Wednesday, June 29, 2011


It's inevitable but not welcomed: the end

The past few days have been spent just thinking. Thinking about all the days that stand out tall in my mind. 11 months ago it was all surreal, scary and exciting. Now those feelings are meshed together, and I feel at home.

    A tad mainstream, but below is a place I spontaneously picked to sit and think at dusk

The day was lowering and I was on a mix of high and low. Just off the corner of a busy 5 avenue, the buildings stretch above the leaves and make for an unconventional park. This specific spot has the best of both worlds: the quietly beautiful park and the blinking city in your periphery. It put the whole year into a perfect vision for me, with of course some crazies striding along behind me projecting sweet nothings to themselves and the world- it's amazing. From beginning to end, each day came with surprises both good and bad alongside warm and cold people. First thoughts:  mmmmm wow. I came to the city as green as green gets. I knew NOTHING about how to go about the life. All that I had acquired from movies and novels was banished from my mind and replaced with the reality in front of me. Although different from my expectations, it was better. I kid you not, this is a tough city. Being in my student years, it takes the edge off a considerable amount all the while getting a taste of the real world. I'm taken by it. If life takes you to New York, embrace this roller coaster.

It wasn't just about studying abroad you know, it was also about tying together some family branches that had been somewhat estranged due to geographical constraints. Way back when, in the 50s, my Great Aunt Hionoula and my Great Uncle Aleko left their beloved Greek soil and set up a new life in America. Since then, they have elongated the family tree and made their mark on this side of the world, while the rest of us remained on the flip side. Not knowing when I would eventually meet my cousins/aunts and uncles I relied on the photos and cards sent to us 2-3 times a year. We sealed them into our family albums as if we had already met and were close. The actual meeting everyone was above all, overwhelming. Thankfully, I was sorted with all the names, my memory bank hadn't failed me.

After filling in on those absent years, I felt very close and welcomed into the family- it's such a great feeling to have- knowing that family exists even when my immediate family are 7000 miles was such a comfort- no need to punch in an international dial code, just call domestically: lovely.

Without my family, I would not have been able to cover so much ground in America. With that, I thank with all my heart, Aunt Mary, Uncle George, Aunt Katherine, Uncle Jeff, Aunt Karen, Uncle Frank, Cousins, Jamie, Christina, Katherine, Alex, Erik, Marc, Brad, and Phillip for taking me under their wing across the entirety of the year. I love you and thank you!

New York is not America. I had to see other parts to say I have lived in America. My goal was to experience 10 states, and fill up (bloat) with some true Americana. The traveling around this year, was a real blessing. Travel for me is a question of time, attitude and taste. I honed in on all of these matters and made the most out of what I did. What made each state amazing, were the people. Thank you, Deanna, Kaitlyn, Christina, Katherine, Erik, Faisal, Nate- thank you. It was with their generosity of spirit, that I managed to accomplish all. Traveling around was such a telling experience for me, where throughout the year, I've blended my fictional America with the real life America before me shared with family and friends who brought the year to life in the most personal way.

Back to my New York. New York is my playground. I became very much a part of it and it always kept boredom at bay. A good friend of mine said, 'Georgie, stop walking so fast, you're such a New Yorker' which was music to my noise conditioned ears. I know I've only resided here for technically 11 months, but for all intents and purposes, I'm just going to say, 'about a year', but I've lived it like it were 11 years- probably because my stay had an expiration date!

On a random note, people here are individualists. You can have such a fantastic existence here if you want to- applicable anywhere in the world, but there's something about New York, New York (so good they named it twice). Everyone is alive here, people talk the talk and walk the walk. Of course, there are many exceptions but this aspect will hit you hard in the face at one point. Massive love to the Hunter kids and the wonderful folk I met around the city.

Coming back shouldn't be an option, I want it to be a certainty. Although I am harboring feelings of nervousness, because when I come back, it will most likely be as a working woman- not a student. The difference is stark and far removed from the pleasantries from the drawn out luxuries of being a student- excessive sleep, money from the Bank of Dad and a mere 3 essays to complete in 4 weeks time. No problem, the challenge will be accept. I hasten to constantly remind myself that life has its turns, you never know where life leads you. I may not end up here. But I sure as hell will try. If I am as happy here, elsewhere in the world, that's all that matters.

I will take away from this experience, an infinite amount of joy and memories. I came to the city absolutely terrified, and through the course of the year,  became a comfortable and familiar local New Yorker. Up until now I dared not to categorize myself as a New Yorker, because it is a heavy duty title. But I learned the ways of the city and its people. I cannot say every part of living here is perfect, but its one notch down. Sometimes I think, why am I so in love with this city? A friend of mine said 'America is a great place for people who aren't American' and without asking for explication, I reasoned it with the saying 'The grass is always greener on the other side' and my personal favorite, 'you love what is not yours'.  Make no mistake, London has its magic....I feel like I will fall back in love with it again. Had it not been for London, New York would never have happened. London was the bedrock of my life here. I was trained well, and transferred the life skills learned there and put them to use here. 

