To the great city

I’ve just returned from a wonderful trip to New York City, planned on a whim at a friend’s birthday party and executed by sheer adult will-power. It’s a new concept for me, vacationing with friends, the very sort of thing fifteen-year-old Amy dreamed would be possible in the future. We picked some days, bought some tickets, got off work, and off we went! That simple! The perks of adulthood are upon us and we are swimming in the small pleasures (as opposed to the all-too-present big challenges), the ability to choose how many baked goods to buy for ourselves on any given day, the ability to enjoy a beer with dinner sometimes, the ability to stay up as late or go to bed as early as we want, the ability to pack up and go somewhere new just because we’d really like to. I left Isaiah to take his own road trip and flew away with my pals to New York.

The trip didn’t drop us in an exotic or unfamiliar place. No, we went from one large and popular American city to another, flying on a shuttle flight mostly reserved for tired businessmen, swapping one public transit card for another, leaving the tall buildings of Chicago to be met with yet more tall buildings in New York. Throughout the trip, I couldn’t help but keep a tab open in the back of my brain for comparing and contrasting Chicago and New York, where I’d come from and where I presently was. The comparison was fascinating and dizzying, hard to put a finger on, really. Hard to distinguish what made these two large, vibrant, buzzy cities actually essentially different. Because they were. They absolutely were. Deep at the core of them, Chicago and New York are different. New York, dense and deep, crisp, clean, iconic. Chicago, wide and long, open, bright, sculpted, gritty. I still can’t put a finger on it even after assigning all those somewhat arbitrary adjectives.

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I found that the trip wasn’t about the city for me, although I left with New York under my fingernails and skin. If we’d gone to a beach or a forest, perhaps I would have wanted to spend the entire time basking in the different-ness of it, the giant contrast from my everyday city life. But, perhaps because I do live in a city already, instead the trip was about people, the ones who I like to keep close to myself, my dear friends. The iconic sights of the city, so often documented, celebrated, venerated, were enhanced by the faces of my friends blocking the view. The foods we ate were tastier because we were there to remark on them together. The limited time we had to see New York was made even more limited by lingering conversation, sleepy mornings, nights with take-out and talking. No, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I want a New York I can live in, even just for a few days. A New York I can love not only for its gorgeous iconic untouchable wonder, wholly worth visiting just to have seen it, but also for what it is beyond that. A space for living in, me with other people. A space to love people in. I’m grateful to have seen it that way, to have felt nestled safely in the seats on the subway, on a bench in Central Park, at a table in a cafe, not a visitor only but a person living, taking up good space, space meant to be taken up.

There are a great many pictures here, and I’ll try my best to link to all the places we went. My rad college pal, Whitney (who writes an incredible blog you should be reading focusing on the intersection between fashion and theology called Unwrinkling), lives in Brooklyn. We slept in various arrays on the floor of her apartment in Park Slope, and one of the goals of the trip was to find our way to as many of Whitney’s favorite places as possible, to see her New York. On top of that, my resident fabulous foodie friend Margaret made a spectacular food map of all the tastiest places not to be missed. Therefore, we ate a LOT of amazing food, so much that my daily food life will feel extremely boring for months to follow. There will be a lot of pictures, and words when I have them. A funny thing about the trip was that I spent most of my time having no idea where I was. We took so many trains every which way that I found myself almost completely dizzily disoriented, happy to waddle behind Whitney’s quick doc-marten’ed New Yorker gait down streets and avenues. For this reason, I can’t tell you which neighborhoods most of these places can be found in because I literally have no idea! I followed my friends to these places. I would follow them anywhere. Here is our New York.

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Brooklyn Bagel. This was our first breakfast, and very fitting. You can’t do New York without a bagel. This place had a line out the door when we arrived on a Saturday mid-morning. There were crazy amounts of cream cheeses to choose from in crazy amounts of different flavors. I chose the simple route with an everything bagel toasted with butter, and I was not disappointed. Highly recommended.

