New York State of Mind


Posted by in February's Magazine

The blare of police sirens, the screech of yellow taxis, the intermittent flash of broken neon shop signs, the smell of hot dogs on every street corner, pillars of steam seeping out of the gutters, beer consumed from brown paper bags, leggy hookers, flamboyant pimps, loft apartments… To me, all of this made up the weird and wonderful tapestry that was New York, or so I once thought. Influenced no doubt by a misspent youth watching the likes of TV cop shows Starsky and Hutch and Cagney and Lacey – and gritty movies like Carlito’s Way and Taxi Driver, it was a wonder I ever plucked up the courage to actually visit. The first of many visits being prompted by my sister who had moved out there to work in fashion.

Joanne lived in a rented apartment on the Upper East Side, which knowing New York as I do now, was quite a plush part of Manhattan. Uniformed concierges on every door, lemon-scented elevators, rows of brightly polished mail boxes, dog walkers with about ten little pooches on strained leashes, and nannies strolling perfectly groomed little Upper East Siders in their top of the range buggies. When Joanne was at work, I’d pack a basket with a blanket, a couple of magazines and a bottle of juice and flip flop my way up East 65th to Central Park where I’d spend the morning people-watching on Sheep Meadow. It couldn’t be more idyllic, not the big bustling city experience I’d been expecting at all.

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Joanne then moved to Jersey City, still only ten minutes from Manhattan and New York proper, but slightly more affordable. From her apartment on the 29th floor (that’s high!) you could look right over to lower Manhattan with the majestic Twin Towers at its tip. We spent many a night by the window with a glass of wine, watching the sun go down over the city. Full of jet lag I’d steal another peek across to Manhattan from my bedroom window to watch the sun rise the following day, casting a warm, pink light across the tops of the buildings and the Port Authority boats that were already ferrying workers to the Financial District.

Pyramids of polished fruit
Winter in New York was extra special. Around thanksgiving there was a definite spring in everyone’s step, as people shopped for turkey and other fine food goodies. Dean and DeLuca’s would be full of large pumpkins, and the most beautiful pyramids of polished fruit. I’d just wander from deli to deli picking up bits and pieces to add to the Thanksgiving table. So much to choose from: Jewish pickles, German bread, Italian cakes…The days following Thanksgiving, Christmas trees and large red Christmas baubles on 5th Avenue would start to appear, along with the festive scent of cinnamon wafting out onto the busy streets from the city’s many coffee shops. I attempted ice-skating in Central Park a couple of times, enjoying the chill in the air and the warm hot chocolate when we wanted to sit back and watch everyone else having fun. You couldn’t help but feel you were on the set of your very own movie.

Summer in New York could be hot and sticky but spring was just perfect. I’d sit with Joanne on the top deck of a commuter ferry bound for Lower Manhattan – enjoying the warm wind and the sun in our faces, before she disappeared into the subway bound for work and I began my exploring. I’d usually work my way up town to Bryant Park to read a book and drink coffee or to Soho for a wander around some of the more beautiful shops selling knickknacks. I’d usually buy something for the flat – an antique soap dish or a beautifully bound notebook. I’d meet Joanne later for a glass of fizz in a wee bar somewhere, or a bite to eat near Christopher Street close to the Path Train, ready to head back to New Jersey.

September 11th didn’t stop me from visiting New York. I’d been a few times with Norman since that terrible morning. But it did change things. It changed Joanne’s relationship with New York. It had become her home for over seven years which she’d come to share with her husband, but it made them think of home and loved ones. And two years later they were back in Scotland.

But I often hear Joanne reminiscing. Norman and I do exactly the same thing, especially on Sunday mornings with the whole day stretched out before us. Sundays were made for New York. Jostling along in the subway, heading towards Greenwich Village or Brooklyn Heights for brunch, a day of reading papers and drinking coffee – you just can’t help but feel a part of the bustling, energetic vibes that make up New York.

One response to “New York State of Mind”

  1. Wee Willy Winker says:

    I look forward with baited breath to other accounts of where else in the world the writer has had a coffee.
    Essential travelogue. Riveting. As in like being tortured with a rivet gun.

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