It’s true what they say: everthing IS bigger. The customs queues and process in general, the bathrooms that really ought to be implemented in Australia so us women could comfortably hold our group club-toilet meetings, the buildings, the journeys, the options, the prices, the heat, the smells…
Except for the people. They’re the same. The same mix of big and small, average, jogging, dog-walking, stoop-sitting, coffee-drinking, clap-game-playing, smiling, frowning, rushed, relaxed people. But the diversity is wonderful. Already I’ve heard countless languages, some recognisable, others not.
As soon as I walked into the brown-brick apartment I knew I was lucky. It’s perfect. It smells perfect – cigarettes mixed with incense, mixed with a certain feminine scent which I can’t quite place but that made me feel instantly welcome and part of a girlhood.
My room is larger than expected, the bed wonderfully soft, the airconditioning intensely cold and no doubt awful for the environment. Firecrackers erupt sporadically and I question whether they’re gunshots. The streets at night are warm and welcoming, light softly by shops and bars and fairy lights. It’s run down yet it works. Shops and bars that seem as if they’ve always been there are seperated by shuttered windows and boardered doors.
In the day, it’s familiar yet different. Again, the humid smell, the brick apartment blocks with fire-escapes zig-zagging across their faces. There’s a constant hum of air-conditioners, and the streets are calm. Only a bagel place is packed and of a different, busy, hurried vibe as people order ‘a toasted with everything’ and I completely fail to immitate them but end up with a delicious, dense bagel filled with chicken and mayonnaise. I feel like I’m on a summer vacation and have to remind myself that I’m here for a reason – to act, and to work hard.
My guide for the day is my new flatmate X – she’s one of those people who are so wonderfully, improbably, self-assured at a young age. She doesn’t smile much, but it’s no indication of her overall demeanour, which is open and friendly. She meets me in a coffee shop and shows me all around – her favourite cafe, UrbanOutfitters (yes!), the best bakery, the best salad bar, Whole Foods (which is surprisingly [disappoitingly?] like Australian supermarkets). I feel already like I have a person I can talk to, to go to if I need, and it’s a wonderful starting place to throw myself into the crazy social world that no doubt awaits me on 9th Avenue.
And now, with so many options, I sit and write. Central Park? Grand Central? Brooklyn Bridge? Times Square? Should I avoid anywhere on the 4th of July? My belly is still full of bagel and yet there’s so much delicious food out there to try. I have to keep reminding myself I’m here for 5 weeks. I’ll see and do and eat it all. But what to do now?