The City Space

Cultivating Urban Understanding

The First Time

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I have two memories of my first trip to New York. One is looking out my great-grandmother’s apartment window at the sea of yellow taxis below and wondering what sort of place I could possibly be in where cabs outnumbered cars. The other is of the salty, wrap-you-up warmth of matzo ball soup at the deli down the street, which—in spite of an upbringing tinged with Jewish influences—I cannot ever recall tasting before that moment.

I did not return to the city for twelve years, and when I did, my adventures took place on Brooklyn rooftops, in elegant jazz clubs and underground restaurants—my own grown-up version of being enthralled by taxi cars and eating comfort food. I drank my first cocktail in New York that time. I realized I loved someone there. It was everything new and I was delighted.

I came back in pieces the next year. Two days here, twenty-four hours there, interviews, visits, fly in, fly out—keeping fragments of each neighborhood and conversation in my pocket for later. I was learning the city like a musician with a new instrument: learning how to hold it and feel out one note at a time.

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Now I live in New York City. I wake up every day to the incessant honking, smell of bagels and garbage, layer upon layer of skyscrapers, apartments, and the multitude of people converging on each corner. I remind myself that I am here and nowhere else. New York City is my home… Yet my great-grandmother’s memories linger, though the scene out her window is absent of World Trade Center shadows. My own memories linger too—from that first trip and each one after—congealing on windowpanes and pooling in dips on the sidewalk. I often step off the subway in a neighborhood I think is new to me, only to realize that I’ve been there before. A statue catches my eyes and suddenly I’m watching my twenty-year-old self skip down the street in front of it—lost and laughing and anonymous—thank God I had someone next to me who knew the way.

Just what sort of path should I plot now amidst these memories of my former self and those who walked beside me then? I must live out my great-grandmother’s legacy in chorus with my own new life here, aware also, of the mark that artists, dreamers and leaders have made during their time in the City through the centuries. These stories resurrect themselves when we walk by their monuments and hear their music.

So now I listen for that music and learn it better each day. I drink in my city like the soup of my ancestors that very first time. It is warm and tastes like home.

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2 thoughts on “The First Time

  1. Very beautifully written. So glad you’re enjoying being in New York.
    … Even if you won’t let me come visit. 🙂

    Like

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