It is only after 2 hectic days, 3 hours of sleep and what seemed like infinite bureaucratic transactions that I am finally sitting on the carpeted floor at JFK, slowly sinking back into reality and the realisation of abandoning the ship – which was my temporary home for two and a half months – and New York City.
In the midst of a complete displacement from London, a city which had become familiar and welcoming after many years; of a well curated routine of temporary jobs, Saturday brunch, brisk walks around the neighbourhood and solitary cinema dates, New York City became a safe haven into which I immersed myself, running away from the stagnant odours of the ship. Its geometry and altitude embraced me; the metropolis seemed to sense my need for anonymity, a craving to blend into the architecture, the bodegas, the sleek metallic surfaces of the skyscrapers. To feel the rhythm of the city, its pace, be a part of its beating heart. New York was my saving grace.
As Louise Bourgeois writes, the New York Sky is a different kind of blue. Deep, clear, the perfect backdrop for its iconic skyline. The trees of Bryant Park decorated the skies as you looked upward, with ochres and burnt orange. The New York City Library stood solemnly, ignorant of the chaos down below, where heaving workers moved incessantly to set up the Ice Rink and Christmas Market. Walking into the Library is a religious experience of sorts; you enter the space with the knowledge of those who have previously walked the stone staircases or gazed upwards towards the painted ceilings or through the arched windows looking outwards into the smoky skyline.
The crisp morning air welcomes me as I step out of the taxi into the Upper East Side, by the Met Breuer. The neighbourhood is just waking up, with a few business men and women briskly passing by with their tailored suits and trendy trainers. A few coffee shops are already open, catering to the early birds or the night owls. Silence welcomes me as I enter the museum, a sense of calm and poise, of beauty yet to be seen as I walk into the Raghubir Singh exhibition “Modernism on the Ganges“. Memories from India flood in as I gaze at the perfectly framed and intensely coloured photographs. For a brief moment, I am transported back to the Bombay streets, the smell of parathas, burnt gasoline, the breeze on my face from the moving train. A need for adventure invades me as I stare at a group of women washing saris by the Ganges at Vanarasi; an uncontrollable instinct to visit someplace unknown, or simply run away from my current location. Running away is my second nature; I haven´t spent more than a year on the same house, even within the same city. I wonder where that need of movement, of constant flow comes from.
Poached eggs and avocado on toast with lime and pepper stand in front of my eyes, waiting to be devoured at dangerous speed. A cup of freshly brewed coffee with cream stands beside it. I gaze at this celestial sight before diving in. I window watch people as I munch, wondering what is their story, what drives them to walk confidently or gaze down shyly. Fifth Avenue prepares for its annual 11th of November Veteran´s parade. Noisy police trucks and media vans block the zebra crossings as clueless people gather around curiously. I relish the silence inside the restaurant. The lack of noise is underrated; it is only until you find yourself living in a constantly noisy environment that the need for quiet becomes essential. Even the sound of waves crashing against the metal frame of the ship became enervating after a while; it was a constant and relentless reminder of our situation as a floating city in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
My last visit to New York was spent mostly at the MoMa, inside the Louise Bourgeois exhibition. Her drawings and paintings offer a completely different insight into her body of work, often more sculptural and 3D. Organic shapes taken from the natural world as well as our own human biology fill the walls as large scale canvases. A solitary spider crawls up towards the ceiling. I stumble across Monet´s Waterlilies by chance and I am taken aback for a second. The depths of the turquoise waters fill my eyes. I can almost hear birds and wind rippling the water as the sunset progresses in the painter´s garden.
Cy Twombly´s Four Seasons welcome me into another room. I had forgotten they were here and I pleasantly gaze at Spring and its bursts of green and fuchsia, blooming flowers against the stark white background. I walk outside into the Autumn air feeling content, my mind filled with images, colours, ideas, creativity. I energetically walk the tree lined street back towards 5th avenue, passing red brick houses and a synagogue to reach Rockefeller Center, standing tall in its square and concrete glory.
Thank you, New York.