Last week found me in The City, taking my daughter to college orientation – which when it was all said and done was fabulous for her – but she thinks it's cruel that they get you there, make you fall in love with it and then turn around and send you back home for a few months. Ah, to be 18 again!
So I had a few days to cruise around the city solo and I loved that! I love traveling with my best girlfriends and my family, but there is something so freeing and delicious about traveling alone. I've done it a bit over the years and I think I like it more and more. No consensus, no discussions (except in my own head), no deal making. I just blow out the door and go. This crosswalk sign caught my eye immediately and became my talisman for my urban sojourn.
I looked and looked and was completely entertained by the conversations I passed by and eavesdropped on being alone. Novels could be started by simple sentences spoken by strangers as you pass them by. I was struck by what a city of stories New York is (not a novel concept, I know) – just so many, many people who live out their stories everyday, rushing by each other – touching and intersecting and vectoring off.
I was looking to see some parts of the city I hadn't seen before, so I signed up for a walking tour of Harlem. After a brief spin of the wheel over at Google, I landed on Harlem Heritage Tours. A for profit, grass roots organization whose mission is to introduce people to Harlem by Harlemites.
Our wonderful guide Andi – 84 years young – walked us from 115th to 125th in and out of neighborhoods with a lot history and stories. He stopped to chat with many of the people on these streets – clearly an active community member for the 50 years he's lived in Harlem.
We spun by the legendary jazz hangout Minton's Playhouse, as well as the Apollo Theater. Rows of beautiful restored brownstones and rows of not-so-restored brownstones. Past lots of locally owned businesses and only one Starbucks in sight. It feels like a neighborhood and community. Andi is not too pleased by the gentrification taking hold of his beloved neighborhood, but time marches on and change has come to Harlem. I enjoyed learning about a part of the city I had never ventured into.
By virtue of the serendipity of my solo trek, I found myself in the Union Square Barnes & Noble on the Tuesday night that Josh Ritter's new book, Bright's Passage was released. A trip up to the 4th floor to look at art books turned into a lovely evening of song, reading and interviewing. New to me, Josh Ritter is a singer songwriter who's been around a while writing and singing a kind of story telling, contemporary folk music. I now think of him as a cousin to my beloved Amos Lee. Smart and funny, a natural born storyteller and poet, I have fallen in love with his music and his new book is on my bedside table. If you are interested you can hear him sing a few songs over at one of NPR's Tiny Desk Concert's and Tom Ashbrook interviewed him over here on the release of his first novel.
I don't know why, but I had this brilliant idea to let one of the pedicabs give me a ride from mid-town back down to Union Square through NEW YORK CITY TRAFFIC!! Oh hell no! I won't do that again. I'm surprised it's legal. Seriously. This was a tame part of that insane idea!
I kept a little journal of my time – I want to remember in clear detail my time with my daughter at this really special time of her life and transition. I made a little journal out of a pasta box before I left and then used some post cards from Barnes & Noble and some decorative tape I brought with me, to fancy up the cover.
A great size and reminder of the trip.
Mostly writing…I really want to remember this – with little bits of free emphemera collected along the way.
The Strand bookstore is in my daughter's new neighborhood – a big 'ol marvelous independent bookstore with a wealth of wonderful used books. I could live there. We also had a chance to have dinner at Prune, Gabrielle Hamilton's tiny restaurant in the east Village. If you love to cook and eat and appreciate a well crafted story, you'll love her touching and hilarious chef's memoir, Blood, Bones and Butter.
I ventured off to Broadway to see The Normal Heart one night – heart wrenching, touching, raw – a terrific play about the beginning of AIDS activism in the 80's. I made a little pocket for a letter they passed out at the end of the play from the playwright, Larry Kramer. The AIDS epidemic has not gone away and needs our attention more than ever.
I did make it the Jewish Museum and had a look at Maira Kalman's wonderful show there. It was so inspiring to see her fabulous illustrations up close. Spread across 3 rooms – there was a lot to look at and take in.
Friday found my daughter back with me and we went to see the very crowded Alexander McQueen exhibit. If only I could have taken pictures! It would make a great blog post. Suffice it to say if you are in the neighborhood, print a ticket ahead of time from home or your hotel and get to the Met the minute they open. Otherwise you'll stand in line for hours waiting to get in. Two words – creative genius – gone from this world way too soon.
This view out my hotel window has the bones of a lovely painting or journal page that I think I'll try my hand at. All the geometrics and light and shadows. I'm fascinated by all the little water tanks I see on the tops of buildings all over the city.
It's her city now. She'll live and learn and grow far away from home. She's ready. More than ready. And I'll be a visitor, listening and looking for stories.