The last time I went to New York City, I was two years old. I remember very little of it. The turnstiles in the subway, for some reason, stuck out to me. They were just as I remembered, except they were no longer at head height.
This time, the subway system was not fully functional. As I shuttled around the city of eight million, there were constant reminders that it was still stunted from the effects of Hurricane Sandy. Sandbags, trash piles still waiting to be picked up. Electronic notices about fuel restrictions. Maybe people looked more worried than normal, too; I couldn’t tell. In any case, they seemed relatively grumpy. It was all more dour than I was expecting.
You know how it goes: New York is sort of back there, tucked away in a corner of your mind in case you decide that you’re dying to become a starving artist or a Wall Street executive. However, even staying in a relatively spacious apartment (with four entire rooms) on the Upper West Side, I started to doubt this fantasy. It was a French girl’s apartment, and on her shelf I found a little book, nearly all pictures, describing the differences between Paris and New York. Croissant versus bagel. Demitasse versus venti. Pause versus go go go. I took a break from careening up and down the city to flip through the book, and I realized maybe for the first time that my norm, what I had absorbed from childhood in the rural United States, was in many ways closer to the French way of life than whatever this hyperactive city was offering. I had thought my love of France and Europe in general was due to my ability to adapt, but I’m not sure that’s entirely true. There are pockets in my own country that are less like what I am used to than what I can find on other continents, even given the language difference.
It wasn’t that I couldn’t adapt in New York. It was that I didn’t like adapting in New York. I saw people on the street as obstacles in my path, felt myself dodge around them, felt myself roll my eyes at every musician on the subway. I heard myself start to curse with alarming frequency. And I was tired. So much walking up and down those subway steps, so much waiting.
Central Park felt a bit more sane. There were still hordes of people there, but they weren’t scuttling along like so many beetles, all shiny and decked in black. They actually sat down for no reason in Central Park. And there were people bouldering on the rocks, their billowing chalk dust and dreadlocks making me suddenly feel like things might not be so weird here after all. There were children, and people selling music and jokes.