Thursday, September 22, 2011

NY, NY. Third Take: The (Mostly) Good

If there's something to say about NY is that it cramps a lot of different forms of life in a small space.

And, as always, it was the people who were the highlight. Not the high-end stores, the fancy restaurants. Certainly not the beauty (among the big US cities I know, I would pick Chicago or SFO anytime). The city didn't live to its reputation of having a bunch of pushy, rude dwellers who don't care about their fellow human beings. On the contrary, they were nice, open, helpful, caring, trusting and friendly. Partial proof of that were the places we stayed.
Great art pieces everywhere in Tami's place.

Thanks to AirBnB we stayed in the apartments of two born-again NYorkers. One a Jamaican, the other a Portland (OR) transplant. Both artists (Tami, a jewelry designer, and Debbie, a clothing and accessories designer) with very interesting homes. Super flexible with our last-minute, scrambling-to-get-accommodation needs, and they left their apartments basically to ourselves. Debbie's was by far the cleanliest and delightfully decorated place we stayed on our whole trip.

Debbie's place was charming.
And Tami, who couldn't be there to meet us because of an urgent visit to the dentist, arranged for her boyfriend Kenny, a musician, to welcome us and show us around the apartment. He only stayed briefly but he was warm and fun and we had a lovely chat.

But also on the street, people paid attention, recognized when we were lost or needed help, approached us, explained, recommended and pointed us into the right direction.
So, not all was bad. In addition to the people, there were a couple of others things I liked quite a bit. In no particular order:

* Brooklyn Public Library: Libraries in the US and Canada rarely disappoint. Yet, what a f$!#$@# amazing library! The bunch of crazy and/or homeless people drifting along the aisles -a warm, clean, comfortable, safe environment being a non-stated service provided by libraries all around North America-, didn't detract from the greatness of the space (don't be fooled by the uninspired website). And it's not even the biggest or most important in the city. A tad too many cops strolling around was somewhat disconcerting, but the staff was happily helpful, as always, plus knowledgeable and multilingual; the chairs alluringly comfortable; the multilingual selection pleasantly overwhelming (Sorry, it's a library I'm talking about, I have to use all those words). And to top it all I got my husband to read to me some of the most moving Arabic poems I've heard. Wasn't that the perfect geek romantic outing?

* West Indian restaurant: a reportedly recently-opened hole-on-the-wall recommended by a neighbor on the street. Our first time eating West Indian food. We
pointed to some of the different dishes displayed behind the counter and ended up with a curious mix of fish, beans, greens, and fried pastries -callaloo, boiled green banana, ackee and salt fish anyone?- that proved the absolute perfect pick-me-up and give-me-a-fuzzy-feeling food. Unsuspected delightful combination for breakfast.

* Chinatown's Columbus Park: Just too delightful for an anthropologist to miss. Senior Chinese men and women's expression of communal outdoor living at its best.

A local community member, Jean, explains it better:

"My grannie calls this park 'San Paw Park'. Yes, she really says 'Park'; she speaks Chinglish. San Paw refers to all of the Chinese grannies and grampses that chill here. This is THE elderly social scene. When I take my grannie here, I make sure I'm loookin fiiiine and givin' the other grannies no ammo to gossip.

One other reason to love 'San Paw Park' is the awesome bathrooms! They're CLEAN and spacious! You actually don't need to hold your breath upon entering! Do you need any other reason? Okay... Basketball? Playground? Chess tables? Chinese plays performed by the locals? Soccer? Beautiful scenery? And if thats not good enough for you-- there's always the edgier side of San Paw Park."

* Crazy black mamma driver: We reacted too late, but it was recording-worthy, in all its stereotypical glory. She warned, threatened, chastised and yelled at all of us. And we loved it. If you have taken one of the intercity buses going to Baltimore, you know what I'm talking about.

* The memorial to-be: I hadn't read anything about it, but I liked the concept. It might end up looking really nice. Someone commented, perhaps accurately, that it represents the US going down the drain.

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