This is one of those surreal times, when I keep saying to myself, “I’m really here! I’m in New York!” Not just New York, but Brooklyn, NY. In Midwood, an Orthodox Jewish enclave, right next to a Russian enclave, right next to a Turkish enclave… ad infinitum. The taxi driver who dropped us off here from the airport was from Guyana. The lady who helped us figure out where to get off the bus for the “Big Library” (as she put it) was from Jamaica. Yesterday at a picnic table in Coney Island, we met a couple from Paris and another from Austria. Everywhere we go, we hear English as a very small slice of what is spoken, and that is mostly limited to when we’re at cash registers.
This feels like a foreign country, surprisingly more foreign than Peru did in January. I love “foreign”! I love different. I love unexpected. I love shy smiles from children who have no clue that I just said how much I wish I had shiny shoes like theirs. I love smiles from people who didn’t expect to have a door held open for them today. I love it when the man behind the counter at Meal Mart hands me my little container of pasta and says to me with a big grin, “Where are you from? You LOOK like a tourist!”
I grew up hearing that New York was a concrete mess, a horrible place. I grew up hearing that New Yorkers were rude and unfriendly. As my Dad would say, “I never lost a thing there, no reason to go.” Either New York has changed, or my family was looking for ways to justify isolating themselves out West. Yeah, it can be dirty. They could use a plastic bag ban. But knock on wood, so far it is filled with people who are simply, wonderfully, human. On Saturday, I was so pleased to be able to connect with Urban Sketchers NY — it was like meeting friends at Central Park (and when I went to their site just now to copy the link, who did I see a photo of but Me! Not particularly glamourous, but what the Hey!). They are a small group of artists who like to sketch, total strangers to me, but it felt like I had known them all for a long time. So welcoming, and SO TALENTED! We started at Bethesda Fountain, Central Park, where it was cold but gorgeous, with spring just creeping in. And it was like being at the opera – a tile tunnel leading into the fountain area has acoustics that are fabulous, and as we sketched we heard an opera singer and a spiritual group – I would have paid hundreds of dollars for that, but it was free. Free. Imagine. And indeed, as we walked out of Central Park, we passed the John Lennon memorial mosaic, “Imagine.” Wow.
After lunch we went to Lincoln Center, where I sat inside at the theater cafe and sketched the impossible architectural angles of the courtyard leading to the Juilliard School. Seriously, whoever designed the odd little lawn above the fountain must have been smoking something very strange… And all the while, I was pinching myself and saying that yes, I am really here. And that next Saturday I can join these same good people/artists at the Botanic Gardens to sketch the Cherry Blossoms.
I was giddy after the weekend, but brought back to earth with a jolt by Monday’s events in Boston. I am so sorry that so many people had their “pinch me I’m really here” moment destroyed, their lives forever changed, if not taken entirely. It makes the friendly smiles here, the welcomes, the little kindnesses, all the more precious.