A New York Beehive of Activity
I crawled out of my sick bed in Paris and boarded a flight to New York with positive thoughts that by the time we landed I’d be close to 100%. Mind over matter worked well and a quick trip through customs had me door-to-door from Newark Liberty International to the West Village within one hour of landing.
That first night in New York, my daughter and I walked over to Washington Square Park which was and usually is a beehive of activity. The air was warm and muggy; everyone was out and about. A young man was making balloon sculptures and selling them to willing parents. Next to him was a woman dancing exotically on a pile of paper littered with paint of many colors as was her skin marked by the paint. She looked “tetched in the head,” but no one was paying much attention to her; they were busy having their own party: tango dancing in one corner to live music; people sitting around the fountain and playing in the water with their kids; others out just enjoying the warm September air.
Americans are decidedly different than the French. I’ve been having reverse culture shock experiencing what I like and don’t like about the American culture while visiting New York. It happens every time. It’s not something you can even begin to understand until you’ve lived in both places and tasted both cultures. And yes, as much as you might not want to hear it, there are things to both like and dislike about both.
I imagined the same scene in a Paris park and it would have been very, very different. The animation would not have been there, nor the roar of the talk and laughter, nor the simple freedom of their movement in their broad strokes. It would have been quiet, subdued, more “well-behaved.” They would have been reading and talking softly. They wouldn’t be frolicking in the fountain, nor god forbid, laughing with such abandonment. That doesn’t make one or the other good or bad, just different and there is pleasure in both.
The original purpose of the trip to New York was to see Aretha Franklin in concert at Radio City Music Hall — a once in a lifetime dream-come-true, but sadly she cancelled her concert due to illness. Instead, as a birthday gift to each other, my daughter and I chose to see Kinky Boots the musical on Broadway.
As the audience was filing into their seats, it was another beehive of activity. Friends sitting together were yelling at one another as they settled in…but they didn’t settle in until the curtain opened and even then they were still finding their seats. They weren’t dressed particularly special — just the usual daytime clothing without consideration for being at “the theater.”
I imagined the same scene in a Paris theater and it would have been very, very different. It would have been very quiet as they entered the theater and took their seats. They would have been wearing something sophisticated for the evening, if not necessarily “fancy.” When they spoke, it would have been at a whisper. The same energy wouldn’t have been there, except when the play was over, the American audience gave a standing ovation, which the French would have done with even more enthusiasm…this is where they tend to really let loose as they seem to appreciate just about every drop of artistic talent.
This musical is easy to love and Alan Mingo, who starred as “Lola” the drag queen and boot designer, steals the show in his (her) outlandish costumes, kinkier than kinky boots and fabulous voice. His last performance in New York is October 30th, so best make your plans now to see the show before you miss him!
One afternoon we visited with Kein Cross, proprietor of the Club Rayé in Paris, who shares his time between the two cities. He lives in an old brownstone on the same street as my daughter (by sheer coincidence), and is planning a “pop up” club at a location just across the street from her. Kein comes to New York for his “sanity” — he claims he needs to be in the “land of free thinking” every few weeks to manage the difficulty of doing business in France. (We get it.) Kein’s New York home is a wonderland of stripes (of course) and gorgeous taste — a cozy nest to which he has paid attention to every little detail. It explains why he sees this as his respite.
One evening with an old college buddy of mine from FIT, Fran Fried, and New Yorker/Parisienne Laura Figueroa, attended an art opening where on display was one of Laura Figueroa‘s beautiful horse sculptures. Laura is a recent new owner of a Paris apartment, so she divides her time between Mexico City, Paris and wherever her art takes her. She hadn’t been to New York in so many years that this was like a first time all over again. New York embraced her as she did it.
New York is still piled high with bags of trash lining the sidewalks. It’s one of those things that shocks me, too, to which I’ll never become accustomed after living in a city where trash is picked up daily and it’s all (or mostly) put in big green bins (“poubelles”). Frenchman Eugène-René Poubelle introduced the trash can as we know it today to Paris in the late 1800s in order to clean up the city…and for the life of me I don’t understand why New York can’t do the same. Can someone explain to me why the citizens tolerate the piles of trash? Not only are they an absolute eye sore, but they quite openly attract rats. (Yes, I saw a big black rat crossing my path in Washington Square Park — what would a trip to New York be without at least one sighting?)
The Asian immigrants seem to have cornered the market on collecting aluminum cans for recycling to earn money. It’s a good service they are doing to recycle and reduce the trash. Now, added to the bags of trash are bags of cans. The landscape is getting even richer and more textured. (And what would we, the U.S., do without the immigrants who will do just about any task to earn a living?)
The weather all week was gloriously warm and sunny with blue-blue skies. New York couldn’t have looked better with everyone out on the streets and on the “terraces” of the cafés. The West Village was swarming and people seemed very happy and content with the end of summer/beginning of fall kinds of days. Brooklyn was swarming, too. We took the subway to the area known as “Dumbo” and the Brooklyn Bridge Park where Photoville was in full swing. This is it’s fifth year in their home on the waterfront — this time directly under the bridge — the exhibitions cleverly displayed in shipping containers.
Over the course of the week, we dined in a wide variety of restaurants — cuisines of every nationality, mostly at a bargain, or well worth the money: Singaporean, Japanese, Thai, Italian, Organic, and restaurants for which there is no description. Often I end up in Rosemary’s Enoteca & Trattoria because it’s big, pleasant, convenient and worthy for meetings wth clients or advisors. It’s here I met with my literary agent to discuss the memoir I’m writing and my business consultant who helps me see the forest while caught up in the trees.
Saturday night I hosted a party for my favorite New York Francophiles at a French Bistrot — Camaje — a small restaurant where almost 30 of us took over the entire restaurant. Abigail Hitchcock, owner and chef, did a great job of serving us a three-course bistrot meal at what we felt was a bargain for the quality and the service couldn’t have been better. Some of the “celebrities” amongst us included actress/singer Gay Marshall who has two new shows coming up in New York (one called “Gay’s Paris”); The Fabulous Lulu Lolo, comedian, performer and women’s rights advocate and David Andelman, Editor of the World Policy Journal and guest commentator on France 24 who will be commentating on today’s presidential debates tomorrow (Tuesday) morning at 6 a.m. in France. Our Paris connection is what brought all these people together. Old friends and a few new friends…all who live in New York and some part-time in Paris, but all who have the Paris bug.
Five days in New York was just enough for a short “fix” of Americana. I had a coffee at Starbucks every day, visited the drugstores for cheap cosmetics, shopped in T.J. Maxx and Bed, Bath and Beyond for a hit of American consumerism and got enough angst from people speaking too loudly to last a while. That’s another thing that’s very, very different…
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
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