Reasons to love NY

Sunday, January 24, 2010

As of late, amidst a super demanding school-related schedule, there is one thing I’ve been finding time to do or at least trying to: travel. Though, as a result of both my sometimes overly ambitious – and frugal – nature, most are under some stage of dreaming and have yet to been realized, but that’s not to say a few slipped through the cracks and have actually been realized. Fortunately, the most recent example of the latter was only a few days ago: a 4-day trip to New York City.

Better known as the Da Rotten Apple to me, it’s the real deal and is the mother, be-all-and-end-all of American cities. It is without doubt the country’s culture and financial capital, and also its most vibrant city. Being the center of so many things, and through the wonders of popular mass media and entertainment, NYC has been permanently engrained into my DNA and fabric (and many others, I’m sure) as the rightful home of many things. Included are some of which I treasure and value dearly, like urban culture and planning, along with various dining and fashion trends. Much like LA, immortalization thanks to song and film (Friends, Sex and The City, Seinfeld, The Cosby Show, CSI & Law and Order, Gossip Girl, but also places like Broadway, and things like Mafias, to name a few) has resulted in a highly iconic city with an image and brand visible and influential the world over.

In complete honesty, it’s always been a place I’ve loved. As a self-professed connoisseur of fine urbanity, grit, mass transit, as well as an amateur sociologist, it’s uh, kind of hard not to be, to say the least. This is, afterall, the place that romanticized (now contemptuous) the name “The City.” The zenith, the King Kong of American urbanity, it is the standard to which others are held up to against. And even aside from the urban perspective, it’s a place where I have quite a few friends and contacts, something that alone makes it worth visiting.

Unsurprisingly I did there pretty much the same things I do here: document (or at least try to) through photography my unvarnished account of a fast-paced city that eludes and defies description. My primary subjects order include the hyper-diverse crowd of people, the opulence found in the architectural details all over the city and of course, the sometimes inarticulable “big-city” feel. Like anywhere else I go, this includes exploring the city’s many neighborhoods, for they are the true backbone of any one place.

In my opinion, in this country, NYC is the KING of neighborhoods in this country! Nobody even comes close, even if you go by in terms of sheer variety and number. What makes it special is that they are all different; legendary neighborhoods that have come to embody and stand for a variety of things. A few comes to mind: ghetto life in America (Harlem, Bed-Stuy and the South Bronx); gayborhoods and bastions of pride and advocacy (The Village and Chelsea); historically important immigrant hubs and centers for their literature and cultural lore, hipsterdom and fashion (the Lower East Side, Williamsburg, and SoHo, respectively). These places just ooze with character. And in short, these are the kind of places whose mere names are juicy enough to provoke discussion, and at the least, force you to hold some kind of opinion on them.

The only thing more important than the places where the people live is, of course, the people themselves, of which NYC has plenty of. And when I mean people, I literally mean it..and from any and every stripe and walk of life, too. To give one an example of the sheer breadth of diversity here, pick up a phone and call the city’s phone number, where you can ask when scheduled garbage pickup is, or request the hours for afterschool park programs are, in a whopping 176 different languages. Lest we forget that a zip-code in queens is the most diverse of such in the entire country.

In all seriousness, this city is the true definition of a melting pot. Aside from homogeneous, upper-class enclaves that occupy the bulk of middle and lower Manhattan, the city was, well, like the UN. Gritty-looking, working class Polish in Greenpoint; industrious, hard-working Mexicans in Bushwick, Sunset Park, East Harlem and Mott Haven; Chinese immigrants, of which many speak disparate languages, in Manhattan’s Chinatown, but also new ones in Brooklyn (Sunset Park) and Queens (Flushing); Afro-Latinos (Dominicans and Puerto Ricans) speaking fiery, rapid Spanish in Manhattan’s uptown, but also much of the South and West Bronx; Fresh off the boat, Orthodox Jewish Russians and Ukrainians in deep southern Brooklyn; and the Amish of NYC: non-inclusionary, reserved Hasidic Jews that can’t stand us filthy goys and aim to practice pure, “untainted” Orthodox Judaism. And if you thought that was dizzying, good luck, ‘cuz it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

For me, no trip there is complete without me having furthered my knowledge of the city’s quite significant and culinary world. Ahh, New York, the fabled land of hot dogs, pizza, kosher deli’s, steakhouses, bagels and cheesecake. With everything from street vendors hawking anything from hot dogs to Middle Eastern halal food, to haute fusion creations; to timeless no-frills pizzerias and deli’s; to perennially classy steakhouses; to a mind-blowing variety of ethnic eats; to super high-end, avant garde contemporary dining, NYC is a food lover’s dream come true.

