I flew into JFK on Friday, stunned by the vast metropolis that my plane circled from above. I knew that New York City was big, but buildings stretch in every direction, right up to the waves of the Atlantic. The jagged skyline dominated the horizon with metal and glass. I had reached my first stop in a long journey, and I feel lucky to explore some of the best cities in the world before returning to school.
I met my friend, Azain, who is letting me stay at his apartment until I leave for Copenhagen. He has only lived here for four months, soon to be attending Fashion School, but already seems to know the city quite well. I was impressed by his knowledge of the twisting, subterranean Metro and its two primary unspoken rules, which are, according to him: no eating and no loud talking. If you know your route and refrain from doing either of those, you may come off as a seasoned New Yorker.
I have realized that New York City is a place of dichotomies. The first of those is the Metro itself. Coming from a place where public transportation is unfortunately nonexistent, I was fascinated by the Metro. What most caught my attention was how crowded a single car may be– at one point, we stood so close to the other passengers that we were stuck between the wall and another’s huge backpack. I’ve learned to grip a hand rail and adopt a stronger stance as to not fall when the car lurches forward into the dark tunnel. And although everyone stands so close together, nearly touching, eyes are averted. Most times, the only sound is the screeching of brakes and a muffled voice over the intercom, announcing the coming stop. No one talks (unless you’re riding with someone you know), and the absence of courteous phrases like “hello” or “excuse me” left me wondering if New Yorkers felt any sort of camaraderie with their fellow Metro passengers. Other than the eerie silence that persisted within the car, I thoroughly appreciate the Metro in its convenience and availability. I wonder how the subway in Denmark will compare.
The second dichotomy I realized is the immediate proximity of nature and city. Azain and I were able to visit Central Park on the way to MOMA (!!!); the enclave of twisting trunks and branches was a relief from the non-stop rush of the streets. If I had visited during the summer, I’m sure that the leafy canopy would obscure the sky-scrapers surrounding the park. This time, I could barely make the buildings out through the low-hanging clouds.
If it wasn’t for the amount of people enjoying the park, I’m sure one could feel very far away from the city. I wonder what impact urban parks like this one have on the attitude of city-dwellers. Central Park’s importance lies in its enormity. In a city where apartments are smashed between two other buildings, built into basements and on top of each other, Central Park must be appreciated, lest it be developed into more housing, stores, or banks.
Another dichotomy I recognized in the city, was the nearness of ultra-modern sky scrapers and architecture that has been around since the beginnings of the city. We’d be walking down the street and suddenly be in front of a gothic cathedral– its spires nestled among the metal of the surrounding buildings. These cathedrals and churches seemed to appear out of nowhere and from a different time, randomly placed between modern behemoths.
Finally, the most obvious and visible dichotomy for my visit in particular was the weather. When I arrived on Friday, it was cold but the sky was a flawless blue. Azain and I even had a discussion about how mild the weather had been this winter. In a nutshell, we were wrong. I underestimated the capriciousness of Mother Nature and a (possibly) record breaking blizzard rolled in today. It has been snowing consistently all day and, as I write this, I’m watching snow flurries settle on the window ledges across the road. Several flights have been cancelled so far, and I have been nervously watching my flight for Denmark, which is supposed to leave tomorrow evening. Hopefully the weather will mostly blow over by then, but I suppose this is the first lesson of travel: always be prepared for the worst and don’t make any plans too concrete.
My experience in New York has been wonderful and eye-opening. Although this city can be unfriendly and cold, I also see why it is one of the most populated and sought-after places in the world. I’ve seen some beautiful sights and eaten great food. After getting lost in Brooklyn, Azain and I were able to cross the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset with some views I will never forget. At MOMA, I got to see Monet’s Water Lilies and the largest display of Matisse’s cut paper pieces in the world. I was able to experience a city with a learned guide (thanks Azain) and was a valuable step towards being alone in Denmark.
Farvel for now,