Asta îmi tot repet de vreo lună și tot nu îmi pare adevărat. Dar am biletul de avion cu escală la Frankfurt și viza J1. Și bursa Fulbright și cheia de la un birou la SUNY Empire State College. Și o cameră în Queens. Mă mut la New York săptămâna viitoare ca să îmi termin doctoratul. Și acum am și blogul unde o să scriu despre cum mi se pare acolo.
În plus, vreau să scriu și despre cum am obținut bursa Fulbright, ce presupune acest stagiu și cum e la universitate acolo. Opiniile prezentate aici îmi aparțin în totalitate și nu reprezintă programul Fulbright sau Departamentul de Stat al Statelor Unite.
Atât deocamdată – vreau să mă las surprinsă. Cum ar spune Frank Sinatra: “I’m going to make a brand new start of it in old New York!”
It’s already been two weeks since I got to New York, so this feels like the right time to give blogging a second try. Between the jet lag, the humidity and the heat, I’m still taking it all in, so here are my first impressions in the form of a list – the reliable source of order and comfort for nerds since the beginning of time.
The Streets of New York
The first thing that surprised me about this city is how different the five boroughs are from each other. Plus, each borough has several neighborhoods, each with its own distinctive style. Even from one street to the next you sometimes feel like you’re in another place altogether. My Airbnb room is in Jackson Heights, what I take to be a mostly Hispanic neighborhood in Queens – I am very glad I understand Spanish. If I didn’t, everyone would assume I do anyway. One street over, you can find all manner of delis, restaurants, stores and bazaars selling all things Indian and Pakistani. I hear there’s even a Romanian neighborhood around here somewhere – I bet that’s going to be fascinating to see.
Manhattan is, of course, the skyscraper capital of the world (well, one of them anyway). Up, down, left, right – no matter where you look you see expanses of concrete and glass with just a bit of sky above. This is one of the most crowded and loudest place anywhere, too. It’s not uncommon to see loads of cars blocking each other off so that none of them are able to move. The drivers then honk incessantly until they figure out what to do. The steam that is let out at intervals does no help the situation.
Grand Central with Chrysler Building
Empire State Building in the evening
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
The BestTower, It’s Huge
The Mean Reds
Met with Upper East Side
The only other borough I’ve explored thus far is Brooklyn. Urban legend has it that this is where one finds the hipster in its natural habitat. The part of the borough I’ve seen between the Brooklyn Bridge and Prospect Park is all beautiful brownstones, rowhouses on tree-lined streets, hip restaurants and artsy events. And then there’s the Brooklyn Bridge, where everybody, including me, flocks to take pictures of the Manhattan skyline.
Now, to get around the boroughs you need to take: THE SUBWAY. The subway is by far the most fascinating thing I have seen here so far. This is where people read, eat, sleep, talk to people who aren’t interested in talking, talk to themselves, announce the end of days, breakdance, rhapsodize, rap, play every instrument ever invented (some by the artists themselves) and lots more. I’ve only been here two weeks but have had ample time to observe all these happenings since it takes an ungodly amount of time to get to 5th Ave (where the libraries are) and to SoHo (where my office is). Don’t even get me started on the two-hour train ride from Queens to Brooklyn.
The Apartment Search
My Airbnb deal is running out, so I have been looking for a room to rent. I’m surprised no one has tried to offer me a cardboard box for $1300/ month plus broker fee yet, although I’m fairly certain I viewed a room that exact size. And several slightly bigger rooms with no windows and only a mattress on the floor. Fingers crossed for East Harlem and Brooklyn, which are newly gentrified and cheaper, so I hope to find a room bigger than a broom closet here.
The Scam Artists
Of which I’ve already encountered several, are not just the guys who try to convince you to send them a deposit for a probably non-existent apartment. It seems like there are people trying to swindle you at every corner. My favorite was when one guy wanted to convince me to pay $30 for an otherwise free ferry ride to Staten Island. I’m in equal parts amused and saddened at these surprisingly elaborate schemes. I wonder if what they gain is worth the trouble. Next goal: stop looking like a tourist.
The Plastic Bags
The habit that stores have of bagging purchased items in a billion plastic bags is truly irritating. Seriously, stop. Environmentalist hipster moment over.
So during my first week here a bomb exploded in Chelsea. I realized afterwards that I was a couple of blocks away when it happened. Since I usually see these things on TV, this felt surprisingly unmediated.
Usually, there are armed policemen around, especially at some of the subway entrances. The location of the precincts is often advertised, and there are messages on the subway about what to do in case you see anything suspicious. In fact, the first thing I saw upon entering the U.S. was a speech by president Obama about what it means to be an American and how important it is to keep the country safe. This was broadcast at the airport. After the incident in Chelsea, there were of course even more police walking the streets, often urging you to move along from certain areas. I wonder if this feels reassuring to people who live here.
On a more cheerful note, the libraries are amazing. Not only can you find every book your heart desires and can go exploring quite a number of archives, the buildings themselves are truly beautiful. Here are some pictures of my new places of business:
NY Publich Library
On an even more cheerful note, being a Fulbrighter is awesome. We’ve already had a couple of gatherings at which I met Fulbrighters from around the world, all amazingly inspiring people, most of whom are not only extremely clever but also committed to improving the world around them. One of the best things about this year will no doubt be meeting them.
Apart from them, I’m also glad I got to meet the faculty and students at SUNY, who have been incredibly kind and accommodating. I was even asked to give a talk about my work in a couple of weeks, which I am really looking forward to doing.
I’m so eager about going to cultural events it verges on the silly. My highlights so far:
The Brooklyn Book Festival: with rock stars like Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie in attendance. My favorite was a panel called tellingly “Sex and Power” where I got to see Phoebe Gloeckner ad Chester Brown, two leading cartoonists of the trend in comics about which I am writing.*
MoMa and the Met: here are some of my favorite works:
MoMa unfortunately does not have digital copies of the works online, so I can’t post links to them, but I especially liked the photography collections (e.g. photos by Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Egglestone).
American Classical Orchestra at the Lincoln Center: the IIE provided us with tickets to this event at which Avery Amereau performed Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été. Apparently, she’s a contralto – a rarity say the experts. I have to say I’m not sure what that means but she has a beautiful voice which really matched the Romantic moodiness of the piece. The lyrics are worth checking out if you are interested in the Romantic period.
I’m quite ready to enthuse about many more of these. Wait till the New York Comedy Festival starts, I won’t shut up about it.
*Phoebe Gloeckner and Chester Brown agreed that there is no connection between sex and power. That was unexpected. Where is this liberal craze I keep hearing about?