Saying No to New York

Grand Central Station - New York City, 2006 (click to embiggen)

I wandered into New York with no plan, no real knowledge of the city, and no clear goals.

I didn't (and still don't) know the different areas and their names. The straight, crisscrossing grid of streets is confusingly labelled with names that sound similar, and are difficult to navigate if you haven't grown up around this kind of inorganic, planned cityscape that lacks points of reference. Sure, you can use some of the taller or more unique buildings as landmarks, but unless they're visible from other areas or your map references them, you're out of luck.

Exit Only - Central Park New York, 2006

Apart from what everyone generally 'knows' about NYC from movies or television shows, my knowledge of the city stemmed from only two references. One of my favourite musicians - Jeff Buckley - had his start at various clubs around the city, but I never managed to find one of them, nor did I really consider him to be a New York musician. The second was a film which I was mildly obsessed with as a teenager, a Terry Gilliam movie called "The Fisher King" which is set in NYC during the rougher time in the city's history.

So really I had not made any plans and only knew how to find my accommodation at the YMCA lodge. This was both a mistake and a blessing. Firstly, it was a mistake because New York is a city which could take you years to truly explore.  And lastly, without a good knowledge of the city and where to go, I ended up gravitating toward Central Park every day, because it was the only place I didn't feel completely overwhelmed. But this turned out to be a blessing, in the end.

NYC Skyline - Manhattan, 2006

Spending time in a metropolis like New York when you don't know where to find anything, don't know any of the people (and their abrasive manner makes one not want to do so, regardless), the weather is gloomy, immediately getting lost when exploring confusing city streets, is like living in limbo - every day is essentially the same and you can't change it. You just while away the hours. So in order to not go nuts or fall any further into a depression, I started just walking out of the hostel and going straight into Central Park. This was an area I understood. The trees, the natural undulations of the ground and the way I could see a horizon with external points of reference for me to recognize my location, direction, and distance from places I was comfortable visiting. I felt like I could breathe, and also when I needed to, I could visit areas close to the park, like the Guggenheim Museum.

Jackie Kennedy Onassis Resevoir - Central Park, New York City, 2006

While it was good to have taken some lovely pictures while in Manhattan, in the end, I still had to say "No" to NYC. I neither have nor want to require a New York state of mind. If I ever visit again, I will plan the heck out of it, and get in and out as fast as I can. Later next week I'll write about why saying "no" is a positive thing to do when you're in a situation like I was.