New York #3 observations

It’s been a long while, but I’m still very focused on American news, and not only because of the midterms. What is it about the US that continues to fascinate me? And why do I continue to read newsletters from people like Mark Manson (okay, translated him, yes – plus I think his writing has become better and more interesting), Mel Robbins (I kind of wish I had translated her 5 Second Rule), Ingrid Fetell Lee (translated her book as well; I’ve often mentioned her here and I actually hope she writes a second book), NYC-based Anne Kadet (really wish I could write like her) and Michael Estrin (sometimes hilarious, and certainly always surprising and totally different from anything Dutch I read), and Gretchen Rubin, who isn’t even a psychologist, like I thought, and I also wrote about her here.

And Martin might be going back to the Hudson Valley next spring! He applied for a writing residency in Art Omi, and since we happened to pass by that place, we visited the sculpture garden and checked the place out. Who knows I might be green with envy in April, but if he gets accepted, I will have cat cuddle duties in Autun!

There are a couple of things I still wanted to write about here. Most people know food is a big thing for me. And to quote Kelly Weekers, an author I recently translated, “I don’t like to cook, but I love to eat”. Well……… America had changed in culinary aspects. The huge portions (goodbye doggy bag?) were gone, both in the big city as well as in small towns upstate. Sometimes the portions were downright small. (Or is that because people who order quinoa goat cheese salads or vegetarian burgers are supposed to be on a diet or something?) The food was often mediocre at best, while I remember the US as a place where you would almost always eat well, though not necessarily refined.

In my memory, wine used to be served in gallon-glasses. Well, not anymore. And (hate to admit this) we even found ourselves resorting to Happy Hour, since a glass would then be cheaper than 14 euro (that was the cheapest option) – ex sales tax and obligatory 20% tip. We later found out there are vineyards in the Hudson Valley. So why then did we never see any of those wines on the menu, not even in the one pretty fancy schmancy restaurant we went to? And why were the Chilean bottles cheapest in the liquor stores? Oh, and by the way, you can’t buy wine in a regular grocery store, which was a bit of a pain for us sometimes. But while camping, we switched to IPA’s anyway. (Martin still needs to finish his photographic series Cool Cans in Amazing Places – hint hint.) We also drank beer on one of the campsite “beaches” – not in a paper bag either – where alcoholic beverages weren’t allowed. Another thing that wasn’t allowed was swimming when there was no lifeguard on duty. And no, in May there never is a life guard on duty. Good thing I’m not a swimmer.

The only portions that did remain huge, were coffee and tea. (Whoever invented the “venti”?!) A medium sized latte was often nice though, since we would walk and walk and walk. But if I were to make a cartoon of a typical New Yorker, I think it would be someone on sneakers, talking in their phone via ear plugs, with a to-go beverage in the other hand.

Another weird food thing for me was that I remembered New York as filled with bagel places. All day I would pass delis, ogling the enormous, yummy looking cakes from the sidewalk. But in the past I would usually eat one bagel with cream cheese for breakfast and then not be hungry the rest of the day. Ordering a bagel used to be a big adventure too. In Holland the Bagels & Beans chain did not yet exist and I loved bagels! But in New York there are all kinds of bagel + cream cheese flavors, and you have to choose in a hurry. Nexttttt!! (People are in a rush; NYC is the only place where I am not the fastest walker on the sidewalk.) But now though, 1. there were hardly any delis left, and 2. the whole of downtown Manhattan was not filled with McDonald’s (only saw one of those!) but with Starbucks (no surprise there), but also on every corner either a Pret A Manger or Le Pain Quotidien, chains that for me are totally European and very upmarket. It really felt like the place had changed, and not for the better. Or was it me that had changed?

