It’s the city that needs no introduction. Regiments of yellow cabs move in perfect formation from north to south like soldier ants; in summer, concrete pavements and towering brick facades absorb the intense heat, turning the city into a giant woodfired oven; while in winter, a layer of white icing descends on bare tree branches, parked cars and empty benches, enforcing stillness. It’s the city that never sleeps, but there are vignettes everywhere, moments caught in time. A short burst of pink sunset over the Hudson turns the city’s first lady into a distinctive silhouette, her right arm piercing the sky. You sit in a pizzeria, noticing the flavours of milky mozzarella and sweet tomato on your tongue, watching the muted scene of anonymous figures in heavy coats disappearing into clouds of steam rising from the subway. In Central Park, the drifting sounds of traffic, couples laughing, kids squealing with delight over dripping ice creams and the chatter of taxi drivers smoking in the shade all blend into a comforting white noise that is almost meditative.
Marcel Proust said: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Proust also said “A pair of wings is a different respiratory system”. I like that.
Being only third second trip, this high-rise matrix is still a new landscape, but I decided to roll with Proust and approach it with new eyes. Instead of joining the tourist throng in Times Square, I stayed in a traditional brownstone, elevated from the street by a set of steps that the neighbours would sit on in summer drinking Red Stripe beers, in Bed-Sty (the home of rapper Biggie Smalls and a whole lot of others who asked me what the hell I was doing in this part of Brooklyn, gerrl?).
Instead of grabbing a salt beef bagel at Katz’s deli, I headed to Smorgasburg market on the Williamsburg waterfront and joined the snaking lines of hipsters queuing for pillowy steamed buns, iced doughnuts and saucy burritos.
While I didn’t climb to the top of the Rockefeller Centre, I sniffed out Birreria, the oasis-like rooftop bar and micro-brewery above Mario Batali’s famous outpost of the Italian food emporium that originated in Italy, Eataly.
Strolls through Central Park were replaced with missions up First Ave battling icy winds coming straight off the East River to find Ess-A-Bagel, one of the city’s original bagel joints. And while David Chang’s buns are undeniably hot, rockstar Japanese restaurant Ippudo on the Lower East Side and Danny Bowien’s Mission Chinese Food proved that the Momofuku empire does not have exclusive rights when it comes to hot Asian influences.
The best part about having new eyes, is that more things come as a surprise. Who would have thunk the city’s food romances to be kale, oysters and soft-serve ice cream? That oyster happy hours were a regular event at bars all over? – my favourite being at the Prohibition-luxe Maison Premiere in Brooklyn. Or that the people of this big, brash place would be so friendly and welcoming to a visitor, stopping to give directions on the subway or advice across the bar without provocation?
By now you may have realised that I haven’t actually named the city in subject. This is no oversight, I think you’re with me by now. I think you probably had it after the first sentence. This intoxicating, all-consuming city needs no introduction, but discovering it with “new eyes” brought a completely unique experience of this concrete jungle where dreams are made, oh. Thanks Alicia.