnstiles and which line goes north and which goes south, but soon we’re flying through the darkness under the huge city. Giddy with adventure–laughing and posing for photos–we stare at the passengers around us, imagining their private worlds. Where do they work? How often do they see the stars? What would it be like to live in this pulsing knot of babies, taxis, high-heels and light?
The night is warm and scented with garbage, soft pretzels, and greenery. On our way back from Lady Liberty and the glittering harbour, Belén spies a rat. Just before we reach our hotel, a fight breaks out in the middle of the street. While cars stop and men rage I push Belén and Susanna forward, telling them to look straight ahead and keep walking. The neighbourhood isn’t touristy, but we chose to stay here because we wanted to walk the the streets of this great read-aloud:
The cabbie who picked us up from the airport indicates the multicultural flavour of the 1800’s (described in the novel we read) is still strong today.
“New York. World City,” he says, and then repeats, “World City. New York.”
Susanna and Belén notice it, too. “Why are there so many people with dark-skin?” Susanna wonders aloud.
Belén keeps asking what language people are speaking, “Is it Spanish, Mom?” When she hears French, she lingers a little closer and smiles.
In one subway station a busker stamps out South American folk tunes. In another, an accordion player serenades commuters as if the subterranean tracks were the canals of Venice.
We criss-cross the city, hitting up the museums, parks and restaurants on our list, but I’m disoriented the whole time. No matter how often I look at the map I can’t seem to find my cardinal bearings, which is unusual for me. When I suggest turning left, Stan looks at me funny, shakes his head, and points us right. I mutter something about needing a big sky to navigate but any discomfort I feel from our foreign surroundings is also accompanied by a sense of refreshment. It’s good to be far from home where the streets rush with diversity.
Seeing people who look, dress, talk, move, and live differently than we do is like a whoosh of air that comes out of blacksmith bellows, only in this case, it’s a surge of creativity and possibility, instead of oxygen. And as much as I believe in burrowing into the place I am; getting to know my neighbours and the square footage (indoor and outdoor) we inhabit, I also know that Ieaving it widens my perception. Like a groundhog who looks up from her hole in the ground, I realize the world is so much bigger than I thought it was. One of the luxuries of travel is the break from all the tunnels and holes of our regular life and the chance to look at the expanse around us. The other luxury, of course, is coming home…
Here, with no hipsters to serve us drinks, we have to collect the herbs ourselves which, I figure, is at least half the pleasure of drinking tea anyway…
Back in the dirt,
PS. The whole reason we went to New York was to meet up with Stan’s family, three hours east of the city. Since posting about it would involve quoting late-night campfire discussions I opted for these parting shots instead: