i’m slowly shedding my former reality. i resolved my feud with bnp paribas and no longer feel betrayed that paris continues in real-time without me.
my commentary on new york since my arrival has revolved around a sort of not-there-yet type attitude; i put my cataloging on hold, an excuse i chalked up to busyness and all the chaos that accompanies change. i was stuck somewhere between ruminating over my abrupt departure from paris and the misconception that moving to new york was actually moving to manhattan, and that, because i moved to brooklyn, i wouldn’t have anything to write about until i somehow tallied up enough saturday afternoons in the east village to have something to say about it.
but that’s completely ridiculous. i don’t live in manhattan; i’m just one participant in the daily high-heeled exodus that scurries off the F train and into desk chairs and video conference calls, and then retreats to brooklyn’s calm, stroller-lined streets. imagining the unknown lends itself to big anticipations–delusions, maybe–of what awaits, and i doused my big jump across the atlantic in imaginary predictions. i created a blueprint to forecast my imminent new york experience–the next frontier in urban exploration, a rite of passage back into the united states.
why i assumed new york would be manhattan is unclear. i’ve caught onto a general consensus that manhattan’s day is done–one that i refuse to believe, because i can’t help but gaze upward at skyscrapers and with intrigue into chic bars and restaurants, and because an island so dense must have endless offerings. but there’s certainly something to be said for the impossibly expensive real estate that can only house the most unsavory of finance guys, corporate lawyers, and ad-men.
about a month ago, the enchanting zadie smith wrote in the new york review of books that you can “find your beach [in manhattan], find it falsely, but convincingly, still thinking of Manhattan as an isle of writers and artists—of downtown underground wildlings and uptown intellectuals—against all evidence to the contrary. Oh, you still see them occasionally here and there, but unless they are under the protection of a university—or have sold that TV show—they are all of them, every single last one of them, in Brooklyn.”
when i discussed the article with a colleague, he said that Zadie was close to correct, but that she should have replaced Brooklyn with Queens. apparently new york city shifts too fast for even the most astute observers.
so what is it like in Brooklyn, the alleged refuge for displaced former manhattanites, forced to take their creativity and bohemianness to more affordable pastures? i can’t speak for all of it, but i can say that south park slope, where i live, is an imaginary wonderland. i can say that it’s the whitest place in brooklyn, if not in the entire united states (though according to a june 2014 report, starr county, texas, is in fact the whitest place in the united states).
sometimes when i stroll to the store on a sunny saturday i laugh to myself at how other-worldly it is: hipster dads with their hipster babies, beanies abound; everyone sips kale smoothies and eats gluten free banana bread as they wander up to prospect park for a brisk walk or jog.
there’s a trend among yuppies to seek out grunge, to transform drafty warehouses into drafty coffeeshops disguised as cozy hangouts, to, on one side of the spectrum, fill bushwick with shiny condos or, on the other, create strange social collectives based on witchcraft just down the street. so by that measure, my living in south park slope is perhaps the least cool thing i could do as a twenty-something: i opted for tree-lined streets with brownstones and babies and steered clear of the jam-packed gentrification train. to put it simply, i moved to a part of brooklyn not in need of gentrification. south park slope is home to yuppies without a cause.
i went home to berkeley for thanksgiving: a weekend of hilly runs, abundant avocados, small babies, and gray sweatpants (what is it about gray that makes lounge attire even more comfortable, conducive to overeating, and disallowed in the outside world?). after a turbulent flight back to new york, i realized that this would mark my first “return to new york” since having moved here. and i don’t want to be a debbie downer–after all, i had plenty to be thankful for this thanksgiving–but my return-to-brooklyn paled in comparison to my retours-a-paris, those epic and exhilarating moments of reuniting that used to consume me so entirely and relentlessly. airport to subway to quiet park slope street was hardly the chaotic morass of the chateau rouge metro that greeted me upon my retour to paris just a year ago. my return to new york felt so underwhelming that i spent the next day in a haze of jetlagged sulking, wondering when i might recreate that “restored sense of purpose” that characterized my reentry to parisian territory last year.
when i left tunis in november 2013 and came back to paris i felt an unequivocal sense of being-at-home. but i also recognized paris’s uncanny ability to dwarf other cities and experiences, to make everything else feel insignificant and flat. looking back on that blogpost i think i might have been tipsy (i was definitely tipsy) when i described how pretty and important paris made me feel, an underlying sense of purpose that i lacked elsewhere. i was so thrilled to feel that way after my five-month “hiatus” from the city that i was almost embarrassed.
i want that again.
it would be too harsh to deny new york that potential to exhilarate, to uplift, to define. it’s too soon to be so categorical (even for this girl). but i’m not sure if brooklyn has it. it’s too comfortable, too dispersed, too pleasant. too much like summercamp, even in winter. but i’m going to bet that manhattan–with its infinite possibilities, constant chaotic buzz, and powerful energy–might be capable. but where, to me, paris was tirelessly beautiful, manhattan’s intimidating buildings feel almost brooding, and my brief encounters with the island’s streets make me feel like a small, insignificant child lost in some powerful businessman’s labyrinth more than like the elegant and pretty lady i imagined myself to be in paris. manhattan feels far away, even when i’m there.
so i guess i’m wondering where i can find my beach, or if i already found it and left it behind, or if manhattan once had beach-potential but i missed the last ferry, or if it could have beach-potential if my salary tripled or i won the lottery.
when i first arrived in paris, i approached the challenge head-on. karina-versus-paris would be a finite saga; i knew i wouldn’t live there forever. and, aside from brief moments of bliss that clouded my vision, i didn’t fantasize about expatriating permanently. and so i raced against the clock to make paris my own, lest i lose the battle i had set for myself. and when i felt ready to leave, it meant that i had won.
but karina-versus-newyork is different; a challenge without an end in sight. no administrative blockage, bureaucratic nightmares, flailing economy, or longing for my maternal language will push me out. i can’t run back to my home country because i’m already here. so i’m trying to be cautious in drawing conclusions, to tread lightly before i decide where i belong or don’t belong.
the good news is that there was a time when even paris made me feel like a silly baby, and it wasn’t just because i was nineteen years old and, in fact, a silly little baby. and six more years hardly bestow me with wisdom, and grappling with the unknown has once again made me a little kid. so i suppose i’m wondering when i’ll actually feel like a grown-up–like i warrant the pencil-skirt and heels i wear to cover up the fact that i should probably be wearing keds and pink leggings. i grew up in paris, but need to start over in new york. i’m back at zero.
if there’s a moral to these musings, it’s that i just don’t know. i can’t decide how i feel about my new life, and i can’t yet invade new york like i did paris because i have yet to cope with the fact that i’m here.
i should probably start trying to grow up again. we’ll see how it goes.