An ode to the City of Dreams – New York City, USA (Dates unknown / Multiple)
I cannot remember exactly when I bought this. I have made several visits to this bustling mad city. I’ve never not been taken by it. In fact, the first time I visited at nineteen – I was the wide-eyed girl from India who was excited to see Greenwich Village, home to her fictional idol Mia Thermopolis, and see how it compared against the world that Mia had painted for her in her mind’s eye. I loved the brownstones, the subway, the crowds, the traffic. All of it. I took several hundred pictures of buildings. And fire escapes, which were another made-for-TV concept to me. I loved the energy everyone seemed to have, just like in the movies. What a rush to be part of it. People walked so briskly with purpose. No one seemed to be loitering. So they must all have found purpose, no? I wanted to taste some of that magic NYC juice that gave everyone destinations, and put fire in their feet. I left with the dream to live there someday.
As I got older, and found myself living in the US, I continued to enjoy visiting. But I realised I no longer harboured that dream of living there. It was all a bit too much for me. Too much movement. Where was everyone off to, anyway!? It had dawned on me that purpose doesn’t come from having somewhere to go. And that maybe being lost in a sea of people, still feels like being lost after all. The energy that I had once found infectious and energising, I recognised to be infectious and draining instead. Too much. I didn’t want to lose my wonder though. Never want to lose my wonder. I made peace with loving the city, but from a distance. Enough to want to visit, again and again and again. Finding something new to discover on each visit. And each time, leaving with the feeling of content that this frenzy of a city showed me a little more than she had before. Be it getting across the city for the best, chewiest, densest bagels I’ve ever relished from Absolute Bagels. Or walking across the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset, and being surprised by a woman getting her wedding photoshoot in the middle of the bridge, foot-traffic be damned. Or dissolving into Lady M‘s matcha mille-crêpe cakes. Or elbowing through crowds to see the big Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, only to realise the stress of it all allowed little Christmas spirit. Or getting lost and realising I was (finally) walking through Greenwich Village for real, which was serene and very different from the Village in my imagination. Or getting lost in Central Park, and witnessing a large group of people lost in dancing to drums…wondering in awe if I would ever be able to let go and surrender like that (I would, I just couldn’t imagine it yet).
Getting lost in general, I think. Feeling very small in a big, big city. With friends though, with my people – also lost with me. Mmm happy times.
I want to say I bought this little souvenir on one of my last visits, when I knew I would be leaving the US shortly. I didn’t expect to see the brilliance of New York City again. I vaguely remembering buying this from a street artist selling his wares on the walkway of a bridge (which bridge?). It jumped out at me because it sort of took away the seriousness of the city (and reminded me of Seinfeld, for some reason?). On further thought, I realise it captured the nostalgia, the movement and the sentiment that every movie and book and TV series set in New York had silently promised me: that it is the city to find and lose and find again.. love, usually with someone else who is also lost and misunderstood in the same crowd. Movies set in the city, especially in winter (Christmas) are still my absolute feel-good favourites. I re-watch them every December. The rational part of my brain is fully aware that New York City is one of the loneliest, most isolating cities in the world (sidenote: lose yourself in reading Olivia Laing’s ‘The Lonely City’ for a rich picture of this, what a beauty). But, the tiny part of my brain that is an eternal romantic, that chooses to dream fluffy, that wishes to be Mia Thermopolis, loves to hold that feeling of a hot-cocoa-and-snowfall romance in dreamy New York City.
(Hey, so what if reality is grittier than that, this is how I chose the souvenir for me.)
Recap: what is Souvenir Storytime? The magic of creation through words is always deeply nourishing. If new memories cannot be made, I decided to pay homage to all the beautiful places I have already been, by honouring my ~fridge magnet~ collection. Seriously. I had collected several over the years, knowing that they were the ultimate tourist-y kitsch. I have held them close not for their beauty, but for the stories within. With Souvenir Storytime, I am attempting to bring to life the memories held within these ubiquitous magnets – in no particular order. This is not to help people “armchair travel” (a term I’m growing to dislike through this pandemic). It is to re-live small, significant moments from years past. In the process, I hope to help you – dear Reader – recover your own pearls of memories from deep within. The journey will continue, but for now let’s pause and look back on its meandering path, shall we?