And here we are, several months after I’ve returned to London, and I am finally finishing off my New York City neighbourhood posts. I am sat on the couch in the lounge and watching the sunlight hit the plants in the garden, and it is hard to remember how utterly cold we were for the nine days that we were in New York City. But as I look at these photographs of me running in Central Park in the snow, I remember cursing my ill luck at experiencing the Beast from the East twice by living it in both London and New York City.
Hell’s Kitchen (Manhattan)
We only spent an hour or two in Hell’s Kitchen, and most of that was spent in a meeting, but we did visit a few of the bodegas in the area in search of Adobo, the spice mix that we all became addicted to on a visit to Puerto Rico a few years ago. Whilst we couldn’t find it in the conventional grocery stores, we ventured to the basement of a bodega where everybody spoke Spanish, and behold – there were three different varieties!
Hell’s Kitchen is also a breath of fresh air – it is a stone’s throw from Midtown and all of the Broadway theatres and planted in the shadow of New Jersey, but it is also refreshingly grungy. There are local shops and cafes, and there’s nary a McDonald’s or Starbucks in sight (because they are two blocks away on 42nd Street).
Central Park (Manhattan)
Friends is finally on Netflix in the UK.
Friends is also full of lies.
It led us to believe that Central Park was close to the East Village. That is a blatant lie, as we discovered by walking several times between the Village and our flat on 32nd and again between our flat and meetings in the upper 50s. However, I did discover that it was the perfect distance for running. I was training for the London Marathon, so I had to find a way to run through Midtown, not run over fellow tourists or get hit by lorries, and still get my miles in. My solution was two-fold: First, run through the park come rain, shine, or the Beast from the East bucketing snow (Did you still call it the Beast from the East in the States, or was that just our UK term?). Secondly, run 100 blocks straight north. But I’ll come back to that.
I really like Central Park because, if you find the right spot, you can forget where you are. Mind you, it isn’t as good as Hyde Park or Regent’s Park (never mind Hampstead Heath), where you can truthfully forget that you aren’t in the countryside. But when you climb on the rocks in the northwest corner of the park, it is a bit like being transported into a story book. And there are so many dogs to pet, as well. I highly recommend petting the dogs.
Upper East Side (Manhattan)
We had a meeting in the Upper East Side, and when we popped out of the subway, we all adjusted our posture without realising it. On the plus side, it looked a bit like “You’ve Got Mail,” which is a film I was obsessed with when I was about eleven.
(The real question is: how did Kathleen Kelly afford the rent when her bookshop was in such dire straits?)
In my attempt to keep up my marathon training, I woke up one morning and decided to run 100 blocks north. It helped that 100 blocks north was the heart of Harlem, and after days of slogging across Midtown, I was ready for something a bit more real.
I definitely stood out in Harlem, but I loved it. I stopped at a corner shop to get the best bagel that I ate whilst in New York, and the man behind the till treated me like a regular. When he found out that I’m from London, he said, “I have a friend from London now! That’s awesome!” Another girl included me in her phone conversation and asked for my advice on getting a driving licence.
It is so easy to make friends in New York. People have always told me that New Yorkers are mean, but don’t take that for granted. My experience was that I didn’t even have to make eye contact for people to start speaking to me. I feel as though I made friends wherever I went, even on the subway!
After ducking out of the wind on the Brooklyn Bridge and eating Wendy’s, we were so full that we decided to walk home. I also wanted to grab some footage of Chinatown for our video project, and as the snow flurries began and the sun set, I chased my mates through the headlights and traffic to try to get shots of ducks and lanterns and crowds before the shops shut for the night.
I have to admit to photographer’s bias, but I love Chinatown. It has such a specific atmosphere that you can nearly taste it – authentically Chinese and New York at the same time.
We have a Soho in London. Suffice it to say that it is very different from the chic South of Houston of New York. Soho was one of my favourite places to go when visiting Charlotte in the City, but it looks a lot different these days. We walked back on the way from Brooklyn to our flat (a little eight mile ramble), and so many of the galleries and boutiques were shut. Is everything just re-locating to Brooklyn, where they can actually afford the rent?
East Village (Manhattan)
Our unapologetic favourite.
I arrived in the City a day later than expected (snow), so we immediately went out in order to beat jet lag. And I drank the last of the eight cups of coffee that I had in the 40 hour no-sleep marathon.
I love the East Village because it is artistic and grungy in parts, full of flavour and cafes and boutiques and bodegas and side streets that hide adventure. It feels a bit like East London (also a favourite). We met Amanda as we came out of the Subway, and I began my New York adventure of chasing my mates around the city with my camera trained firmly on their bums. So if you’re wondering what their faces look like, I’m afraid that you’ve come to the wrong place.
On that first afternoon, we wanted to find the locations of several churches that we’d been contacting for meetings. We ended up going into several different types of church, from one of the oldest in the City to one to a Latin church that is mixing tradition with the sense of adventure inherent in the East Village to a church that is firmly embedded in serving the needs of the residents of the East Village. It felt like a tour of the mixed and varied hearts of the neighbourhood.
We kept coming back to the East Village throughout the trip. Without talking about it, we treated it like home. In a city as large and chaotic and vibrant and striving as New York City, that’s a feeling worth holding on to.