Thursday, May 3, 2012

Travel Notes

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.

16 comments:

  1. Dear Gabriella,
    You've overwhelmed me. I had to take a few deep breaths before starting to type this. Each and every word of this beautiful post was perfect, every memory and feeling struck a chord in my heart.
    Like you, I've always been a wanderer, always excited to see new lands and people. Your description of the trip to New York City and your time there was deeply touching.
    Sharing your thoughts is a wonderful gift to the world and it's difficult to adequately express my appreciation.
    Many thanks.
    Sincerely,
    Gary.

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    1. Gary, good to see you here! I'm pleased that this post touched you so personally. I write from the heart of my own experiences as truly as I can, so it's always gratifying to know others feel as I do. Many thanks, fellow wanderer!

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  2. Beautiful writing about beautiful feelings, not only do i understand(even more) how much you love NYC, how it is almost a magical place to you but also how urgently needed it became for you to leave Boston. It must be a important difference to travel between two places you love, you made that very clear in touching words.
    Your cellphone photos...well that peony, stunning, and happiness in 'how wednesday ended',love and x

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    1. Thank you so much Renilde! I worry sometimes that readers will get tired of my rhapsodizing about New York City - but it does seem that the subject of the city and how it makes me feel is apparently limitless and ever-renewing! Hope all is well with you.

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  3. Words are inadequate to tell you how happy I am that you now realise that you have at least two homes. I suspect that anywhere which cherishes its artists would also be home. So ... there is a home for you in the hearts of many bloggers. Including me.
    This is a wonderful post. My eyes leaked a little with joy.

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    1. EC - what riches! - not two welcoming homes but three, counting the hearts of bloggers like you! That leaky eyes thing - seems to be a lot of that going around...

      Wishing you all the best, dear friend.

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  4. TT/G - so glad you had the opportunity to visit your folks and NY. Reflecting on your post I thought - maybe we have a current nurturing home but have a number of places that we have spiritual attachments to. Having shared your Rutland-Vermont home I can understand the sense of freedom and nurturing it offers; but having wandered the streets of NYC I also feel it is a place that will call me back in an artistic way. For Fiona and I, the block on the mountain nurtures us now but we often talk about how the highlands of Scotland and Florence Italy also call us. May you continue to find joy in both these places that you love. Go well. B

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    1. Barry - I was thinking about you and F when I started to reflect on the differences between pure wanderlust and being a natural traveler or wanderer. And of course, wore a broad smile as I retraced some of your steps on the Upper West Side! I do think one can have more than one spiritual home. If you ever settle in Scotland or Florence, make sure you have a nice guest room, because you will definitely get a visit from me!

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  5. G....you are in a wondrous time and place in your life....truly at home! Thank you for this beautiful and touching post....best wishes for the new wonders unfolding....P.

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    1. Patti - thank you for your kind words. Things really are going rather well - now all I need is a job! All the best to you.

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  6. How wonderful. A trip back to a home that renews and fills; yet lets you leave for another home without an ache in your heart or a heavy rock of sadness on your shoulders. How wonderful to have two homes that call you and let you be you. NYC is a remarkable city and its layers of offerings are deep and wide; to those of us who fleetingly visit and to those who have known its corners, its rhythms and its nuances. I'm glad that the green hills of Vermont are home as much as NYC is - and that it's great to be back home.

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  7. Fiona - for fleeting visitors, I think you and B fell into the rhythm of NYC so naturally you may as well have been returning natives! When you arrived here in Vermont you seemed like my friends visiting from New York, not my Australian friends making another U.S. stop. I suppose the city is one of those changeable and complex creatures that is what you make of it, and can be many different things to different people - so that the experience any individual has says a lot more about who they are and what they bring to the encounter than the nature of the city itself! Have a wonderful creative week!

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  8. Gabriella new york must be magic or? for me as european in my imagination is a magic city full of different coulture and all seems to be at the same time vintage and new... difficoult to explain.
    I understand very well your deep feeling on the road from Vermount, your new home, and your own city NY the big apple!!!

    the fotos are speaking :-)

    kiss and love..

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  9. Hi Laura - yes, New York is a very magical city! You are exactly right and I understand just what you mean that it is both vintage and new, this is the perfect way to describe it!

    Many thanks for your comment, dear friend. I am sending you a warm hug!

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  10. I dream that one day i will be visiting New York. And even more dreaming i will met you and Brian. "-)
    But the both of you are already here, in my heart.

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    1. Dear Monica, thank you so much for catching up on all these past posts of mine! My trip to New York seems very far away right now, but I can re-live it by looking back at these photos and also because I am seeing it again through your eyes. Much love to you.

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