In 2007, on the night I met the boy who was to become the ‘love of my life,’ he asked me – quite nonchalantly – if I’d like to go to New York with him the next Christmas. Fast forward to just over a year later and we were grabbing a yellow cab at JFK. It’s one of my favourite stories to tell about the way that we met, and, New York is quite possibly in my top two places on earth (the other is by the sea but that’s a story for another day.)
Fast forward another 6 years from that and here we are. We watched the New New York episode of Glee this week and when it ended we looked at one another and sighed a little sadly. We miss New York, we miss it in a way not dissimilar to the way you miss an old friend you haven’t spoken to in a while: it was fun and we want more and why are you so far away. That’s kind of how New York makes you feel, like it’s that holiday romance, all too fleeting but so intense that you look back on it both fondly and with a sense of longing that almost takes your breath away.
I’ve been having a lot of New York feelings recently, perhaps due to my best friend’s forthcoming wedding (in real life, not the Julia Roberts film) which has a New York theme. She got engaged in New York (top of the Empire State Building the whole shebang), super romantic, right? I KNOW. I’ve been feeling nostalgic for that week we spent there, possibly the best week of my life, and have what can only be described as a longing to go back. A quick look on Skyscanner and a check of my bank balance swiftly reminds me that that is not even a remote possibility right now. Woe is me, I know. Feel free to send sympathy on a postcard.
I never expected to love it so. I went because Ian wanted to, mainly. I mean, I wanted to go, don’t get me wrong: who doesn’t want to go to New York, but I hadn’t spent the 25 years of my life prior to my trip with New York City dreams. I’m not a city girl. At all. I like the feel of the sea breeze on my face; I like the feel of grass between my toes; I like wide open spaces and making daisy chains in a field knowing there might not be another person for miles. That feeling, of being the only person in the world? I love it.
My grandparents owned a farm when I was small and I grew up collecting eggs and venturing as far away as I was allowed (which looking back wasn’t all that far but which felt like a million miles to me) and rolling down the hills in the top fields, faster,faster,faster. I was nettle stings, and grass stains, and sitting on a fence, laughing when the goats tried to eat my shoelaces. My cousins moved to Manchester when I was in my teens and visiting them, whilst an adventure, left me feeling like a fish out of water: it was big – too big- and loud – too loud- and dirty and all of the people were in such a hurry to get nowhere and I longed to go home to my small town life.
London was the same again – a big city, too much too fast, although I was older when I first went there (for my 21st birthday) and I kind of got caught up in it all – I love me some time in the capital, but I’m always ready to come home again after a couple of days, to the relative peace of a hometown that doesn’t even have a shopping centre, where a 5 minute walk has me feeding the ducks in the park.
I thought New York would be the same: bustling, and a little insane, too many people in too much of a hurry and so much to see it would make my eyes burn. I thought I’d be ready to come home after a couple of nights; I worried our trip would be too long.
It was exactly what I expected: New York is bustling, and a little insane, with too many people in too much of a hurry and so much to see it made my eyes burn.
& I loved it.
Our trip wasn’t long enough.
I loved the line of yellow cabs waiting for us when we left the airport, bundling our cases into the trunk and giving the driver our hotel address, and the way Ian’s hand felt in mine as we crossed over to Manhattan. My heart raced and my stomach churned and I was just so freaking excited. Excited and overwhelmed and head-over-heels in love. I loved the way it looked; the way it smelled; the way it sounded. I loved wandering through NoHo on our first night, grabbing a coffee and not being able to quite believe I was really there, being tired and grumpy but not wanting to stop walking those streets, ever.
We went in December, so it was cold, and the Christmas Tree was outside the Rockerfeller Centre and all the shops on Fifth Avenue were lit up with pretty lights and we got to go ice skating in Central Park. There was a Christmas market at Union Square and every day was so cold I could see my breath mist in the air in front of me. We walked and walked and walked til my boots wore away a patch of skin on my ankle; we didn’t catch the subway once. One night as we wandered hand in hand through Greenwich Village to John’s Pizzeria on Bleeker St it began to snow, enough for me to leave noticeable footprints on the New York sidewalk, and I stuck out my tongue – do New York snowflakes taste different than those back home in Lancashire? They do: they taste like possibility and dreams coming true.
I loved the people, the ones in the street and in the shops and in the all night deli on the corner of the block near our hotel (Washington Square baby) where I could buy hairspray and takeout food and a packet of Cheetos all under one roof. I loved the amazing concierge we made friends with in our hotel, and the guy who gave Ian a high five when we stopped for a slice of pizza in the pouring down rain when even my best Carrie Bradshaw couldn’t secure us a cab (you’re from England. Happy holidays!) and the lady with the broadest of New York accents who handed me my plate of pancakes and bacon in the diner we shared with the NYPD and a massive big dog. She said ‘coffee’ like they do in the movies. I kind of wanted to sit there all day. I loved the shopping (as did Ian. So many pairs of shoes oh my god) and the food and the sights. I loved the atmosphere. I loved how everything somehow felt familiar but at the same time utterly unknown; the view from the Empire State building that blew my mind and the view from the Statue of Liberty that did the same; Ground Zero which made my heart hurt and my eyes burn; Times Square and Wall Street and Bloomingdale's and Grand Central Station and City Hall and The Brooklyn Bridge and this tiny little café almost hidden by some scaffolding where the lino was peeling at the edges and the grilled cheese tasted like something straight from heaven.
I loved it all, so very much and even if I never get to go back I will be forever grateful that I ever went at all.
Oh New York. No other city ever made me glad.