24 hour Lifestyle
The anticipation of getting on that plane, is slowly but surely chewing at me, upping my heart beat and forcing me to fight back tears. But why should there be tears? I am incredibly happy with the happenings of this year, I thanked God everyday for what I had,  I did all that was feasible, and all that I wanted to do. I'm leaving in full happiness, having loved every second. 

As scary as it was initially, I now know that most things that are worthwhile in life are scary. New York is my center point for many personal reasons but also for over-arching global reasons that are blatant to most people. I've said this a million times, but I deem it necessary to preach: if the world had a capital city, it would be New York.

On that flight, as we climb up to the tropopause, and glide through the belts of peaceful air,  I will appreciate once again, all that I was able to do. It's a great state to be in when you are so high, above the world, it's a grounding feeling.

I love you Mannahatta (look it up).

View From Rockerfeller Center
Biggest and Bestest Wishes,

p.s. Thank you for reading along x

Friday, June 24, 2011

San Fran, Cali

Cue the pitchy belting of 'CaliiiiforniAAAA, CaliiiiiforniAA, here we cooooommmmmee'. But I think you should save your lung power for southern Cali, where this chart topping number is more aptly aligned with, because I went right up north to San Francisco. One instantly links California with a beach, easy life and a healthy glow- and as much as this is accurate, SF is distinguished with a different glow. 
Known for its gradients, bridges, movie locations and bay, it is the New York City of the west coast. This trip is a special one, on the grounds that it is a. spent with my dad, b. at the complete other end of continental America c. my target is now complete: I have covered 10/50 States of this gorgeous country!

Like with most drives from an isolated airport, you rip through some dodgy parts of town, that are not highlighted in your brochure, but offer a 'realness' to the city. Still, I was looking forward to arriving at union square to our hotel. But with a 3 hour time difference, a 6 hour flight behind us, the deepened bags under our eyes gained a couple of llbs/kgs as the day worn on in SF, and our body clocks ticked on in the wrong time zone! Not significantly affected at all mind you, we soldiered on till the sunset colors made a nice spread in the sky.

The sunny climes failed us not on our first proper San Franciscan day, above: rich azures and below: our fully stretched calves preparing to be put through our paces around the city. By going on foot you gain a lot more out of San Fran than an open top tour bus would offer. 

Renowned for its architectural splendour, the buildings marking the city centre are finished with intricate relief, and with details that take a second glance to pick out. Most, if not all the buildings in the union square district are post 1906 constructions, following the devastating earthquake that quashed the city of its identity. The lay of the land took a dramatic turn for the worst when the iconic Victorian town houses were utterly demolished, forcing residents to uproot from their home turf into further regions, notably Pacific Heights. 
Pacific Heights today, is home to the wealthiest of folk in sizable mansions on sizable gradients. Our first tour, was the ‘Victorian Home Tours’ that was based largely in the big shot domain. Lead by the lovely and well-versed Jay, we made our way around the houses, stopped for some quick but informed history of significant homes, all the while my index finger was attached to knob of my camera. When I say beautiful homes, I mean stellar to the utmost. I have a thing for property and their respective values, so I was in real estate heaven with rows and rows of unique homes. Below are a string of credits to the San Franciscan name:

Many a times, have these stately mansions graced numerous postcards and movie scenes- with their photogenic looks, they take the starring role.

Even the technical properties, of which they are made up of is interesting. Notably, red wood was the key component to their structure, but knowing that San Fran lies on the San Andreas fault line, it's a risk!

And my ultimate shot was snatched from a home that is globally recognized, as 'Mrs Doubtfire's' home. The exteriors and interiors were shot on location on 2460 Steiner Street.

It is because of Mrs. Doubtfire (and among other reasons) that my childhood was so great- I had this movie to enjoy on repeat. Almost 20 years after the film set the box office on fire, it reigns as a blockbuster family hit- deservedly so. 

Interestingly, a lot of front doors are painted red in San Francisco, because it provides with Fend Shui- locals are pretty spiritual about it, so if you go and see blood red doors- you now know why. 

As promised, we had a distant yet blatant view of the bridge, engulfed in dense fog. Shrouded in mysterious mist, the fog filtered through the bridge's harp strings and stationed itself comfortably across the middle. In fact, the fog crawls on the streets of the city, and creeps around bends, obstructing visibility but is a pillar to the city's myth and beauty.  I am drawn sometimes, into what I can't see.

