Monday, April 19, 2010

The Big Apple Owns a Piece of My Heart

The statue of The Bard in Central Park. Below, the elm trees are surrounded by a fence, which bears a placard that reads, "Help protect the American elm. Please keep out." Photos by Yours Truly.

HEAD’S UP: Yours Truly is back! In New York after 68 days in North Louisiana where I was looking out for my Ma Ma who was admitted to hospital 31 January. She’s out and recovering beautifully. As for me, I have loads more to say about Monroe. But for the moment, Gotham tales.

AT the baggage claim at LaGuardia after the flight from Dallas-Fort Worth, I noticed it. Then in the taxi on the way home. And also when the nice lady taxi driver helped me with my bags. And yet again when I waged an epic battle to get my burden up the lone, long flight of stairs leading to my apartment door.

Even more palpable it was after I dropped my bags, greeted my roommate and set out on the streets of the Upper East Side of Manhattan last Tuesday night for some dinner. It felt as though I had not been away at all, as if I’d just walked out the door the night before for pizza. Except the night before I was crying on my cousin’s shoulder, mourning the makeover of my hometown of Monroe, Louisiana that left it almost unrecognizable.

Nine weeks I’d been away from New York. Nine weeks because my mother needed me. But walking across First Avenue toward Second Avenue in search of pizza, then to the wine shop a couple of blocks north of my apartment where I was sure to find a well-chilled bottle of Cristalino sparkling wine felt exceptionally routine and familiar.

The feeling persisted the rest of the week. The following night I attended a preview of Camper’s latest shoe line. On Thursday was Zac Posen’s shopping party at the New Yorker Hotel to celebrate his collaboration with Target, followed by a fashion show at the Paramount Hotel featuring the frocks of Indian designers, including Tia Cibani (Ports 1961). The last two days New York Entrepreneur Week on Thursday and Friday. And let me not forget Thursday afternoon bible study.

Remotely dissonant seemed none of this gadabouting. Had I actually been away? Of course. I had the plane tickets to prove it and plenty of witnesses. I didn’t dream it up like a character on a TV show who dreams up an entire season. A figment of my fertile imagination it was not. Pleased that my transition has been so seamless, though the seamlessness is surprising for its familiarity.

The feeling was most palpable Saturday evening as I strolled through Central Park, one of my favorite spots in Manhattan. At Fifth Avenue and East 79th street, I entered steps away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I made my way southwest toward the Boat House Café and the Great Lawn. This walking was the perfect elixir for the extreme fatigue that all day had been drawing the energy out of me. It was exhilarating to be walking again wherever I pleased after two months of relying on cars to get around.

The park was a vision. The trees seemed bigger, their leaves greener. And so they were, it is spring after all. I missed this oasis in the middle of manic Manhattan. Tears formed a reservoir in my eyes and in double quick fashion were streaming down my cheeks. I didn’t bother to wipe them away or hide them. I felt no embarrassment. I was happy. These were tears of joy!

Passing the statue of William Shakespeare near East 72nd St and the enclosed family of elm trees nearby I got an epiphany. Everything – airport, streets, parties, meetings, park – was familiar and comfortable like home. What a relief after two months of feeling displaced. To now be in a place that I understood, that made sense …

As I gazed through the gaps of the gnarled trunks of those elms – a sight for blurry eyes! – I got another epiphany. Monroe, Louisiana is my hometown. New York City is where my heart is. It is my home.

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