How can one not love the culinary scene there? And if there is one place where diversity of the city truly shines, it’s in the sheer wealth of different ethnic foods available: Turkic-influenced Islamic Chinese eateries from the country’s interior west, Albanian-owned Italian pizzerias (which are DELICIOUS!); hearty Colombian arepas stuffed with potatoes, cheese and various ground meats; tantalizing East Village Moroccan restaurants whose interiors are done in relaxing hues of red & have sumptuous deep, carpet-esque rugs; juicy Dominican rotisserie chickens basted in and redolent of garlic and lime; face-melting Indian curries at Hindu Temples; and trendy, Senegalese-accented French bistro fare -- you name it, and chances are NY has it.

Furthermore, while I’m on the topic of cities, it’s worth mentioning that the city is home to a collage of architectural styles. While there I saw many styles, including several of which the city is undoubtedly the grand-daddy of: the 5-story walkup; the 4-family brownstone and carriage house; the immigrant tenement; towering, monolithic, drab, communist-esque public housing projects; and skyscrapers of art deco, beaux arts, modern, international and contemporary styles. Other parts, like where I stayed in Bushwick are characterized by hulking industrial warehouses and factories, many of which have been converted into lofts or artist work spaces. Lower Manhattan, for example, is awash in dramatic office towers and residences, donning all sorts of geometric forms and fragmented facades. While in Brooklyn, rows of brownstones scale many styles (including Victorian Gothic, Romanesque, and Italianate styles and influences) and sit on quiet, tree-lined streets devoid of the frenetic crowds found across the river.

There are also some other things there that I hope to compare and contrast with their counterparts here in Los Angeles. The neighborhoods, along with the types of people living there; the array of cuisines offered; and my favorite, the rampant gentrification. Additionally, I’ll write about my impressions on the transit, urban planning, but also what Los Angeles could learn from NYC. That’s all to come at a later date, though. Stay fly; I love you, NY.
















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11 comments: to “ Reasons to love NY so far...

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    I love NY! Great post and good to see you on the east coast...some of these photos truly define what NY is all about.

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    Very well written and understood. I am glad you toured NYC and experienced it for yourself. I would also like to applaud you for your selection of certain neighborhoods to photograph and in eclectic fashion.

    I predict you will either move to Bed Sty, Harlem or Jamaica in the upcoming years!

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    its so descriptive and reading it makes you feel like you're there with you experiencing jew york to the point that you can hear the hustle and bustle and jews arguing about prices and the smell of garbage in the street.

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    Long time fan just dropping by to say that I love your blog. While there are a plethora of photographers nowadays, what strikes me about your blog is how well written it is. I can feel the fervor in both your writing and photography. It's reminiscent of some of the great travel writing out there. This blog, in particular, reminds me of NY resident and Los Angeles transplant Joan Didion. Her writing is both descriptive and personal, as is yours. Keep up the good work.

    P.S.
    Where do you attend school? I'm Just curious, considering the amount of traveling you seem to do.

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    Did I ever tell you how great of a writer I think you are?

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    Truly exceptional writing. New York is, indeed, a melting pot of culture. Manhattan and its boroughs have valid prestige. Living just in the outskirts of the city I can tell you, Westchester does not offer half the life the city does. Only fifteen minutes away from Fordham, but miles away from fun. I love that there are always new faces to see. The air is sweet especially around this time. And there is nothing like reading a book, having lunch, or just relaxing at Bryant Park. Just lovely. I hope you visit soon!

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    You know i love your pictures, so this time i just want to tell you that i find your writing to be very catchy, enjoyable and very descriptive. Full of color!

    For those of us who live far away from New York is cool to see the other side of the moon. thanks!
    you rock!

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    ..i forgot to tell you, the little niggy is a poet

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    Hey, I've been checking out your blog and was wondering if i could ask you a few questions about LA? Im an architecture student from St. Louis doing a project there and seems like you could provide some pretty good insight. If you get this and have a second please email me at bemberg2@gmail.com. THANKS!

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    Great post, beautiful pictures... and I'm convinced! As you enumerate its many faces, I can't deny that NYC really IS the quintessential melting pot.

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