Do you know why did Frank Sinatra put it twice in his song? Simply because the city is so great, you need to say it twice, like some kind of magic spell. And it really is a magic spell, and a spell of all the great things too. It’s a synonym of the freedom, of if I can make it here I can make it anywhere and there is no need saying that, because once you sit on a bench in a Central Park or get into any tube station, you know exactly what do I mean. New York, New York. I packed my little suitcase and took my dad to the city that never sleeps. He took his little suitcase too. I remember how one day me, my boyfriend and my dad were sitting around the table in my parents house. They were drinking some vodka, and talking some vodka talk. My father doesn’t speak any English, so I was stuck sober between the two of them, and translating. It’s great, translating two drunk men, you can make things sound any way you want them to. I don’t quite remember why did we start talking about travelling, and where did the question came from. I don’t remember my answer for it neither, but my dad, once asked where would he like to travel to, said New York. He said that with that special look on his face. This New York sounded way too big in his Polish smaller city mouth. It sounded almost like the answer of a kid asked who does he want to be in the future, saying a rockstar with all the belief and hope painted on his face, like it was the only obvious answer. That answer would make the family laugh with the warm laugh, maybe somebody would say ah, he’s so funny even though the kid’s face would be as serious as it could get. It was long before I even thought I will ever get myself to New York. So I laughed too. I have to admit it: I fell badly for New York. I love every single street of it. I love SoHo, South of Houston, the neighbourhood of the old textile houses occupied with its new residents, standing out with its tall windows and high roofs. It has it’s own smell, the smell of an old piano and bricks. I love it’s small cafes and its old style outside fire stairs hanging on the building. SoHo looks like jazz, looks like a music, even though it’s quiet. We got ourselves lost on its streets in the early afternoon, when the Sun is not quite there and it slips through the small spaces between the old brick buildings making your eyes squint. If you are lucky enough maybe you’ll spot Leonardo di Caprio or Julia Roberts in the crowd of the people wearing washed, ragged jeans. I look inside the flat through the high open windows, there are pictures all over the walls. There are people sitting on the window frames with a glass of a white wine, there’s some quiet music playing in the back of the flat. In New York there are no curtains. Two minutes away you get to NoLita, North of Little Italy, North of Godfathers and Sopranos. When we’re passing by, me with a cup of Starbucks coffee (which I’m not a big fan of, it’s just that in this ocean of choice which New York definitely is, Starbuck’s is always the choice that’s the nearest) and my dad with a cigarette. I’m imagining I have a flat there. My flat is in the old red brick building, it has black fire stairs on the elevation and tall tall windows. When you ride on the street and look in the window in the night all you see is long rows of books, and me sitting on the wooden chair. I may be smoking a cigar or kissing with my boy, or maybe sitting by the wooden desk with a bright desk lamp lightening my face, writing something really great on the piece of paper. My cat is sitting on the window frame. I would only close my window in the winter, because this is how much I love the music of the streets in New York. This noise would wake me up. My dad loved Wall Street. When I told that to a tour guide we made friends with, he started laughing. How could anybody on earth love a street surrounded by walls? There is a lot of man in white and blue shirts on the Wall Street. They all look like they were in a hurry and they are checking their business mobile phones while standing in a queue for a hot dog and a black coffee. When they get their hot dog and a black coffee they pay for it quick, and disappear in one of the wall’s doors. The guy who is a guide and now is a friend too said that these guys in shirts running on the Wall street don’t have an easy life, he said they have no girlfriends because all they can talk about is finance. Girls don’t normally talk about finance, at least not all the time. Of course unless they are serious girls in shirts, who check their email while waiting for a hot dog on the Wall Street, but I don’t think there is too many of them. In the financial buildings there is a floor where guys in white or blue shirts leave their laundry in case so they don’t wear the same thing for a few days. There are drug and alcohol counsellors offices too, so once the men in shirts after months of working on seventeen