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.
For the one day I was an American.
That one day I was walking on SoHo and watching the mannequins with my eyes wide open, I was riding on the Wall Street and observing with disbelief how true is what they say, “slow down” said noone ever on the Wall Street.
I was eating a creamy chocolate ice cream of the size of my two fists together in the Central Park and laughing at the tiny dogs struggling to follow their jogging owners along 8th Avenue, five minutes walk from Broadway.
I was smiling to the massive billboards on the Times Square, and they were smiling back, and while listening to the Nat King Cole singing Smile, what’s the use of crying, you’ll find that life is still worthwhile If you just smile I thought,
the life is great.
This journey has started a bit different from all the others.
Once a year I have a reserve month. This means that I get no roster for the following month and have basically no idea where am I going next, how long for, and whether I’ll sleep in my own bed or in the one thousand miles away.
I suppose it does sound exciting, but believe me, it costs a lot of nerves too. My bag is lying on the floor packed: half filled with sweaters and jeans, the other half with bikinis and flip flops.
I pray that once I’ll pick up the phone the voice in the speaker will say “hi Emilia, you are going to San Francisco”. Or something like that. Or at least somewhere with grass. And trees. After all these days spent in melting Dubai, that is more than enough to keep me happy.
So I’m lying in bed, watching Al Pacino in Donnie Brasco and feeling like a proper New York gangster. I feel so much like an American wise man that if I had a cigar I would be sitting there smoking it in my bed. If you know what I mean.
The phone is ringing like stupid and when I pick it up mechanically what I hear is that in four hours I’m going to the New York city. It feels great. It actually feels so great that I put Louis Armstrong’s What a wonderful world and we sing together when I’m putting my clothes on.
It is okay that I’m tired,
I’m leaving today
I want to be the part of it
New York, New York
The first thing I remember is the view of the old cemetery. All the concrete crosses looking the same, a bit too tall and a bit too grey, set into the long rows measured with mathematical precision contrasted with the background of all the tall buildings in any possible shape and size you could imagine, smiling to you with the promise, if you make it here, you can make it anywhere. This view had something powerful in it, the contrast of the dead cemetery and the city more alive than anything I have ever seen in my life kept my eyes wide opened for the whole New York morning traffic journey.
And the New York traffic is the real deal, I’m telling you.
It hasn’t even crossed my mind to get into the bed after twelve hours flight. The New York city is not a place to sleep. It doesn’t matter how tired you are: every street forming another square filled with another high building, carrying another yellow taxi that sound merged into one melody with thousands of others will call you to come and become a part of it.
The thing about New York is, that the moment you get there, you don’t feel like a tourist or outsider anymore. You are a part of it. It doesn’t matter whether you are black, or white, or Asian, or whether you wear funny pants, or your dog is wearing funny pants. It makes you fit.
The moment you step out, you become the part of the picture.
As much as I like going out and exploring with others, I couldn’t wait to be in New York by myself. When you are on your own, everything gets more vivid. You know where you want to go and what you want to do there. Strangers are more friendly. Shop assistants and homeless people talk to you, people on the streets smile when you’re passing by. The possibility of getting lost makes your brain draw a map, and constantly fill it with new nooks and crannies. This is how you make friends with a place.
And I really wanted to make friends with New York.
I think a lot of what makes New York, is what you have already seen and it doesn’t matter whether you’ve been there or not yet. If you have a little bit of imagination and you’re able to see Frank Sinatra singing in the old style jazz club on Broadway filled with a smoke from long, thin cigarettes, or a man playing a solo on his golden saxophone from the little balcony above the street on SoHo, if you can see with your eyes how Jay Gatsby crosses the Brooklyn bridge in his car, how Marilyn Monroe presses a dress to her knees on the Times Square, how Al Pacino walks down with Johnny Deep on the streets of Little Italy wearing dark glasses and heavy coats, it doesn’t matter whether you’re there for a day, or forever, you will feel like the happiest person on the globe, just like I did.
So that would be all that I wanted to say about the New York.
And if you are wondering whether Downtown and Central Park look the way they show them on the movies, and all that fuss about America is there for any reason, and if you’re curious whether it’s worth to fly around the North Pole to see it all, I suppose I’m too much of a dreamer to give you the right answer.
Unless you are thinking about selling your fridge and buying a plane ticket.
Than listen, sell your fridge and get a ticket,
if you know what I mean