There are three places on earth where I feel most myself: London. The south coast of England (specifically Mudeford and Kimmeridge bay). And New York City. This last one was and wasn’t a surprise to me. I’m English to the very roots of my being, yet when I walk through the streets of NYC it’s like I’m following echoes of a past lfe — or a future life yet to be. I’ve visited three times now and on each visit I sink deeper into the energy of the place. I never seem to need a map (though that’s not remarkable — the place is pretty easy to get around) and, hilariously, people always stop me to ask for directions. My head and heart feel wide open over there. I’m expanded. Even now my heart aches just thinking about the place.
Comparing London and NYC is like comparing apples and oranges. The’re both fruit and they both taste delicious, but they are unique unto themselves. London is big and majestic, with pockets of cool scattered all over the city.
New York Manhattan is more intense, an explosion of life that pulses to it’s own distinct beat. I find both cities intoxicating, though, of course, London is now home, and with that daily familiarity comes a bit of ambivalence. It doesn’t help that I rarely get a chance to go into town, trips out limited to the supermarket and the gym.
Visiting NYC for 5 days was exactly the shot in the arm I needed after the last few months of getting back on my feet. I stayed in the East Village in a studio apartment I found through AirBnB. Have you tried the site yet? It was my first time and I found it really easy to make the booking, the flat was lovely, plus it was considerably cheaper than a hotel. I ate lunch out every day, ordered take away in the evening and cobbled together a picnic breakfast in the morning (the apartment didn’t have a kitchen, but it did have an excellent coffee maker!) I loved having a little home in the city for a few days — made my dream of living in NYC one day feel so much closer.
While there I got to spend some time with some treasured gal pals, fell madly in love with the Lower East Side and finally explored downtown, including the 9/11 memorial site. For some reason I had it in my head that the site would still be rubble, but they’re not only building four new buildings, they’ve also finished the memorial park. Just being in the area made me emotional, imagining how it must have been as the towers fell and the streets filled with dust and rubble. I was working for a national newspaper when the planes hit, and remember watching it all happen live on TV while the whole office exploded into action. It was utterly surreal. It’s always saddened me that I never made it to NYC before 2001, so it felt important to pay my respects.
I stood for half an hour beside the pool with tears streaming down my face, empathy levels off the charts. As I pulled myself together to leave I found it odd seeing other visitors taking photos of themselves beside the pool, grinning inanely into the camera. I know everyone deals with these sorts of places in their own way, but I honestly wanted to take them to one side and point out that this wasn’t a tourist attraction. It’s a memorial. And these weren’t just foreign tourists, either. But who knows what was going on for those people. I slowly made my way out and spotted the gift shop. For a millisecond I wondered if this wasn’t tasteless too, but I actually appreciated flicking through the books and reading the timeline written on the walls. And when I saw a set of model FDNY trucks I knew I had to buy them for Noah. It made me smile to have the thought of him with me in a place that had been witness to so much sadness. Suddenly the postcards and mugs made sense — we have to remember.
Last year I travelled a lot for work, so it was so nice to be able to just enjoy the city without any other pressing engagements. Walking around New York on my own with just my iPhone* and journal was my idea of heaven. I often talk about how taking photographs is like meditation for me and never was it more so than on those dirty fabulous streets. I wasn’t thinking about where else I needed to be; I wasn’t wondering if there was something better around the corner. I was absolutely 100% present, looking around me and drinking it all in. I take just as many photographs here at home, but there’s nothing like walking down unfamiliar streets to reinvigorate your creative mojo. My head was exploding the whole time. I loved it.
* On a sidenote, I’d decided not to take my SX-70 or DSLR with me, wanting instead to roam the streets without feeling like a mule carrying a ton of camera gear. THIS WAS SO THE RIGHT DECISION. I adore my cameras, don’t get me wrong, but oh how I loved carrying a small bag with just a lipstick, a journal, my iphone and my wallet. I took hundreds of photos, because that’s what I do, but I didn’t need millions of pixels, and I’d shot plenty of Polaroids in the city last year. This trip was purely for FUN, embracing lightness and simplicity and ease, three qualities I now want more of at home. It was the best birthday present I could have given myself.
And speaking of home, one of the nicest things about being away was realising that this place — this flat, this city — really does feel like home now. I needed to be far away, in a place I love just as much, to appreciate what it is I’m building here. A new life. A future. And maybe one day I’ll realise my dream of living in both cities, living the LON-NY life.
As a few people have asked, here are some of the shopping/food highlights from the trip:
Le Labo – gorgeous perfumes
Erica Tanov – accessories to die for
Blue Stockings – brill book store
Narnia – vintage goodness
Assembly – fashion chic
Maryam Nassir Zadeh – ditto
Beautiful Dreamers – great accessories
Malin + Goetz – perfume oils!
CO Bigelow – perfume!
Aurora – Brooklyn brunch
Stand – great burgers
Bare Burgers — even better burgers
Digg Inn — healthy fast food
Pastis – obviously
And there was this great pulled pork sandwich I had for lunch in the Chelsea Market but, alas, i can’t remember the name of the place. It was so good!