You cannot go to San Francisco without riding on the cable cars that appear in every San Francisco based film. With its point of origin in Union Square, my dad and I were very close, and it was just a case of getting there early, because as you can imagine the number of tourists swell by the second.  

Standing upright across the entirety of the ride, from Union Square to Fisherman's Wharf was more of a challenge than I had anticipated. Because the roads undulate, your grip is so tight, it produces friction burns! It's a hop on, hop off service at regular intervals, stopping at the Lombard street which unfortunately I did not see in full but am in the know of its history and appeal. For those who are unaware, the street starts at the top of a steep hill, and levels out to a horizontal street at the foot of it, making it one of the steepest streets in the world. 

How residents can scale such a precipice on a day to day basis is crazy. A pleasant touch to this the extreme zig-zag are the preened bushes and flowers, flanking the loops and somewhat eases the intensity of the climb or descent. 

Pulling the lever back, the cable car ground to a shuddering halt at our destination: Fisherman's Wharf.

Hugging the coastline is Fisherman's Wharf on the periphery of San Francisco's bay overlooking Alcatraz, Oakland and Sausalito making up the scenic 'Bay Area'.Once an industrial sight with pockets of outright blight, much of the waterfront has been restored to add to another one of the city's sights.

A far cry from the pristine Victorian  image hanging in Pacific Heights, the Wharf aims at satisfying tourist urges with commercialised versions of classic San Fran food and tacky 'I love ....this and that' merchandise. The famed New England Clam Chowder is a perennial favorite, and an absolute must for an authentic experience at the Wharf. 

Perched on my seat, slugging at my thick soup, not a cloud hanging in the sky, except v-shaped constellations of sea gulls commuting across the sky to the waterfront, in hopes of snatching some sustenance. In all honesty, the Wharf is a vicious tourist trap, so be on guard for a bit of cheapness in the quality of everything- even though I went more than once.....

Unexpectedly, I met with Nate, a friend of mine whom I first met in London, and then in Chicago, then New York and now San Francisco- the pair of us do get around!
Also a first timer to San Fran, Nate was taken by the sweeping  California dreaming atmosphere and shared the love for it with me in equal measure. Speaking of first timer, I had never swam nor put my feet in the Pacific Ocean before, but the opportunity was right in front of me..

Nice waters, but frigid temps.....brrrrr, I'm used to the luke warm Aegean waters!

Little did I know that I was to frequent the Wharf 5 times in my 3 day trip, solely for some soup.
Following some soup, lay a beautiful 'California Sunset Cruise' ahead of us. My Dad and I boarded at Pier 43.5 onto the Red and White Fleet that would ride us along the expansive coastline into the  Pacific sunset for the next 2 hours- much deserved after our punishing walks!

Starting off with a small loop near the Bay Bridge waters, the captain vocally tracked our route proving with information of each notable site of San Francisco.

In the misty distance!
On board, our ears were treated to Ella Fitzgerald and a live singer bringing the past to life with some 60-70s classics. Because it gets really windy in San Fran, I got a chill standing outside, thus took to the sights from the warmth of the indoor deck and swayed back and forth with Ella and the waves.

Approaching an island to our left was the infamous Alcatraz. No need to stretch my definition of it, as most of you will know that is it a prison, or was at least and now serves as a recreational area for tourists who harbor morbid curiosity for the former penitentiary- myself included, but hadn't the time to satisfy my interest.

Just off 'The Rock' is the chic Sausalito bay area community on an 8 mile length of land. Mirroring the up and down geography of San Fran city, Sausalito is in fact an exaggerated version of it.

Sausalito stems from a Spanish derivitive meaning: 'small willow grove'. 

These anchored sailboats are packed into the harbor area so tightly, that the waters are hardly seen in between. A yacht club was founded in 1942 in Sausalito, promoting yachting, sailing and cruising. Some of the yachts are really exclusive, you can tell by the sleek finishes on each of them. 

Making a swerve around the sailboats, we pounded the waves to the icon of San Fran: The Golden Gate Bridge. A recognized symbol of San Fran, from its birth till now, it is probably the most photographed bridge in the world; my dad and I added 4 catalogues worth of photos to the records.

It was simple, I sat gazing at this man made marvel and gave my undivided attention to the sunset spilling over the bridge. It was pretty spectacular on all fronts, particularly as some quiet contemplation ensued while a cool brisk of air fanned my already wind-tossed hair into further knots!
In my thinking period, my appreciation for this year in America materialized in a spectrum of emotions; I'm so happy and moved by all that has befallen me since I first came, California was a fitting end to my target of visiting 10 states and a poignant conclusion to the year. 

