New York, New York, be still my heart

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!

23 responses
  1. Melissa

    i know exactly how you feel Susannah. Toronto is, and has always been my home, but when I’m in New York, there is this energy that can’t be explained… yet it runs through me and gives me the quivers. The people, the streets, the sounds… everything is just so alive. Also, I’ve never seen such a strong sense of community. It’s amazing. I go back every year, just to get lost in the city and discover new streets, pockets, shops and restos. It really is a magical place. Thanks for sharing manahattan through your eyes

  2. Maura

    I had the same emotional reaction at the 9/11 Memorial. Tears; seeing friends names; and slight bewilderment at those not feeling the same Glad you enjoyed NYC.

  3. gotham girl

    Love that you Love my city! I totally get each and every word! I adore living there!

  4. kelly

    I’m not sure if you are the one in the pink polka dots or sitting across with the giant plate of food but either way… you are so dang cute.

  5. Pam

    On Friday, I am taking the train down the Hudson River to New York for an all-too-rare day of wandering the streets alone. Joyous anticipation! And have been deciding which Polaroid(s) to sling over my shoulder. Thanks for the reminder. All I will need is a pair of open eyes, a big open heart and a teeny iPhone to have the kind of day I am looking for. Thanks so much for sharing!

  6. Nina

    I’m a born-and-bred Londoner with family in NYC, so have visited often since I was a little kid. In a lot of ways I don’t like the city, actually – too noisy, too dirty, way too much road crossing and WHAT is with the subway?! – but it somehow has gotten under my skin anyway and I miss it sometimes. Your photos have just made me miss it, in fact! (And I’ve never felt drawn to visit the 9/11 memorial site, but the idea of a gift shop does seem tasteless…)

  7. Annette Gendler

    It’s so interesting to me to read this post because, just having been in New York again a month ago, I simply don’t love it. Somehow as a writer and a Jew and a lover of the arts I am supposed to, as judged by all the comments I get when I say I’m going, but on this last trip I’ve decided that it’s OK for me not to love NYC, even if everybody else does.

    It’s not that I hate it, I always find something to enjoy, and we have great friends there, but I think for me it’s too much of everything, and too little beauty. Paris is “it” for me, that will always be my city, closely followed by Prague for which I have a strong family nostalgia, and I think I’ve been calling Chicago home for more than 20 years now because it’s huge, but not too huge, it’s got worldclass culture but it doesn’t overwhelm me, and above all, it’s beautiful.

    OK, sorry for the long comment, but clearly I had to work out this New York thing… Oh, and I’d rather live in London than in NYC, which I got to do for a brief period when my husband was doing an internship there.

  8. saraH

    Love your view of NY, I’ve only been once and briefly but loved it too. Also Mudeford? I love that beach :)

  9. ashley howard

    I enjoyed hearing about your journey and holiday, AND your choice to leave “fancy” cameras at home. I have been exploring Paris and Belgium with just my iPhone and loving the freedom. I can’t wait to be in your home city of London next week!

  10. Barbara

    Love your pictures of New York City. I visited Bath England on my 25th wedding anniversary as one of the places to see. The Roman Baths were really something. I love the English Country side. Barbara

  11. Steven Andrew

    NYC was beautiful when I visited last year. I’ve only been once and rarely explored, I was there only a day. From what I saw, I loved. It was beautiful and big and busy and it was my kind of place. I would love to go back and explore like you did.
    I’d love to go to London, though. It’s high on my list and reading your blog just intensifies it twice as much.
    Beautiful photographs!

  12. Jackie Cangro

    What a wonderful post. I live in Brooklyn and often take for granted all of the great things NYC has to offer. Thank you for helping me see my city in a new light.

  13. Alma

    Writing a letter in my head earlier today I started with “It feels like spring and that makes me feel homesick for New York. Although I it being fall always makes me miss New York too. I always miss New York.” The way you described your experience in the first paragraph seems almost exactly like mine. I visited New York for the first time a few years back, and was actually pretty sure before going that it would be way too much for my sensitive system. And I absolutely felt at home the first moment I arrived. The sense of expansion
    I feel there is indescribable. The feeling of “home” really. I’ve spent a week in my life there and yet feel homesick for the place. That’s nutty if anything ;D But I so totally loved the synchronicity that I, in my missing New York state of mind wandered to your blog to nurture my heart and here you are: posting about New York. Thank you for easing my loving with these beauties. Maybe we’ll meet on the streets of NY one day :D

  14. Alma

    easing my LONGING, was what I were to say. Don’t know if my loving needs easing….

  15. Alma

    Or maybe it does… ;D

  16. Bella

    Come back soon, darlin!! xo

  17. Carin

    I’ve only been to NYC once and it was heaven. My husband, with the inbuilt tracking system, couldn’t find his way around, and I, who always have to rely on others to find my way, walked around the city with ease. I loved it, and do hope I get to visit again. Now I’m curious about Mudeford as well! For me England feels like home. Until I went here as an au pair in 1991, I had never had any interest in the UK (I just wanted to go to New York!), but when I came here I fell in love with it instantly and feel so at home here. Everyone thinks I’m crazy preferring the UK to Sweden, but this really is my soul home.

  18. susannah

    I love that, Carin :)

  19. elizabeth

    oh, the LONNY life . . . you shall be a LONNY girl, you will! (you are). xooxox, e

  20. Kathryn

    lovely & thoughtful. I’m a country girl and just imagining trying to find my way around a city makes me feel lost, but your post has awakened my inner wanderlust.
    It’s funny, this is the second post the has done that today (the first being Alice’s Paris photos on Lingered Upon), at a time when I’m feeling tired from all the travelling back and forth I’m doing.

  21. Caz

    As a south coast girl myself I love the peace of kimmeridge and the awesome hot chocolate @ mudeford. London makes me happy when I visit.

    Seeing your blog pics of nyc, made me remember the buzz of the city, chase my own memories on Flikr and make plans with a friend to go back this year. Love the inspiring words and visuals on your blog :)

  22. La plume et la page

    I’ve never been to NYC but I don’t think I could live in such a town one day. Too big, too many skyscrapers… But I could easily live in London. A remarkable town!

  23. Louise

    we were there in October and I was desperate to get to the 911 Memorial and I was really glad I did. I too found it incredibly moving so much so that after reading the story of the one tree saved in the wreckage, nurtured back to health and planted at the memorial site I burst into tears A security guard came across to ask “are you ok Mam?” and I couldn’t speak. I felt such a fraud telling him I hadn’t lost anyone in the tragedy i was crying over the tree story! My family thought I was nuts, but the guard was lovely!

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