hours shifts get a problem, they don’t have to look for help anywhere far. Working on the Wall Street means pressure. There is nowhere higher to go. Unnecessary a comfortable place to be, if you asked me. We got lost in the Central park. After some small shopping we decided we’re too tired of the wild crowd of the claustrophobic metro line number two and we took a walk through the park. If you think that abandoning the lights and noise of the New York streets in the name of Central Park is boring, it means you have never got yourself lost in these acres of greenery. Central Park means thousand different things. It means streets full of joggers and bikes, it means lakes filled with little boats, big green fields with young men playing baseball, little boys and girls climbing the trees. It means dogs. The dogs have all the craziest hairstyles and wear all the different clothes, some of them look like they were an accessory of their classy owner, some of them look more of a mutt, running all over with a smiley expression. There are fluffy dogs lying on the green grass serving as a pillow to their owners reading a newspaper and a tiny chiuaua dogs in funny pink jackets. Central Park is a massive music hall, with all its singers, guitar players, medieval poem singers (yes, that is right.), saxophonists and jazz masters in one place. The grass is the scene. The ticket costs as much as you’ll decide it’s worth. My favourite part of the Central park is its small, sinuous narrow paths, going up and down left and right, under the bridge made of bricks and around the lake you’ve never noticed before. The grass around is moving, from time to time a squirrel cuts your way begging for a nut. Constantly changing the directions we got so lost that we ended up on the wrong side of the park, almost at the East River. The Sun was going down, and the calm East side of Manhattan looked like a dreamland. The lights in the tall apartments were lightening up one after another sharing the secrets of those who live there with a passer by. The man in a suit opens a tall wooden door for the older man taking his small dog for a walk. The lamps lighten up and you can see the faces of the strangers talking about something passionately. Times Square never sleeps. It gets me a headache. It is a vortex in a washing machine, it mixes older ladies on the holidays with a group of Asians and a young gentleman in nothing but pants saying a naked cowboy. The two policemen stand lost in the crowd looking at it with tired faces, ignoring the mass passing on the red lights touching a mask of a yellow taxi. Times Square smells of million smells, it attacks your nose with such an intensity that you feel lost, aroma of caramel nuts changes into the smell of a tramp within two seconds. Street food from 53rd has everything in it: fried oreos and a grilled chicken. Somebody passes by next to you with his big black Starbucks coffee. We hide in a metro station, three floors underground, surrounded by the heat and a noise of street musicians, who didn’t fit in the crowded street. The noise goes down as we walk west on the 53rd, heading to the Broadway dance centre, a dance school I always dreamt about visiting, hidden in the old brick building. There is some dodgy car, a big puddle and a limousine in front of the red, not too visible sign that I know from the dance tv shows I was watching over and over again as a teenager. I go around all the three floors, watch all the classes in around fifteen rooms. It’s hard to believe all that magic fill in this old building. I’m sitting on a bench amazed, watching the tap class, feeling like somebody took me out of reality and put me there. On the last hours of the trip, we took a boat from Brooklyn to the Green Point. It’s quite a dodgy place in the north from the Brooklyn bridge, which invited us with shoes hanging on the pylon. Thankfully my dad doesn’t know it is sign of somebody being killed in the neighbourhood, because I don’t think we would go any further in that case. We passed the India street and saw a long row with Polish shops, small Polish restaurant and an old catholic church. As much as I wasn’t too excited about that part of a trip, I need to say that it was pretty amazing, and I could see in the face of my father that he thought the same thing. You feel like you went through the whole world around, don’t even remember how many times you felt asleep and woke up during your fourteen hours flight and you end up in a place that looks no different from what you knew as a five years old. You could have been there million times, but you’ve never been there before, and the food you buy is the same food that your grandma prepared for you during every single holidays, and will prepare for you the next time you will see her too. It gives you this strong feeling that it is not as much about the places as it is about the people. I’m pretty sure