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Saturday at the Met, with all the Gossip Girl vibes we could muster. It’s a monolith of culture presiding over the city and, for me, mustering up memories of reading “From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” when I was small and could not sleep. I remember visiting New York for the first time when I was twelve and searching in the Met for recognizable landmarks from the book. This time I still searched for the egyptian cat I remember an illustration of Claudia standing beside.

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The prince of egypt. Or Claudia’s cat?

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In which we imitate the bear.

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And wait, aesthetically.

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Could have spent an hour with the sacred images. Another time.

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A favorite. Joan of Arc by Jules Bastien-Lepage. We stood and took this one in for a while.

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This was post-charades in the Met. For a new appreciateion of the art of charades, and art in general, pick up mine and Isaiah’s favorite book of pop-philosophy by Misha Glouberman and Sheila Heti, The Chairs are Where the People Go

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Whitney waiting. This is one of my favorite photos of the bunch.

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Street Style Update: this tiny girl at the Union Square Greenmarket, I can’t handle her. The purse, the tights, the shoes, the skirt, the scarf, perfectly styled next to her normcore brother. Very good. Oh, to be a new york child.

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Seeing (and touching) this hand-dyed merino wool at the Union Square Greenmarket got me back to wanting to get my hands on a knitting project, even though it’s nearly spring.

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Okay you guys. Dough. Best doughnut I’ve ever had, and we like to boast some great ones here in Chicago. We stopped in at the Flatiron location on W 19th St. and 5th Ave. Jess and I skipped over some of the more exotic/creative flavors (which looked amazing as well) and shared a Boston Creme (we’re purists). Honestly, it was perfect, not too sweet, perfect balance of dough and custard, fluffy, soft, perfect.

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The perfect boston creme. Not easily achieved. Good job, Dough.

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Didn’t try it, but I’ll take her word for it.

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Oh my goodness, besides lovely friend time and yada yada yada, this was the highlight of the trip for me and my inner theater nerd/emotional wreck. The Crucible directed by Ivo Van Hove. Ever since reading this article from the New Yorker on Van Hove’s groundbreaking work (extremely worth the read, although it is a hefty article), I have been extremely excited to be in the room where it happens. Seeing this play was crazy. I still can’t quite mentally process it. It was like no other theater experience I’ve ever had. It was masterful, visceral, deeply emotional, evocative. It is sticking with me, and reminding me why I care about theater, why it is a thing worth doing. Rather than binding things up, this play tears things open, gives no answer, makes stunning, clear, sense in all directions. The effects are increadible, the acting superb, the movement, the original music by Philip Glass, the stage pictures, every bit of it. Worth seeing for yourself.  Read the article, research this production, get yourself there if you can, enjoy the wonderfully strange cameo by a giant dog at the top of act two, see this play.

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We were the last ones in the theater after, silent, standing, thinking. Eventually we went down the stairs and crept our way toward the stage to see the aftermath, the debris. The front-of-house staff kindly let us stay until we were ready to go.

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We found our way to Hamilton just to be near and envious. We tried the lottery every day to no avail.

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Check out this gorgeous pretzel croissant from The City Bakery. It tasted as good as it looks, salty and soft. This place had all sorts of other amazing looking options too, including some very decadent hot chocolate featuring hand-made marshmallows.

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A necessary pilgrimage to the Bethesda Fountain and the Angel of the Waters, sentinel for the city.

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BEST COOKIE IN NYC, Levain Bakery. After we tromped around Central Park on Sunday afternoon, Whitney insisted that we find our way here, and I’m so glad we did. I waited in line for half an hour for a walnut chocolate chip cookie, and it was way, way worth it.  Ugh, mouth watering just remembering it. Heavy, molten chocolate on the inside, perfectly moist, great flavor. So good.

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The view from my subterranean counter seat where I enjoyed my cookie slowly, slowly.

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Chelsea Market was so magic that we went two days in a row.

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This strawberry milkshake was given to us for free because the milkshake man “made too many.” We unanimously agreed that it was, hands down, the best milkshake we had ever had. Margaret called it “transportive.” Try it for yourself in at Creamline in Chelsea Market.

