an ode to new york city

I find myself wandering down the Chelsea Highline as the sun falls over the Hudson, turning the city a peculiar shade of orange.

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Maybe it isn’t the sunset that’s particularly eerie tonight, though. Maybe, just maybe, it is the realization that washes over me as I watch my city fade into darkness…

In a few weeks, this place will no longer be my home. 

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My two best friends and I look at each other knowingly.

Nostalgia. Heartsickness. Excitement and worry about the future. The mixture of emotions fills our guts as the sun finally dips below the skyline of Hoboken.

But tonight is about celebrating the city that has given us so much, not about mourning the end of an era.

We grab a couple beers, find a secluded spot, and stare up at the Manhattan sky as stars begin to pop up, competing for attention with the sparkling lights of high rises and roof-top bars. We sit in silence for a while, until one of us sighs:

“We live in the best city in the world.” 

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I have fallen madly in love with these five boroughs living, working and playing here over the past four years, and though I know Spain will be good to me, as she always is, my heart breaks a little to know I will be leaving my first love behind.

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So, as our time together comes to a close, here, in no particular order, are the things about New York City that enchant me, inspire me, and will always keep me coming back for more:

Creativity.

The New Yorker is inherently creative; constantly inventing, brainstorming, collaborating, hustling and trying to not only survive in one of the toughest cities in the world, but more so to make a name for herself.

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The environment here encourages people to create, and the surroundings offer endless inspiration. An unrivaled destination for art-lovers, we have a museum for everything: modern art, sculpture, sex, literature, insects, classical paintings, and even elevators. Street art causes passersby to  stop in their tracks, absorbed by the intricacies of the tongue-in-cheek themes and rebellious, yet refined, styles. Subways tunnels and buildings alike are tagged with graffiti, reminding observers of the evolution of urban art and hip hop, the sometimes forgotten gang presence, and underground social revolution.

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Since the birth of American punk at CBGB in the seventies, New York has been a mecca of sorts for aspiring musicians. You’d be hard pressed to walk five blocks without stumbling upon players trying to make their dreams come true.  From the unassuming young man that croons a chill-inducing rendition of Dylan’s Girl from North Country at the Bedford Avenue stop on Saturdays, to the Bronx family that sings acapella under Central Park’s Bethesda Terrace on cold winter weekends, the sheer talent and drive of the musicians of New York lulls you into a state of amazement and pushes you to cultivate your own gifts, as well as those that are given to you by this city.

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Seasons.

Winter in New York is brutal. Wind whips through the streets and snow and rain terrorize the morning commute. A general depression settles over the city from January to late March, relieved only by a hearty meal and a [lot of] beer with friends at the neighborhood pub. Other than holing up in a watering hole, there are few ways to escape the cold. A New York winter teaches you to fight. To force yourself to brave the conditions and keep hustling towards the dream. It toughens you up in a way that LA la land never will.

The best thing about the winter, though, is that it ends. Come mid-April, the city thaws out and you are reminded why you came here in the first place. Your struggle through the winter is rewarded by blooming flowers in Central Park, open outdoor seating, an inbox full of invitations to rooftop parties  and the beginning of the street fair and food festival rotation downtown.

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Walking to work, taking the long way home, and yoga in the park all become acceptable again, and the smile and healthy flush returns to your face after a long season of deathly pale skin and perma-scowls.

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New York’s location allows you to escape the summer heat by flocking to the Hamptons, the Jersey Shore, or City or Coney Island. Take a dip in the Empire Hotel’s rooftop pool, put on a baseball cap and head to the Bronx for a Yankee’s game, sip refreshing wine at the Txakolí festival, or take a canoe out on the pond in the park; summertime in the city does not allow for a dull moment.

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The New Yorker exits the winter tougher, more motivated and, yes, maybe more cynical, but above all, more grateful than ever for all the wonders that the city has to offer once the snow melts.

Culture. 

For anyone stricken with wanderlust, being confined to one place can seem like a nightmare, but New York proves that you can stay in one place and still have a taste of every culture you could imagine.

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Little Italy Street Fair

Nearly 150 years after the tenements, the ethnic neighborhoods have only grown.

Greek, Egyptian, Filipino, Bengali, Argentinian, West Indian, Romanian and Caribbean in Queens. Italian, Irish, Albanian, Dominican, Puerto Rican, African, Central American, Jamaican and Cambodian in the Bronx. Russian, Israeli, Mexican, Polish, Syrian, Czech and German in Brooklyn.

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New York teaches you about the world without ever requiring you to travel. Sample dishes from every corner of the world at Smorgasburg on sunny summer Saturdays, wander the halls at Harlem’s Hispanic Society of America, or exchange English lessons for free dinners in Koreatown. Here, you have five boroughs to adventure in, almost forcing you to share stories with people over food from their native land, learn about the realities of far away places, and diversify your outlook on life.

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In a city where I can speak Spanish to my neighbors, feign French with the Senegali cab driver, practice the little Arabic I know with my Libyan shawarma guy, and use drunken British accents with tourists in pubs, neighborhood hopping feels a lot like backpacking the world.

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There’s something to be said for a town that makes you want to go out and explore the world by introducing you to all it has to offer, all the while offering you so much itself that you never want to leave. It pulls you in and pushes you away, ensuring that even if you ever do muster up the courage to follow your wanderlust, New York will always own a piece of your heart.

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No, leaving New York is not the end of an era. It’s only the beginning of the journey she prepared me for. It’s a celebration of everything I’ve seen, learned, and how I’ve grown here. I’ll carry this city with me wherever I go, in my attitude, outlook, sense of humor, and work ethic, hoping to do my town proud, and always looking forward to the day when I will be chewed up, spit out, and reformed here again.

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It’s never goodbye, New York. It’s see you soon.

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161 Comments on “an ode to new york city

  1. …your words made me want to pack up and head out to new york right this very minute. beautiful, beautiful photos (especially enjoyed the park/balloon shot!)

  2. Really special! Thank you for sharing. I am a big fan of this lovely city & have been here for over 30 years. I can’t seem to quit this addiction!
    If you are in Central Park on Sunday, swing by the the Roller Skater’s circle between 3-7pm. We’ve been gathering there with a D.J. for over 30 years and I believe it is what New York truly is about. Loving your fellow man and just being happy.

    You should experience it before you leave. It is the happiest place on earth. Ask anyone for LeeAnne so I can meet you formally and good luck with your adventures! (Enter 72nd street either east or west & walk about half way, listen for great dance/skate music and happiness and you’ll find us.)

    All the best! xoxox!

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  5. I am leaving after 16 years today. Born and bred here, but your words ring so true. Beautiful. Thank you.

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