Leaving New York City is always a wrench. I’m obviously not alone in my yearning as countless writers, movies, stage productions, artists, musicians and creatives and have portrayed the city in all its glitzy glory and gory. These luminaries have a lot to answer for: Don Draper, Frank Sinatra, Carrie Bradshaw, Marilyn Monroe, Alicia Keys, Miles Davies and Tony Soprano. They’re the temptresses of my New York love affair.
Even if Carrie Bradshaw could afford her one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side on a columnist’s salary (impossible), it’s unlikely she’d be able to afford her lifestyle. There wouldn’t be any cosmopolitans, pricey brunches or even one pair of Manolos, let alone hundreds of designer shoes. She’s just another glamazon set up for failure in New York City.
The city simultaneously exhausts and energises, allowing very little time to process what the hell just happened. It leaves an enduring impression just the same, often in a hazy memory clouded over by the cost, filth, energy, hopelessness, hope, noise, crowds, simultaneous heat/cold/humidity and overwhelming humanity. In one moment, you’ll be enchanted while whizzing along the Brooklyn Bridge as the skyline emerges in poignant glory in your New York state of mind. In the next moment, you’ll be horrified while stepping around the homeless and junkies encased in a fog of filth and despair.
Nonetheless, my New York love affair burns bright. I especially yearn for it when I’m safely cocooned in Perth on the other side of the world. If I’m being completely honest, maybe I love it just a little bit more when I’m actually not in it. Ideally, I’d love a sleek apartment high above the Manhattan madness where I could write and relax until I craved the excitement below. It’s unlikely I’ll have that opportunity on a writer’s salary, I’m no Carrie Bradshaw waiting for Big to whisk me away in his limousine. I once met Candace Bushnell at the Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka, the author of Sex and the City, who is the real-life version of Carrie Bradshaw and married to a Russian ballet dancer. Die-hard fans will recognise the parallel with a similar character who was a love interest of Carrie in the later series of Sex and the City. Art imitates life.
I suspect my adoration for the city stems from all those movies and TV shows, those Mad Men moments as Don Draper effortlessly seduces one tight-waisted starlet after another, much like the city has seduced me. This long-distance toxic relationship is bad for my health and bank balance. The living conditions with this temptress are appalling and inhumane, particularly when compared to laid-back Perth.
Any apartment below the 5th floor will keep you awake all night from the chaos punctuated by sirens and horns. On our first visit to New York City, we rented an apartment on the first floor for a month in Midtown on the corner of 9th Avenue and 45th Street. While the central location was incredible for accessing restaurants, theatres, shops, the subway and Times Square, the location was equally terrible for sleep, except between two and four in the morning when the cacophony would dull. Anything above the 5th floor will keep your budget exhausted, and if it’s a walk-up, which is often the case in older buildings, you’ll be longing for an elavator to whisk you away from the madness.
Much like Draper’s affections, the temperature blows hot and cold. Razor sharp in winter and suffocating in summer, thanks to the heat ricocheting off the pavement into the concrete jungle. Older apartments were never built to accommodate air-conditioners, so the units are haphazardly shoved into windows with the gaps patched up with plywood and other bits and bobs. This does little to block out the endless sirens or the cold in winter, and from about September to March, you’re often at the mercy of the building’s superintendent as to when the heat is turned on and at what temperature. Surrounded by water, Manhattan island has its own unique micro-climate and is incredibly humid; it’s hot and steamy and not in the lovers’ way.
Then there’s the subway, the most efficient way of getting around. It’s also the most uncomfortable. A cesspit. Perpetually tropical. Even when it’s freezing on the street, resulting in endless layering and unlayering of clothes in a tangle of coats, jumpers, scarves and mittens. There’s not a Manola in sight due to the endless stairs in this subterranean city connected by tunnels and bridges, often with no end in sight. On a side note, given my petite nature, I tend to resemble a bag lady with all those layers, with no hope of elevating my height in sensible sneakers.
Apart from the many rats scuttering along the tracks, I have another fear when using the subway. In some instances, the platforms are very narrow and I’m terrified of getting pushed over the edge as the crowd rushes by, and given my stature would anyone even notice? I’ve heard of this happening and sometimes not by gruesome accident, in fact, I almost witnessed it once post-accident in the Village.
Despite all this, and many other perils, the city is intoxicating. Nothing prepares you for those heart-stopping moments when you spy the Statue of Liberty commanding her empire. Or seeing the Empire State Building or Chrysler Building glistening as sun rays hit their pinnacles of power. Visiting the 9/11 memorial is devasting. People-watching is as entertaining as the jazz, stage productions, festivals and comedy shows. There are few things as iconic as wandering through Central Park or along the Highline, a former elevated train track weaving its way through the Meatpacking District. A pastrami on rye from Katz Diner will leave you longing for a bit of what she’s having.
I already miss the city’s energy as I write this, even though these words were penned while I was in my sleek apartment in Battery Park with a birds’ eye view into hundreds of surrounding apartments and souls. My only saving grace is that I live on the other side of the world. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on my own New York state of mind, it’s not like I can slip between her sheets (and potentially catch bed bugs) on an insatiable whim.
Want to share in the love affair? Or maybe you’re hungry for what she’s having and some Jewish food in the Lower East Side or craving for a bit of peace in the city that never sleeps? Stay in touch by subscribing to Fluffy Towel today. Thank you and happy travels.