Sunday, July 3, 2011

Manhattan in Mourning

NYC, what can I say that hasn’t already been written about, sung about? I could hyperbole myself to death just attempting to convey just one grain of this wily pastiche of grit, dirt, glass, and brick, rich and poor. So I’ll just break into song: “NYC, what is it about you? You’re big. You’re tough. You’re rough!”

Last weekend I discovered that my aunt, who I’ve never actually met but if I had, would have loved inexplicably, had died of cancer. There I was, feet still died with grapes from the vineyard, learning that I was to fly to New York, post haste.

I’ve been over it and around it, but I’ve never actually been to Manhattan. But now was my chance to finally go! I was in mourning but… really how long can someone stay in mourning when they’re surrounded by the city lights, sipping coffee at Bryant Park, and eating Pizza on Broadway?

Woody Allen is right; Paris is magical at midnight (granted you’re not staying in de hood), but N.Y.C. is downright whimsical in the morning.

I arrived at Canal Street, by way of Subway, under the misty morning sky. To my left, Little Italy. To my right, Chinatown. A bit after 8 on a Thursday morning and you would think that all of NYC would be awake and milling about at the speed of light like ants but surprisingly, the streets were quaintly subdued. Everything was quiet except for the slamming of bakery trucks delivering their daily fare to the restaurants, the cafes and bistro-men polishing their chairs and tables for the day ahead, and the bakers yelling from the kitchens as they mixed their daily batches of bread and cake. Every door to an establishment was open, exposing the smells of heated dough and sugar to the streets. There I was in the middle of Mulberry St., with a camera and a Starbuck’s coffee in my hand, feeling as if, once again, I’d been transported to a magical place—only this time I didn’t have to shield my possessions from gypsies.

Walking alongside the eclectic apartment buildings of brick, crown molding, and winding fire escapes, the historian in me couldn’t help but to wonder what the neighborhood might have been like its heyday with the mafia bosses running the streets. Were these charming, quirky apartments once dark, rodent infested tenements? Likely so, by now in New York, they’re called “prime real estate”.

Now the food in little Italy is no thing of the past. My first ever food-gasm occurred at Café Roma: a small, non-descript bakery on Broome St. I would have passed on by the little joint if it hadn’t been for the sounds of “The Point of No Return” wafting into the streets through the open doors. Never quite able to resist a good opera, I was lured right in to the dark bakery displaying rows of tasty treats. Italian desserts don’t look like much to the eye; they lack the confectionary frou frou sensibilities of French pastries, but they taste divine! After consulting my inner fitness guru via protracted Shakespearian soliloquy, my inner sweet tooth gave in. Let me be clear, Café Roma has ruined me for all other cheesecakes. I bought three different flavors…for my family, of course. Upon returning to Queens, my family loved it so much that my father called them to demand they make a bigger cheesecake that would be ready for him no later than Sunday. I revisited the bakery days later, mostly to be sure that their heavenly cheesecakes were real and that I hadn’t just built them up in my mind like some of my clandestine relationships.

With no one to distract me, I could weave through the narrow streets of Chinatown, free from the crowds and the hustlers, or, as I like to call them, handbag gypsies. I was free to stop and watch the cooks hang their peeking ducks in the window, and make silly analogies to George Orwell and Amsterdam.  Like Little Italy, Chinatown was just flicking the crud out of its eye. Everyone was sleepily zombieing about, trying to set themselves up for the day. I casually watched the fishmongers lay their catches out on display and the fruit carters begin to stack out their exotic Lychees.

Around 11, I rode the empty subway to the financial district, which was also empty. I could amble down Wall Street at my leisure. New York was beginning to remind me of I am Legend. Where was everybody? Of course, there were construction men, the occasional bum and Frankfurter salesman, but the financial district was disturbingly quiet. Too quiet. I realize that by then, everyone was already sitting in their offices/cubicles with their second mug of coffee in hand, but the streets were looking post apocalyptic.

Just as I was about to whip out my pretend CNN app, I heard the screaming. Yes, right there in front of the Trump building, directly across from Tiffany’s and the Stock Exchange, two New Yorkers were loudly threatening to come to fisticuffs. Soon the altercation spiraled into a street brawl tornado picking up anyone in its periphery. A gentleman in an Italian suit had exited the Trump building for a smoke break and was quickly swept into the swirling vortex of fists, pumps, briefcases. I looked over to my brother and saw him looking at me with that Chris Brown gleam in his eye, and I knew that street-fight fever was moving our way fast. I knew it was time to get out of NYC before noon. Something told me the city got ugly after noon.

I returned to Manhattan once more on Sunday (at noon) with two of my aunts, and it was a different story. Gay pride parade aside, everywhere we went, the streets were packed with tourists. Time’s Square was a miserable, hot, tourist infested hell. It was as if paradise was lost. Every street and avenue was overrun with people standing, eating, talking, and smoking. Strolling through Soho, Little Italy, and Chinatown, I felt like Owen Wilson must have felt when he revisited the same spot where he’d dined with Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald the night prior to find that it was just an empty Laundromat. It was incredibly disheartening. The magic was gone, replaced with crowds. Even the bakery on Broome Street had swapped out its Phantom of the Opera for top 40 hits. I didn’t hear Daddy Warbucks crooning out “NYC” in my head anymore. I didn’t feel swept away in something old and grand. Instead, I felt unceremoniously chucked into present day and forced to listen to Jay-Z’s cover of “Hard Knock Life”.

I’m being dramatic. This was no hard knock life. The streets of Soho were lined with high end stores and I could watch the fashionable ton parade about with their designer bags and capricious style for hours. In Little Italy, every café and bistro overflowed into the sidewalk with people, sitting, eating and enjoying the sunny weekend. With its edgy streets, dazzling architecture, and trendy dwellers, how could I fault the city for being overcrowded? I’m half tempted to set up shop in a tiny, overpriced loft, myself. And by “half tempted” I do mean I’m job/apartment hunting in Manhattan at the moment.

N.Y.C., I give you fair warning: I’m coming for ya!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hey who whoud have thought sunday would be so different.