When in Rome do as the Romans Do
Following the rules is not what we do.
Now that I have been in New York about three weeks, people are asking if I am settling in.
Settling in is a relative term and means different things for different people. For me, it is the process of transitioning from the thrill of being in a new place to the nitty gritty of day to day living. It involves the ever-increasing movement beyond the circle of comfort I inhabited when I first arrived. Initially that circle was small and included my home base (home away from home), the neighbourhood, and a few key places I needed to get to. Over time, that circle has expanded as I come to understand – to the extent possible- life in New York.
Settling in is a kind of automatic knowing – what subway train to take, dropping by your favourite store to pick up something for dinner, and having some routine to the day, while letting go of former habits and ways of doing things to which I have become attached and take for granted. It’s a kind of flow in which I can move from one thing to the next without too much fuss.
My day usually has three parts to it: a walk/run in Prospect Park unless it’s a yoga day; time to write in the Rose Room of the New York Public Library; and explore some part of the city which is centred around finding a good place for a coffee and a bite to eat. Interspersed in this routine are the visits to museums/art galleries; talks; and theatre as time and resources permit.
One of the advantages of living some place new for an extended period of time is that you pay attention to things that you otherwise would not. As a visitor, I am in the enviable position of both participant and observer. Here are a few things I have learned so far:
- Move quickly – dawdling is not the way here and it provokes impatience. I now cross streets on the red light and weave through the crowd focused on where I need to go.
- If I want to park myself at a good coffee shop I need to go early to find a seat.
- The police presence for dignitaries’ visit to the UN General Assembly, particularly with Donald Trump’s presence, was astonishing. No one blinked an eye at the traffic gridlock, barricades, and armed police everywhere.
- The New York Transit system for the most part is not accessible. I have no idea what people with mobility issues do. Also, the schedule on the weekends seems random.
- A sense of direction is not one of my gifts. The up side of extra walking is finding great neighbourhoods and local eateries. My metro card and a good map (including google maps) have proved themselves indispensable. I am also a fan of the express 4/5 subway line.
- Small surprises happen often. One day a woman with an extraordinary voice sang in Verdi Park (Upper West side), in sharp contrast to the hustle and bustle of people rushing by. On another day, two guys on the subway car, blared music and cleared a space to do a dance routine which included hanging upside down from the poles! And last Saturday a young man in a tux played a grand piano in Washington Square.
- I am hard pressed to find a newspaper or mail box in my neighbourhood. On the other hand, there are lots of corner deli shops and laundromats around. It seems like most people send their laundry out- nobody does their own. I have decided this is a good idea and do the same.
- There are some great places to eat in New York, but if you want to eat at a favourite restaurant, make the reservation well in advance.
- I know the line for cupcakes at Magnolia bakery is long but moves quickly and the bagels at the local bagel place are hard to resist.
- Every bit of space in the city is used. I mean it! Cars are stacked in parking lots, merchants use all available space in stores, and soccer fields have been created on former wharves at the Brooklyn waterfront.
- The US Currency still includes pennies and I have started picking them up when I see them on the sidewalk. The beloved penny! I am hoping this will help finance my time in New York.
A few of my favourites so far:
- Rizzoli’s Bookstore https://www.rizzolibookstore.com/
- Birdland Jazz Club https://www.birdlandjazz.com/
- Ovenly Bakery (see below) http://www.oven.ly/
- Member’s lounge at the MET
Life moves at the speed of sound – loud and brash and in your face. I do pay attention to the need for quiet time. I have found a few spots that are gems, where it is possible to find quiet time with a cup of tea and watch the chaotic and busy NYC world go by.
There are many opportunities to move beyond the range of one’s comfort zone and my goal during my stay is to do just that. One woman I met said in New York people like to do their own thing- “following the rules is not what we do”. It was an astute observation about a city of great diversity that squeezes every minute out of the day. It was also a good reminder to me to dispense with following the rules from time to time and go beyond my own comfort zone.
New York is astonishing! Imagine…
The photos above are Central Park along the Great Ramble, street art in Bushwick (Brooklyn) and Grand Central Terminal. The Imagine photo at the top is in Strawberry Fields in Central Park.