that if you placed a Polish community on Sri Lanka, the Polish street would look just like this one, maybe there would be a few more palms, or some weird insect watching you from the wall, but everything else would be just the same. It is great to feel home somewhere far away. Even when you are not sure what home means anymore. This few days gave New York a special place in my heart. It is no longer a city from the movies. It has its own intense smells I can feel, its sounds and its own colours, and every single memory, every time of getting lost, or looking for a metro station or asking for a way are part of my memories, and finally I share these memories with somebody important to me. I do travel all the time, I go to new places every week, but this time it was my trip, my choice, the hotel I booked. This time I was getting lost on the airport with no make up on, I was standing in all the queues like any passengers. I was sleeping, watching movies and being served on a plane, at once. I became one of the million thousand people I say hello and goodbye to every single day at work, and being one of these nameless people was one of the greatest things that I had an opportunity to do thankfully to the job I have. And it felt just great, to finally be myself instead of a smiling cabin crew. As we talked with the bus tour guide we made friends with, I was gradually realising how similar our jobs are. After some time I told him I am a cabin crew and my dad with his regular proud face showed him my photo in the uniform, which still gets me a little bit embarrassed. The tour guide looked at me with a super excited face and almost shouted oh man, that is awesome!. He said he’s seeing us girls when they drop us off from the airport, and he always wanted to talk with one of us, but he thinks, it must be tiring to smile for so many hours, probably makes you not want to talk with strangers for a while. I was curious whether he is a bit tired, because he does pretty much the same thing, plus he shouts loud the whole history and story of the New York city in the meantime. And you know, once he finishes the job and gets dropped off at the Times Square around 10 pm, he just walks. He does not talk to anybody and he does not look at people faces. He goes along central park and just look at the lights in a complete silence. In this enormous surprising indifferent silence all the pictures are more vivid than anything, and every quiet sound of a bird sounds with more intensity. The silence sounds like a music and the relaxed part of the upper Manhattan looks like the most desired place on the globe. He didn’t tell us all that, but once he started talking, the voice in my head finished every sentence, almost like they were uttered by the voice in my head. He is a bus tour guide on New York city and I am a cabin crew. My job may seem like the most exciting one to him and his job seems like a great fun to me. We both thought for a little tiny second I wonder how is it like. But than we are done, the job is over, and it is all just the same. In the silence you still hear million voices of people, million questions. You still see faces but you cannot place them in time and place. Things that happened in your job may have happened few hours ago or months ago and you don’t know anymore, you just go, quiet. Your face wears no expression, your heart have no feelings. You just walk. Open the doors, close them. Breath in, breath out. You come back. Realising things like that calms me down. There is a guy in a red jacket in the New York City who feels the same thing I do. There are million other people like that too. You probably feel this way too, and if not, I’m sure one day your time will come too. Me and my dad walked miles of the sleepless streets. You could see us in the wild crowd of tourists on the Times Square, and among the tired faces of people going to work by the metro line number three, craving for a seat. We were nothing special just a part of a picture. Some lost tourists asked us whether we are New Yorkers and know how to get to some place. And that was a great feeling. Because you know, for these couple of days, we in fact were just a pair of the casual New Yorkers. And this is all I know about the New York city.
First of all Kiwis don’t like Aussies.
And Aussies don’t like Kiwis.
It’s actually pretty offensive when Aussie’s call Kiwis “Kiwis”, but Aussies get offended once Kiwis call them “Aussies” too.
I asked one Australian lady on the New Zealand flight whether she would fancy any milk in her tea. She looked at me surprised and said “milk? We don’t really drink tea with milk in Australia. Only kiwis do”.
If you’re a bit confused, and still don’t know what do I talk about, let me clear it up.
Ladies and gents, this is KIWI. I know you thought it’s small green and tasty, but it’s not. It has feathers, big nose and it’s not suitable for vegetarians.
