|Greetings from New York City (South Street Seaport)|
This post comes to you from New York City, where I have been spending a few days visiting my parents, something I have not done since this time last year. And what a year! This is also the first time I’ve journeyed to my native city from my new home in Vermont, in fact the first time I’ve left Vermont in the 5 months since my relocation, giving me the opportunity to reflect on and compare my then and now. As the unlikely goat pictured below in the Central Park Zoo viewed from the sidewalk on Fifth Avenue where I took a long walk Tuesday seems to understand, it’s all about place. One can feel free or imprisoned in a small space as much as in a vastness, and one can feel uncomfortable or welcomed as easily in a new place as an old place. Tuesday as I retraced familiar paths around Manhattan, my mind said “it’s good to be home,” but my heart said “something’s changed – what can it be?” It took a few miles of falling into the rhythm of the New York walker, which is unfettered and brisk, determined and headlong yet utterly natural, for my thoughts to loosen up and give me the answer to my heart’s question.
|A Matter of Place (Central Park Zoo)|
Until this visit, I had always come to New York from a place to which I did not feel particularly connected, and in which I was not exactly happy, so little in fact that within the decade I lived and worked in the Boston area, my trips out of town went from once or twice a year to once or twice a month. I reached a point of feeling more confident and comfortable in who and where I was when I was in transit to somewhere else, anywhere else, than I was in the place I begrudgingly called home. Many people who travel too much or too little report feelings of disorientation, waking up in strange beds not knowing who or where they are, made anxious by the lack of recognizable sights, sounds and routines in their daily landscape. But in airports, on trains, journeying, arriving, exploring, discovering, just myself and whatever necessary possessions could fit in bags I required no assistance carrying, that was my identity, my comfort zone. I had become a sort of human snail or turtle, carrying my home on my back, always on the move. At rest I felt vulnerable and out of place.
|Brought Back to Life (Brooklyn Botanic Garden)|
Some people are born wanderers, never happy at home, taking jobs that require travel, and waiting eagerly for the next opportunity to be on the road. I think I have some of this perpetual wanderlust in my soul, but now that I’m living in Vermont, not only do I feel little desire to leave town, I sometimes spend days with no desire to leave my apartment! I gaze out the windows at the distant mountains and the beautiful architecture and the trees with their seasonal changes and know I am exactly who and where I need to be, and feel no need to escape either of those conditions. Which brings me to New York, my first home, my place of longest residence, the place where my parents are lifelong residents, the place I will always come back to but only on quick visits, the place I have long since folded into my heart for safe keeping, a lucky charm I take with me everywhere. Being here does not feel the way it used to, a sudden sense of belonging and interconnection, a shocking clarity and energy that served to set in contrast exactly how vague, detached and murky my soul had been back in Boston. I would feel as if I had been asleep in a spell and brought back to life.
|New Balance (Brooklyn Botanic Garden)|
This time I arrived in the city already awake and alive, and it took me the first day here to realize there would be no rush of reanimation, because none was necessary. Once I adjusted to that realization, I rejoiced. How lucky I am that I now have two places I feel so at home in, and love so much, that I can go back and forth between them and experience no shock, no unfavorable comparisons, no cycles of elation and deflation. There is a new balance achieved between where I used to be and where I am, and room enough for both places to exist in my heart in harmony.
|Blurry Field of Bluebells (Brooklyn Botanic Garden)|
Wednesday I set out to visit my beloved Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the South Street Seaport, and the new Hi Line Park which I am ashamed to say has been there a little too long to call “new” but I had yet to encounter and still can’t say I have. I brought two cameras and many rolls of film, the results of which you will have to wait to see until future posts. Because of the third camera in my cellphone, there are recent and relevant images to go with this post, including the field of bluebells above that deserved a full color capture. Today I’ll be on the train bound for Rutland VT. When I used to take the train from Boston to New York, there was always a moment before the train descended into an underground tunnel for the last part of the route before arriving in Penn Station when the full skyline of Manhattan was visible in the distance, this tiny sliver of island miraculously sustaining an impossible crowd of tall buildings in every age and style. The sight, without fail, would bring tears of joy to my eyes. The approach to Boston on the return trip always felt like a diminishment or disappointment. I would rarely even look out the window, but instead gather my things and look inward. I have a feeling that today when I know I have crossed the state border between New York and Vermont, and the look of the mountains changes, and I know I am in my new home state again, and finally I emerge from the train and smell the sweet air, there will be joyful tears that say “it’s good to be home.”
|How Wednesday Ended (Nelson Blue)|
But New York did make me cry. Yesterday was one of those days of perfect serendipity with nothing going as planned and everything turning out perfectly in the end. From the unpredicted steady rain and hordes of school children in the Conservatory at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, to the unexpected treasures found in the new South Street Seaport Museum, housed in an old building with much of the exposed brickwork and wood beams left untouched, a true testament to the city’s rich maritime past, to the unimaginable relief of finding my favorite (and the one and only) New Zealand cuisine restaurant in NYC Nelson Blue still open and eager to provide magnificently grilled lamb chops and earthy red wine, the day was flawless.
|Tools of the Trades (South Street Seaport Museum)|
It was the film being shown in one of the many beautiful exhibit rooms at the museum that got me. Shot by Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler almost 100 years ago, a moving picture in more ways than one, it featured classic timeless images of the architecture and action and humanity that made this city what it was and is, made its best photographers who they were and are, and made me a natural and grateful follower in those footsteps, in that rhythm. Or maybe it was the museum guard, by whose accent I guessed was a recent immigrant from Africa, who directed me to an elevator and casually commented “you must be a writer – I can see it in your eyes, so wide open.” Or maybe it was the guy selling t-shirts among the usual tourist- oriented souvenir vendors who caught my eye because he was showing images of subways from the 1970s photographed by his father. I knew every elevated rail line and deserted station pictured. I knew why the trains of NYC are such an irresistible subject and will be, for generations of artists to come.
|Old Sailors Quarters (South Street Seaport Museum)|
But mostly I knew what it feels like to call a place home that has such a history of being in so many ways and for so many reasons visited, settled, sought after, stayed in, left, used and loved by travelers. Things happen to me in NYC that just don’t happen anywhere else. But for the first time in far too long, it will be just as good to be back home.