I have certainly changed in that I buy a lot less books (hooray for little free street libraries in my neighborhood), and I thus also visit bookstores less often. Plus we had to travel light. Well, especially me, since I’ve become kind of an expert in that, and Martin did still have his 15 kilo of photo equipment. But in one of the Barnes & Noble stores we did visit, there really was a Banned Books table. I first thought it was a joke when I saw books by Philip Pullman, J.K. Rowling, Anne Frank (!), D.H. Lawrence, James Baldwin, Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood laid out. What I also liked book-wise, was that almost every small town had a library. Usually housed in a nice building too, sometimes in a regular house, sometimes in a gorgeous villa, and they always looked inviting and for me, straight out of a movie. And yes, I do realize this is probably all made possible with private money, but still…

The New York Public Library at Bryant Park is of course famous and huge. I had never been there and we only went in briefly, because frankly, the park itself was just too nice and turned out to be our favorite hang-out spot. For various reasons: the vibe (we even “attended” one of the concerts in the park for the 30th anniversary – good timing), but also because it was a great place to rest and just sit and people-watch and eavesdrop. The free public restrooms were also a nice extra, but apparently all the guide books mention them since they’re the only ones in the whole city, which explained the very long line. And once you finally were allowed to enter (there was a male and a female “door attendant”) it smelled delicious, it was very clean and you could pee to the sound of classical music. Too bad about the line, because I decided to quickly wash my hands and hurry out again.

Our most memorable Bryant Park conversation was the one with a photographer (!), and incidentally the person that told me about the restrooms. It was our very first morning. We had just walked out of the subway, it was still very early, when we kind of stumbled upon the park. (I seriously don’t understand how I could have missed this place on all my previous visits.) The lawn was still deserted (this certainly changed later on! Martin’s picture above does not show you the huge crowds it would draw), because it was so early, maybe because the park had indeed just opened after covid, and I think it was also because the grass had been sown in recently. After buying our first coffee (yes, a Pain Quotidien one), we found a nice table with two chairs (this proved impossible later on in the day, but we did not know that yet as we were jetlagged and still walking around in a haze), when I told Martin: “Don’t look behind you, but there’s a weird-looking guy there with, what I think looks like impressive camera equipment, and apparently the wall behind you even has a power socket.”

When I say weird, picture a young, lean guy with mirror sunglasses, bright pink headphones, a shiny, glittery silver colored jacket, black jogging pants and a funny hat with pointy ears. We ended up talking to him for maybe an hour. He had been an inner city school kid, been able to go to a good community college, and he and his wife now earned a living with clothing (she had made his outfit) and his photography. Martin happened to mention a photo website he followed, the photographer happened to make pictures for that site. And he filled us in on his morning. Apparently he had “rescued” a row boat that was adrift in Central Park, which made for a nice picture, and earned an expensive bottle of tequila as a reward – yes, it was 10 a.m. and he was drinking. Later on, we also briefly talked about his parents wanting him to get “a regular job” and about his brother’s suicide. We ended up saying goodbye with a bear hug (yes, NYC was “opening up” after covid as well, there were even campaign posters) and he said he would contact Martin and send him the picture he had made of us. And we did realize there was the possibility but were nevertheless seriously disappointed that we indeed never heard from him again. For me, that’s something quite American. But yeah, okay, maybe this guy had tons of special conversations like this every day, and he just made such a welcoming impression on us.

8 antwoorden op “New York #3 observations”

  1. Zeker fijn! Zit je zomaar ineens op een herfstige avond samen met jullie in een park in New York met een guy met a funny hat te kletsen.

    1. 😸! Dank je.
      Ik heb er trouwens niet bij verteld dat ik de eerste circa 7 minuten echt heel bokkig deed tegen hem, want ik dacht: wat is dit voor halve gare?! Martin en hij vonden elkaar natuurlijk meteen in de apparatuur. Hij had ook nog een iPad bij zich waar hij van alles mee deed met al die camera’s.

  2. Ugh, Amerika. Forever gemengde gevoelens. Aardige mensen, net zo verknipt als hun land. Mooi geschreven, Annoesjka!

  3. For anyone who is interested in the Bryant Park restrooms:

    This is one of my favorite Substack writers, and this time I was thrilled to see she interviews one of the attendants and two – coincidence – Dutch ladies!
    Including a few pictures, also of the fresh (!) flowers, the great tip that walking to Grand Central is sometimes quicker – or else, just use the restrooms at the Bryant Park-42nd Street subway stop.

    “While the look was utilitarian, someone, at some point, had made an effort to achieve a vaguely art deco effect with the addition of contrasting brown tile. The room was very spacious, large enough to host a small aerobics class.”

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