And so our short weekend romp ending on a high; a literal high actually, with the Golden Gate Bridge towering above us in its Golden glory and the frothy foam playfully splashing against our ferry.
I could have done a heap more, but the vitally San Franciscan experiences were accomplished once, if not more than once.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Highs Of The Lower East Side

I have been waiting to blog about this outdoor market since October 2010. I had visited the Lower East Side with some friends back in the early days of New York 2010-2011, and stumbled across this boutique-y/Brooklyn Flea market style fair. For a Manhattenite who wishes not to trek to the sister/brotherhood boroughs, this market suffices the lack of commute.

Based in Chinatown, the fair is amidst the swelling number of markets to its north, east, south and west. This neighborhood sends a jolting culture shock right through you as you step off the 'D' train at Grand Street. It's yet another example of how culturally rich and diverse each region of Manhattan is, no two are a like.

Chinatown is a guaranteed sensory overload experience. You cannot pass through it without being taken aback by something that grasps you. Chinatown is synonymous with flavorful food, unsavory smells, cultural merging, language barriers and above all congestion.

With college out of the way, and the weather taking a turn for the better I now have the luxury of repeating my past excursions, so as to mentally solidify my favorite places before I depart back to the Middle East. As much as I long for long summer days, where the days stand tall with beautiful rays strengthening every hour and New Yorkers sport a sunnier disposition, I do not however, long for the foul stenches rising up from the sewers and dousing the Spring air with smells that I best not describe. The official scent of summer has settled into every open pore of the city.

It seems we have jumped the gun so to speak; we went from one extreme weather condition to another, 50' Fahrenheit (10' Celsius) to 85' Fahrenheit (30' Celsius) with little time for our wardrobes to adjust! I shouldn't complain, I love the heat.

Downtown in Chinatown, I got off to the sight of a different demographic to that of Hell's Kitchen (my temporary habitat- I moved out of the dorms). The hard working Chinese work ethic was staring hard at me in the face. 

New Yorkers are known for their 'can-do' attitude, where helping out is in excess- New Yorkers are ready to pitch in. Hard work translates into any language in New York. This attitude finds itself in plentiful form in Chinatown, as locals join forces in their enterprises and work hard through and through for good economic return. It is very inspiring, especially through the eyes of a currently 'sitting on her ass' student with all the time in the world to ponder the future. 9-5 doesn't exist in Chinatown- this operation of time is a Western standard, far from the painstaking 12 hour run most of New York goes by. The real world is tough- I'll let you know.

Anyhow, Chinatown covers a good distance in blocks (not sure how many) where getting lost is a perennial pastime. Because the street configuration is not in the grid format, it is very easy to mix up your streets, but in the words of J.R.R. Tolkien "Not all those who wander are lost" because my poor navigation skills worked in my favor for once, as I indulged in unexpected observations.

Everywhere you look someone is traveling with a trolley in tow, either to or from work brimming with goods and personal articles. I must admit though, some folk brush past you with an air of arrogance and rudeness that can be off putting, but is yet another kick into the harshness of New York living: everything isn't always fair or fun- in my view this is a merit. The bustling community can swamp you with an overwhelming want to 'get out' and breathe, but the markets with hanging raw ducks among other animals will stop you in your tracks. 

I finally gain a sense of direction towards my desired destination: the Hester and Essex street cross section. The Hester street fair was first introduced to me by my friend Kaitlyn, who discovered the spot back in October and requested a visit. And since it was a success the first time round, I went back in its reopening month of May.

As far as setups go, it is a small-natured fair with a select few vendors in a tennis court size setting. Being that it is freshly reopened and only in operation on Saturdays from 10-6 the grounds were heaving with people. As a place of dynamic energy, it aptly reflects the liveliness of the Lower East Side, even in its small size. It was first established in 1895 as a pushcart market, developed by immigrants as a means of subsistence. In its modern day, the space has been respectfully renovated offering quality goods and food to the public, having the same success as experienced in its past life.

The select few vendors range in quirky fashion trends, feel good and healthy foods, vintage VHS and music records. The friendliness and good weather converge for a nice day out, adding to New York's best. The merchants are always on hand to offer a hand, while they sit comfortably waiting to engage in potential consumers. Their relaxed vibes eliminate an over arching competitiveness between their rival traders. There are around 5 benches in the rear of the market to take your food and enjoy with other market enthusiasts- that is another thing, you are likely to chat with others while you informally dine, whether you like it or not. 

Compared to my first visit, the market has undergone a few revisions in its supply of goods. Being that it operates every Saturday, the faces of the traders and goods change, keeping up with their renowned variety.

If anything this fair encourages the beauty of the Lower East Side, whether it be conventional or unconventional. History defines this neighborhood with immigration and cultural enclaves, which in the early 1900s was discriminated against. Its current standing is that of celebration rather than rejection, of New York's true spirit-it is real New York.