What’s the relation between this small funny thing and the New Zealand? Let me ask you what is the first think that comes to your mind when you think of Australia. Is it big, jumping and carrying a bag with its baby on a belly? I guess I got it right. Basically as much as kangaroo means Australia, kiwi means New Zealand. Or probably even more, because I’ve never heard anybody calling Aussie people “kangaroos”. That would be actually quite funny: “you know Kiwis drink tea with milk, but kangaroos just don’t”.
I hope this post hasn’t offended any sheep so far. Because sheep means New Zealand just as much. The Sheepland. The Promised Land of the Sheep. Everywhere you go, there’s some sheep randomly hanging out with its sheep friends, buying fridge magnets and postcards with sheep. There are sheep key rings, and sheep t-shirts too.
Okay, I’ve overdone it a little but. Beside tourists shops full of sheep souvenirs, you’re not going to see any of that. You’re not gonna see a sheep in the Auckland shopping mall, neither on the street. It is a stereotype. Just as much as people will associate Russians with vodka, England with tea, they assume that every New Zealander is a sheppard. And how New Zealanders laugh at this stereotype and turn it into touristic catch-up phrase only proves what an amazing, self-distanced and relaxed nation they are.
People in New Zealand wear relaxed clothes and do relaxed things. The houses look more cosy, shop assistants are more friendly. There are no Ferrari cars driving in Auckland, even though it’s ranked as the third city on the Mercer Quality of Living Survey, among the cities such as Zurich, Geneva, Vienna. The difference between these cities and Auckland is that New Zealand simply doesn’t seem to care about the surveys. Nobody seems to be bothered whether the city goes up or down in the survey, nobody seems to care about Ferrari car and Chanel bags. Luis Vuitton store is just next doors to the tiny souvenir shop. People know how to enjoy their life and the life is good: there’s no point in making too much fuss about it. There are small dodgy looking weed shops just next to the noodle stores, there are parks, there are seagulls and the ocean. Nothing seems forced, everything looks a bit slow, a bit like it was taking its time. New Zealand feels a bit like it could be the philosophy of how to live your life.
This calm and relaxed atmosphere does not match very well with the extreme entertainments it has to offer. Stuff like bungee jumping, jumping from the tallest tower in the country, throwing yourself up to some 400 meters high in the metal ball are the things that people seem to be doing for fun. There is one particular picture that comes to my mind when I think about this funny relation between relaxed and extreme. The two friends of mine, the other crew I went to the town with, got in one of these crazy machines that sends you up to the sky and back. The picture I hold in my mind is the guy in his casual home clothes with two massive grocery bags in both hands looking up at my friends being thrown on some 400 meters up. He doesn’t seem impressed at all, he looks more like he was reading the ingredients on his muesli pack, he just stops for a second, looks up, and goes back home, or wherever people with hands full of grocery bags go. The reason why this particular shot comes to my head every time I think of New Zealand is because, this is exactly how New Zealand feels like.
It is a crazy, amazing place. You can see the Vulcanos from almost everywhere you go. It has the most beautiful islands on the world, places where penguins just cross the roads as it was the most normal thing on the world. If you feel a bit down, you can jump from the highest tower and stay alive. It’s where they shot “The Lord of The Ring”. Basically, it is a magical place. But just like the man in his too big flip flops carrying the potatoes and beer back from the grocery store, nobody makes too much fuss about it. Nobody is going to build there a new Burji Khalifa, if you know what I mean.
What I can say is, I love New Zealand and I love its people. Even when sometimes their accent makes me absolutely clueless. It is not the kind of place where I would take my family on the dream trip to shock them. It will not surprise you with “the biggest, the richest”, it is not a kind of place that would impress everybody. If you love Ferrari and starve yourself for a Chanel bag you’re probably not going to like it. Actually it’s going to bore you to death.
But it is okay too.
P.S. Have a look at this too: The 25 hardest things about living in the New Zealand. It’s pretty fun.
