Monday, July 28, 2008

Close your eyes and you can feel all right in the teeming night
And set your face against the rush of feet
And the sidewalk heat and the cafe light
Just remember what they said at home when you went alone
That no one here is going to take the time
To read your mind or save your soul...
And you said "Hey New York, come on, tell me
Can this be the Promised Land?"

Up until recently, the only major festivities I'd witnessed were the quatorze juillet fireworks in Paris during the Bastille Day celebration back in 2002, when my dad and I went to England and France. However, because the only period of time where both Naomi's and my schedule overlapped in terms of free time was during the July 4th period, and since I had never been to New York City, it was decided that I should witness Independence Day in the Big Apple.

Therefore, after work on July 3rd, I drove up to Burlington to stay the night with Naomi. It was the first time I'd driven up there at night and (since I'm writing this a few weeks late) the only part I remember well were the insanely rude people cutting in front of me at the tollbooths. I made it there by midnight (it took me pounding on Naomi's window with my fist to rouse her from her nap, which she still swears she wasn't taking) and got a good night's sleep before facing the first metropolis I'd seen in about six years.

We started off safely enough at the Cloisters, which is, as I understand it, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (I don't feel "in the know" enough yet to refer to it simply as "The Met.") It was a neat place--lots of medieval art, and while I enjoy medieval art and architecture, my familiarity with it is passing at best. All I can say is that if you enjoy Renaissance-era artwork and reconstructed cloisters from European monasteries, you should definitely check this place out. (Bring a coat, though, it's pretty damn chilly.)

Next we drove down the West Side of Manhattan, since the Cloisters are at the far northern end of the island, and parked somewhere in the vicinity of Canal Street. I'm not sure where we went to the point that I could retrace it on a map of the city, but I know we went through the heart of Chinatown, where we had lunch at a little hole-in-the-wall style place. (Everything in Chinatown seems to be a hole-in-the-wall or boarded up, incidentally. I doubt any of the stores or restaurants have more than about, oh, 100 or 120 square feet total floor space. At least that's the way it seemed to this uncouth bumpkin.) We also wandered past Little Italy--or at least, I dimly recall Naomi grabbing my arm and pointing up a street and saying "That's Little Italy."

And there were subways, of course. No trip to New York would be complete without a visit to what I envisioned as Hell's Anteroom. I wasn't mistaken, either; the hot, fetid wind that whirls and twists around you as you descend the many stairs into the heart of The Big Asphalt Apple are reminiscent of some medieval cleric's warnings about the rewards sinners will reap. The subway cars themselves were nice and cool, though, and they had an attractive LED map that was easily visible so that you could watch your train approach your destination. (Metro DC, you could learn a few lessons from your northern cousins.)

At any rate, we took the subway to Times Square. We could have gotten off at Grand Central, but we were also planning on going to Macy's, and my wonderfully efficient girlfriend decided we could do all three things using only one "One Way" subway card if we got off at Times Square, walked to Grand Central, and then doubled back to Macy's. Or at least it would have worked that way if we had gone directly to those three places, but we inevitably got turned around and Naomi even had to call her mother (who lives out in the suburbs but teaches in the City) to find out where Macy's was. I might add that she did this while enduring no small amount of chaffing from me, such as "I thought you was a city girl! I thought you knew this fancy town!" delivered in my best burlesque Buckingham drawl.

We did get to Macy's, though, and I accompanied Naomi on what has to be the shortest shopping expedition any man has ever experienced while with a lady. I won't deny that Naomi can shop when she's in the mood--or at least, I have heard her describe some of her shoppinig expeditions to me, and this one definitely was under par for time, energy, and financial strain. I'm hoping one day I'll actually have to endure a marathon clothing spree with her so that I can join the ranks of boyfriends who can affectionately bitch about the pain and horror of having to watch their beautiful girlfriends try on clothing. (Plus, I figure after putting up with me for almost 12 hours in New York City on a hot July day, Naomi deserves revenge. That goes without sayin'.)

Then we found our way to back to Naomi's car and drove through Brooklyn. I have to say that with all due respect to Manhattan, I liked what I saw of Brooklyn better. It had that Boho flair that never fails to appeal to me, even though I am fully aware of its underlying pretension and self-absorption. But disregarding the wine bars and bistros--the kind of places Carytown, which is so dear to my heart, is either consciously or unconsciously emulating--where we drove through (most of the northwestern part) had some really neat neighborhoods. We drove for what seemed like endless blocks through Orthodox and Hasidic neighborhoods, where there were no signs in English, only Yiddish (and I'm assuming Hebrew for the temple signs).

I know it's cliched but I had this childlike sense of wonder I get whenever I'm confronted with anything new and interesting. I had it in Paris when my dad and I wandered into an all-Greek restaurant neighborhood, all the places family-run, with bazouki music everywhere. I had it in London when the double-decker drove us from Heathrow to our bed-and-breakfast and I watched the huge financial districts give way to quiet council housing neighborhoods and then slam us back into the grimy, dirty, hustle and bustle of the heart of the city. I had it in Rome when I was not yet fourteen, watching what seemed like the entire population of southern Italy zip by on scooters, gazing at the first foreign city I'd ever seen and thinking, "It can't just be country people that feel this way. Surely anyone who wasn't born and raised and lived their whole life in the middle of a city must look at this kind of scene with an unallayed, reflexive wonder."

Naomi eventually found a place where we could park and we wandered over to a playground fronting the river, with Manhattan's East Side directly in front of us. The fireworks started and it began to rain, but it wasn't much more than a sprinkle and we had an umbrella and together we watched the fiery pattens form and blaze out, the day's sweaty crankiness forgotten, content to celebrate our first six months together with a bang, and not with a whimper.


There was more, of course. We spent the night at Naomi's dad's house in Long Island and had breakfast with him the morning of the 5th. After finding out what an aviation buff I am (he was a captain in the Air Force), he gave me a huge laminated photo of the Blue Angels performing aerial stunts as a present. We spent some time talking about the military and his service, and then said our good-byes and went to visit Naomi's mom in Tarrytown.

I should mention here that Naomi must get her stubbornness and dedication from her mother. It had been decided by her mom that I must have a cellphone so that Naomi and I could keep in touch while at our respective grad schools, and after she found out my reluctance-bordering-on-hostility towards cellphones, she made the executive decision that I would own a cellphone on Naomi's family's plan. Therefore, the first order of business after Naomi and I arrived was going to Costco and activating this infernal piece of hardware. On the way out of the store I called my dad to let him know that I did indeed have a cellphone, and to give him the number:

Dad: So you finally caved, huh?
I: "Caved" implies I had a choice in the matter.

Naomi's mom overheard the last part, but luckily she has a great sense of humor and thought it hilarious.

Later on in the evening we went to a fondue restaurant with Naomi's mom and stepfather, and after sayinig goodbye we drove back to Burlington. That isn't the end of the story either, as Naomi drove back to Virginia with me to spend a week at my house while I took some time off work. However, my laxness in posting notwithstanding, that is a story for another time, perhaps when I am safely and comfortably settled in Blacksburg after we move my stuff down there this weekend.

Author's postscript: I have talked to numerous people about what I can only refer to as my reluctance to post on here, the reason for which I can only refer to as a species of writer's block. At any rate, I am expecting to post more often--indeed, I actually have some things in mind to post about--so we'll see where this goes. At any rate, expect some more updates, and no, I haven't forgotten the wineblog. I know I have a story to finish there as well. All in due time.

Take care of yourselves, everyone.

(I'm still flying.)


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