13 June 2017

Feature: Word From The U.S!

An Ode to a US City

I just put The Secret Life of Pets on for the girls for the hundredth time or so and found myself humming along to that Taylor Swift song in the opening credits and listening to Luna tell me, again, that she was “born there you know Mama!!”. I remember when that song was released and we laughed because how could Taylor Swift sing the praises of NYC?! WE lived there, not her! (Yes I’m not really a fan of modern pop music, Nine Inch Nails and Nick Cave are more my jam). But, NYC IS a place that you want to sing and write and dream about. It may not be the city where dreams are made of for everyone, but it was my home for 11 years, and I still miss it every day. I’ve written a lot about how the current administration here in the US is driving me bonkers, and how there are many things I dislike about this country, but there IS a reason I have been here so long, and much of that has to do with New York City.

I landed in NYC one day in late May of 2005, after nearly a year of living and working in London. I had a job offer on a temporary visa, a temporary apartment to live in for a month and no idea what to expect. I was going to make a little bit more than the very little I had been making in London and was in love with the idea of taking off yet again towards a new adventure. With two suitcases in hand I was cruising along the highway in a yellow cab, saw the Manhattan skyline and knew that I was where I belonged. I had never dreamed of NYC as a place I wanted to live in before, but that was all it took for me: she picked me up, wrapped me in my embrace and I was done for. NYC will always be my home, no matter where I am in the world. Twelve years later and I still remember those first moments of my arrival, those first days in the city, and those first months finding my feet.

I started my journey in an apartment on the Lower East Side, working in Midtown. I moved to an affordable sublet in Spanish Harlem, and then after 10 months to a tiny studio in the West Village for a couple of years. In early 2008 a friend of mine and I decided to brave Bushwick in Brooklyn, and over the next 6 years watched it go from kind of scary to hipster haven, where brunch at first would be an egg sandwich from the new deli on the corner, and then later in one of the new up-and-coming spots around us. When I was pregnant my partner and I ended up moving to Flushing in Queens, mainly because it was the first decently sized and priced place we found in the middle of a brutal winter, but also because I didn’t have the heart to traipse around the city haggling with brokers. Both our children were born in NYC, one in Brooklyn, and the other in Queens. They were real city babies, took the subway strapped in their Ergos, eating at Greek diners, and visiting friends in bars and restaurants. I sometimes wonder if they will be angry at us for taking them away from the place where their parents met, fell in love and had them. Probably…

That said, the city is not for everyone. While amazing to look at, to walk through and to experience, she can be very, very tough woman to live with. Winters are brutal, summers are hot and sticky, but all is forgotten during the amazing springs and autumns. It can be very hard to make enough money to live on; a lot of my time there was spent hustling, one job, two jobs, three jobs… There were weeks, months even, that I would close the bar at 5am, pulling the front gate down alone, and be back at work at the restaurant next door at Noon, and not always out of necessity. I think some people just seem to embrace that kind of life, and I know I did. My partner was the same, constantly on the move, working 80 plus hours a week, jumping from bar to bar, hanging out with friends. I would go to at least one or two shows a week, and saw nearly all of my favourite artists at least once, if not twice, or many, many more times. The Lower East Side was always my first love, and even though she changed over the years, we still remained as close as possible… Working on one street, hanging out on another, stomping around in my biker boots from bar to restaurant back to bar again. I met some of my closest friends and worst enemies on those streets (and more than one of my favourite musicians too). People have written books about those streets, and I recognize the words and the stories in those books, sometimes I was even there, drinking my drink in the background, or spinning a song in a dark basement bar, watching the people let loose and dance to music they hadn’t even heard of before.

But sometimes the streets swallow you up and take a while to spit you out again. I saw many people arrive and depart, many who made their way, many who lost their way. I did a little bit of all of them, but somehow the city always helped me back onto my path again. I would walk for miles along the grid, listening to hours of music, shooting pictures of buildings, churches and street art, of people and friends. I loved being alone and I loved being surrounded by people. I loved the amount of people who lived on the same island as me, those I would walk past every day and those I would pass once and never again. River to river and back to the Williamsburg Bridge again, never failing to stare at the skyline in awe. I think everyone has that one place in the world that will always be in their heart, and that place is NYC for me. The city that never sleeps (literally), where you can find everything you want, every type of food, hear every language you knew existed, and where despair and ultimate happiness often cross each others’ paths on a daily basis. The one place where you are never, ever bored.

If you are ever planning on a place to visit in the US I really recommend New York City. While it may seem expensive if you go through regular travel planners, there are loads of ways to make it super affordable. Try AirBnB for a place to stay that isn’t Times Square (you only need to experience Times Square once). Don’t eat at the expensive “popular” restaurants, but instead Yelp different cuisines and check out tons of different ethnic food restaurants in Corona (Mexican), Jackson Heights (Indian), Korean (Midtown East), Chinese (Chinatown or Flushing), Italian (everywhere) etc etc. Avoid the annoying tourist buses and take the subway and walk everywhere. You don’t get to see things like the tiny ancient cemetery hidden between two buildings in Soho on a bus. Oh and take the Staten Island ferry for a nice view of the Statue of Liberty: it’s free!! And if you need tips on which bars to frequent, let me know and I will guide you to them!

By this time next month I should have given birth to my third child, so expect an article on having a child in the US and how easy or traumatic it can be depending on a lot of factors. If I happen to still be pregnant be prepared for a long rant on how I hate the northern Californian heat and how I want to jump in a pool of ice forever!

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