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Seriously, next time your’re in Chinatown try the soup dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai. Very, very tasty.

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My only tangible hope for the trip was to make a pilgrimage to this wacko amazing pencil shop right outside Chinatown. Of course, our first shot for visiting it was on a Monday. Oops. We peeked in the window and vowed to return.

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The most touristy thing we did by far, and very memorable. Stephen was as great as you’d imagine he’d be, and the episode we dropped in for involved a giant blanket fort and Schmidt from New Girl, So I’d say it was a pretty worthwhile experience.

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We found our way to Morgenstern’s for ice cream after seeing Colbert and occupied these counter seats for an hour and a half, enjoying flavors like raw milk, bourbon vanilla, and mango passionfruit. Delicious ice cream, especially the mango/raw milk eaten as a combo. Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

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We found our way back to CW Pencil Enterprise, and oh my goodness it was everything I dreamed it would be and more. So much to take in, so many many pencils. If I were to ever open a shop it would be something like this, whimsically specific, thoughtfully curated, beautifully designed. We tested the pencils, perused various sharpeners, and each picked a few to take home with us. I could have literally spent all day in that light-filled shop.

For more pencil craziness/fun, check out this episode of “Mystery Show” in which Starlee Kine and an artisinal pencil sharpenener (a real job, crazy) named David investigate Jake Gyllenhaal’s true hight. A moment of real podcast magic.

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Right before Annie and Margaret had to head to the airport to go home a day early (sad sad sad reality of working adult life), we stopped at Momofuku Milk Bar for cereal milk soft serve and crack pie. The cereal milk ice cream tasted like it sounds, the salty sweet flavor of the milk left after eating cereal, a Milk Bar special. Extremely worth trying.

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On our last day we stayed in Brooklyn for pie in Gowanus at Four and Twenty Blackbirds. Instead of pie I enjoyed a nearly perfect cream biscuit with honey butter. Jess and Travis gave the salty honey pie a rave review. To me, Brooklyn feels spectacuarly liveable and familar. Every evening, it felt so nice to return to Park Slope and nestle in. It reminds me quite a bit of the things I love about Chicago, the calm neighborhood-ness of it. If Isaiah and I were to pick up and move to New York right now, we’d feel right at home in Brooklyn, I think.

Next we hopped over to too-cool-for-school Williamsburgh, which boasted the best people-watching of the trip.

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It was gorgeous and 60 degrees. We didn’t eat in this restaurant, but we thought about it. Instead we found our way to an equally magical place. House of Small Wonder, a treehouse-like, japanese/brunch fusion eatery was entirely whimsical and special, with huge trees shooting up from the ground and so much sunlight pouring in from the clear tent-like roof. This was my favorite restaurant of the trip, distinguished for its originality alone. The grilled chicken sandwich was dang good too.

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Before gathering up our things and heading to the airport (only to be met with a senseless three hour delay), we found our way to the water to see the city from the other side.

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In Company, Stephen Sondheim’s love letter to living in New York, watching another hundred people get off of the train everyday, one character says, “There’s a time to come to New York and a time to leave it.” I do sort of dream that someday I’ll live in New York and see what it has for me. To tread the iconic streets of some of my most favorite movies, to see if I can make it, to find in New York a home. Whitney did admit that her main motive throughout the trip was to entice us all to join her there, make a life in New York, make the big city small, like a culdesac, and rich with friends. I don’t know if that will happen. I can’t know yet. Maybe grad school? Maybe a job there? Maybe moving there on a whim when thirty and feeling restless? Maybe not at all, just a series of visits throughout life? I have no sense now at twenty-two, awash in possibility, thrown into adulthood, of what will come. I don’t know right now where we will live, what we will do, who will walk with us as we go. But now, after this visit to New York, this calm, friend-filled, living sort of visit, I feel like I have one more option, a space in a city of spaces waiting for me to fill it if I choose to. New York feels possible as I sit in Chicago and wonder at the wide open space of the life Isaiah and I are building. Another option. A time to come to New York. And a time to leave.

 

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