I was planning to write about Sydney since a while. While it comes relatively easy to write and talk about faraway places that are so so different from all you know, it is not an easy task to write about Sydney and to show it the way I want to. The places like China, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, they shocked me. I loved them just like I love Sydney, but that was a different kind of love: a love to something new, shocking, unpredictable. In Asia people eat bugs on a sticks, in Nigeria sell shoes on the highways, Sri Lankans ride these crazy three-wheel vehicles on a busy roads: you cannot believe what you see, but it’s a fact, it’s a thing you can’t deny. Nobody eats bugs in Sydney (at least this is what I hope for), and all the cars look pretty normal. You get your shoes from topshop or h&m and there’s no much fuss about it neither.
Being a cabin crew gives you some new, different perspective. You go and see places, but you don’t live any of them. Most of the places don’t become anything personal for you. You get a general definition, but you see them from some kind of distance. I suppose it makes it much easier to write about them. I guess I’m able to tell you in few words what is Bejing and quite probably I will hit the nail better then a person who lives there for years. Does it mean that I know it? Not at all.
Believe it or not, but this 24 hours distanced perspective I get makes it much easier to describe and compare what I see. Have you ever noticed that the look of people faces in the certain places are so much different? Some places are made of proud faces, some of the tired ones, some ashamed. Living in one place makes you loose the ability to see that. Living nowhere makes you see it black on white.
In a way Sydney became my home for three nights and three days; even if the timezone change made nights the days and the other way round. Anyway, this most faraway place I will probably ever get to see, was not faraway at all.
In fact, it was so much n o t a faraway place that in the beginning I felt a bit confused. After a 14 hours chasing the sunrise flight, switching your watch to some crazy timezone in which you message your boyfriend saying “goodnight” in the morning, you do expect something shocking. More specifically, you expect to open the doors and get out to Narnia or something like that.
But Sydney just looks like it could be home.
I suppose it is shocking in a way. It is a place that comforts you. It is a place where older people hold hands walking in the park, where dogs look like they were smiling at all times and their tails go left and right, left and right. There’re no prices in the local grocery stores so after a while you decide to stop bombarding the shop assistant with billion of questions and just buy what you feel like. Massive buildings are surrounded by the parks where parrots chase you for a biscuit, people lie on a grass or go on a beach to say hello to the seagull. Maybe you’ll see some young couple getting married near the Sydney Opera House with all the strangers standing around, smiling and taking photos, just like they got a special invitation. People don’t seem to worry much in Sydney.
Time zone makes me wake up really early and really hungry, so I’ll go out as soon as the Sun comes up. I’m feeling restless in bed. I like these busy week mornings in a city a lot: people wear smart suits, they talk on the phones and walk fast. The sound of heels mixes up with the honks of the cars and seagulls singing, it wakes you up better than a coffee.
At the same time there’s a different reality going on five minutes away on feet. The high fence surrounded by the trees full of singing birds separate the busy, crowded Sydney from the Sydney of people holding hands and babies chasing the parrots. And I think this is my favourite one. Doesn’t matter how many times you go to Botanical Gardens: every time I get lost or find a path that didn’t know about. There’s a field full of birds not bothered about photographers, there’s a spices garden that makes your nose go funny, there’s a path next to the Sydney river full of boats going there and back, a small Greek garden and a palm house. And in all these places children run, people smile and dogs get their tongues out looking happy.
It does sound like a dream, and it does look like one too. But this dream has its price too.
There are no prices on the grocery stores and it’s okay coz I just buy a small coconut water. It’s relatively cheap, but still the most expensive I had. On a flight back I talk with the couple of European immigrants. They told me the Sydney gets more and more expensive. It was their heaven on the earth, they said, but they can’t afford this heaven anymore.
Is it the way of not getting the heaven overcrowded? I suppose so. I’m pretty sure there are more immigrants in Sydney than Aussie people. It may, or may not be a good thing. And as much as I’m trying to be objective and distanced, I cannot blame anybody who moved the half of the globe to spend there their life. It just seems like a right thing to do.