New York/New York – In Which I Am A House, Divided

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I love New York.

I loathe New York.

I can’t quite make up my mind about New York and don’t really feel like anyone’s asking me to.

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This was my second proper visit to the city and I have to say, having now spent a subtotal of ten full days on Manhattan, I honestly don’t understand why anyone would choose to live here. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the most amazing city in the world to visit. When they say that New York never sleeps they are one hundred percent accurate. For the last five days I’ve been hearing the never sleeping city every night, right outside my window: yelling, singing, swearing, blasting sirens and hip hop well into the wee small hours, (not to mention the ever present Subway rumbling just beneath my bed). The flip side of this is that more than anywhere I’ve ever visited – even London- New York feels like a truly cosmopolitan city. You can get whatever you want at every hour of the night. There are always people about and the public transport never shuts down, (note well Belfast!), as a result the whole city feels young, vibrant and remarkably safe.

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There’s also so much to do in New York. My Lonely Planet is already dog-eared from four days cramming in all the usual sites, (Guggenheim, Central Park, Times Square, Statue of Liberty), and my own personal pilgrimage round Bob Dylan’s old haunts in Greenwich Village. I’ve walked miles every day and still come home feeling like I haven’t managed to see everything there is to see. New York is a city which feels like it’s constantly expanding with new experiences. As such it’s a perfect place to visit and, (despite it’s far from perfect signage system), I can’t think of a place I’ve ever been which is better equipped to host the short term tourist. However, saying all this I simply could not see myself living in New York or even staying here more than a week.

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Much like LA, the pace of life makes me feel anxious and a little overwhelmed. People don’t ever seem to sit down here and everywhere is busy and bustling and designed to keep you moving on through, like a factory conveyor built. It’s dirty and quite smelly, (no one warms you about the smell), and so sticky hot on the Underground that I’ve spent all week longing for a proper bath. There’s a big sadness here too. It’s perceivable everywhere you look: poverty and lonely people, folks crowding under the cinema in Times Square to take photos of a man about to jump, old ladies trying to swap me fake pearls for the shoes off my feet, homeless people who’ll actually follow you down the street begging. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to look in New York or how to respond to what you’re seeing. The business and the crowds are overwhelming but the weariness of the average Subway commuter was much harder for me to stomach.

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Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had a great time here. It was wonderful to get to read in the Irish pub, An Beal Bocht last night and better still to sell most of my remaining copies of Malcolm so I don’t have to lug them back to Belfast tomorrow. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to attend a poetry reading in KGB and, have to say, the Guggenheim was one of the best and most striking art museums I’ve visited in a long time. Central Park in the Fall was as beautiful as people tell you it is and I even took a certain pleasure in conquering the Subway system but, after seven weeks on the road, New York was just a little much for me this time. I’m tired and right now my skin is thinner than usual. I felt like I was fighting a battle every time I emerged from my apartment to contemplate the A train and by the end of the day felt drained and in need of a half day’s sleep. I don’t feel like I did New York justice. I should have scheduled this earlier in the adventure when I was still running on full enthusiasm. I’ll come back and try again when I’m better rested.

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