summer’s sticking but its sweltering days seem to be dwindling after months of a beckoning prospect park, trips to the rockaways and catskills (which sound uncomfortably east coast, if you ask me), uneven tans, and an inevitable sheen of sweat not doing wonders for my face.
in the lead-up to my one-year mark in new york i fidgeted endlessly then switched out my everyday for something new. summer’s a time for lulls, clouded by humidity and heat and beer consumed probably too early in the day, but chez karina things seemed to pick up. i traded an upper east side institution for an office in dumbo, and a world of startup yuppies (or yuccies, which, as i was unhappy to read, are now a thing) has supplanted my previous surroundings of botox queens.
and so i appear to be working and living in brooklyn; i am now one of its inhabitants, after my endless mockery of the parisian obsession with all things indigenous to the borough. (though i have thus far refused to go to two brooklyn establishments called ‘cooklyn’ and ‘nooklyn’ because if it’s that damn cute it stops being cute) (but if they get good yelp reviews, i might just have to).
brooklyn didn’t exactly match the way i imagined it while still in paris: in my mind everything was williamsburg (which i found strangely frightening and intriguing). but i landed in south park slope, that cluster of sweetness, tree-lined streets, cookies, and young parents gliding on clean sidewalks pushing little white babies in pretty strollers and lalalala.
it softened my arrival or departure, or whatever that was, and all the confusion and disgruntlement that it spawned. but it wasn’t manhattan and that saddened or surprised or unsettled me, emotions that seem unfounded about a place where i had never lived. new york, as i imagined it–manhattan–was my consolation prize for leaving paris; the state-side corollary to my late(st) infatuation.
circumstances color reactions.
i returned to new york a few weeks ago after two weeks in california and my subway train launched into the city through queens, heading toward brooklyn. and when i got off the train on seventh avenue i couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed, because, well, it wasn’t getting off the train at chatelet or gard du nord. but that might always be the case.
the thing about paris is that it’s prettier than most places, and the thing about new york is that it’s not paris. each year i spent in paris sent me into a cascade of back flips, life-changing events and epiphanies fueled by long walks and too much to drink. and so as my one-year mark in new york approached i felt a bit at a loss; upon returning to the city that is now definitionally my home i was struck by how not-at-home i felt.
but enough of that simplistic nostalgia.
the thing is that i’ve started writing this post at least six times and keep trailing off before i can possibly hit “publish.” i’ve updated my weather report nearly each time, though it’s all been some iteration of how hot it’s been. but now that fall’s approaching and the humidity’s dissipating i’ve gained some clarity of mind and think it’s time to write things down. i wrote paris when paris told me things, when i could document grandiose declarations about my discoveries, about what that quiet alleyway told me about myself and the city and myself in the city and what it meant to be whichever age i was during whichever season. but what’s happened in new york is that i keep trying to jot down a series of observations in anticipation of some disruptive yet grounding moment of belonging and longing, the kind that regularly befuddled and filled me with some cocktail of warm fuzzies and chills up my spine during my love affair with paris. but for some reason new york hasn’t afforded me that luxury, or perhaps i haven’t given it the chance.
maybe what i need is to go to manhattan, start at the bottom and walk to the top. or perhaps i need to get a bike to more thoroughly explore the colossal mass that is brooklyn, or maybe i just need to formally disconnect my imagination of new york with what it’s turned out to be. i must say i imagined more bohemian walkups and encounters with sultry strangers, not in continuity with paris, necessarily, but some sort of mirror that would allow me to switch the backdrop on an experience i loved, but to keep living it in a new setting. but that experience had actually expired. nothing is similar at all. instead i found a comfortable spot in a calm and quiet neighborhood with–in an apparent regression from my complacent studio-inhabiting solitude–roommates who make me fantasize about murder in ways i didn’t think i was capable (really, though, sometimes i need to check myself). when i left paris, i thought i was embarking on adulthood, but here i rarely feel like much of an adult at all.
what i can say, after one year, is that i still know oh-so little about new york city. i’ve memorized the streets that surround my apartment and exchange smiles and hellos with the caricatural south-slopers that stoop at their storefronts: the three chainsmoking ladies talking requisite-brooklyn-accented shit in front of the hair salon, whose bleached tips and outgrown roots make me wonder why anyone would take the risk of paying for their services; the old italian man with a cane–i’m not quite sure what his role is, though i typically see him slink between the laundromat and the supermarket two doors down; the famed (at least in my imagination) mike daddy, though i’m not sure if he is in fact mike daddy, but he works at Mike Daddy’s pizza, outside of which he sits solemnly on a bench, fadora-clad, assessing his territory (i think he’s the real mike daddy); and lastly, the young japanese father who smokes endlessly in front of the sushi joint as his little kids, all adorned in matching pajamas, play and play and play. there’s also the resident white-trash family in the building next door on sixteenth street, and some amalgam of old dominican and irish families as you ascend toward the park. south slope’s a strange mix, hanging onto its roots as small plates and wine bars rapidly encroach on what must be rent-controlled apartments.
what’s remarkable is the vastness of new york, its sheer mass, its endless diversity. i was impressed by how paris, in such a small space, managed to pack so much in. and i’m awestruck by a place that packs even more in, in even more space–a supersized metropolis with no limit of neighborhoods, communities and their cuisines.
i reveled in paris’s consistency, in the fact that the architecture, the café menus and the price of bread remained constant even as neighborhoods changed from one to the next. a coffee in the marais and in belleville offer different scenery but are fundamentally in conformity with paris’s style, its look, its texture. i loved that homogeneity, strangely enough; it cushioned the foreignness of it all, smoothed it all out into one swirling circle of a city, punctuated with endless crevices for discovery but a common thread that weaved it all together and ultimately made me feel at home.
but just 2 miles from my apartment in brooklyn there are other worlds, and in under an hour i can be in residential queens, or in chinatown, or back on the upper east side. and then there’s a strange stretch past 93rd street on the west side where the beautiful brownstones fade into high-rises reminiscent of anywhere, usa, just before it slips into harlem, which is anything but anywhere. and just on the other side of prospect park nothing looks like my neighborhood, and above it, and to its east, chasidic jews with thousands of children seem to comfortably coexist with blacks and immigrants from the caribbean.
when i settled into my neighborhood i thought it was one that couldn’t be unpacked; what i’m now realizing is that it’s just one speck on the entanglement of neighborhoods that stuff each borough, and that i hardly know anything about any of it at all.