Relationships with Cities

New York: My One True Love

I never even liked New York. I grew up just a few miles from The City That Never Sleeps, and I never thought it was anything special. Never planned on working here, definitely never planned on living here. Granted, up until I was 22 I only ever went to Midtown — the tree in Rockefeller Center, the Wax Museum, John’s Pizzeria, Broadway shows — so perhaps that was the reason for my indifference. But then I got a job here, and then I got my first apartment, and then New York went and stole my heart.

New York is, in my humble opinion, the greatest city in the world, the “center of the universe”, as Angel so eloquently puts it in Rent. (I walk around the city singing that line to myself, like, multiple times per week.) Every possible thing you could ever possibly want is mere steps away from you at all times — incredible food at the best restaurants in the world (literally)miles upon miles of delicious fashion, gorgeous architecture, the list goes on forever. My favorite thing to do in New York is just wander, see what I find, observe people. I love that at any given moment, so many people are living so many different lives, living in different New Yorks than the person next to them — the Forever New Yorker New York, the Basic Bro Post-Grad New York, the Billionaire with a Penthouse New York, the European New York — and all of these New Yorks make up one single, beautiful, complicated, chaotic entity.

But…I also hate New York. There’s nothing quite like the 4, 5, or 6 train during morning rush hour, or the foreign tourist crowd in the Financial District when you’re just trying to get a damn sandwich, or the 24/7 stench of Midtown, to make you feel completely jaded and disillusioned with the human race. And then there’s cost of just existing here — $100 for a couple of drinks and a semi-decent meal? One floor of an apartment building for millions of dollars when the same amount can buy you an entire CASTLE or ISLAND in other parts of the world? HOW IS ANY OF THIS OK?

I’m sorry, New York, forgive me. I love you with all my heart, and I never want to leave you. (Also, I still kind of like John’s Pizzeria.)

Favorites: Walking through the West Village on a crisp fall day, watching the dogs at Carl Schurz Park on a late weekend morning, every square inch of Irving Place at all times 

Rome: An Infatuation

Whereas New York is my one true love and soul mate, Rome is a fling that I’m forever grateful for but understand that if I went back, it just wouldn’t be the same. Rome is the guy you cannot get enough of but know deep down it’ll never last — the very beauty of the relationship is its fleeting nature.

I had permanent butterflies the whole time I lived in La Citta’ Eterna. Every day I felt dizzy with anticipation and excitement — every experience was so new and interesting and wonderful, every square inch of the city absolutely dripping with beauty. I gained about 20 pounds (no exaggeration) eating my way through some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life, and I can honestly say I didn’t care. Although I hadn’t yet read it, I tried to maintain the attitude Elizabeth Gilbert had in Eat Pray Love:

“I’m so tired of saying no and waking up in the morning and recalling every single thing I ate the day before…I’m going for it. I have no interest in being obese; I’m just through with the guilt.”

My favorite thing about Rome, besides everything, was the juxtaposition of ancient ruins and monuments — things I’d read about for years in history classes and mythology books — sprinkled throughout a modern city of stores and cars and pubs. Long after I returned from Rome I discovered my dad’s old photo albums, and when I came across his Rome pictures they looked exactly the same as mine. The stores and cars and pubs may have changed, but the background remained the same, and it always will.

I acknowledge that everything seemed better — food, wine, coffee, people — because I was in Rome, and I acknowledge that I will never again be the person I was at the exact time that I was there. I’m ok with that, but it took me about five years to get there.

Favorites: Gazing across the city from Gianicolo in the afternoon, standing atop Pincio at sunset, all of Monteverde at all times

New Orleans: The Honeymoon Phase

The Big Easy and I have a relatively new thing going, and I’ve only been there twice so far, but I already know that what we have is special and we’ll be together for a long, long time.

First of all, it’s impossible to eat badly in New Orleans. (It is NOT impossible to eat badly in New York — ex: Olive Garden — or Rome — ex: anywhere near the Colosseum — I’m just good at avoiding it.) Crayfish, jambalaya, gumbo, crab legs, fried alligator — you name it, New Orleans does it right. Second of all, you can grab an Abita Strawberry (or any other beer, for that matter) to go at any bar and just walk around town with it, and that’s one of the few cities in the country where you can do that. The culture is extremely laid back yet spontaneous, the scenery beautiful yet damaged, the people rough yet kind.

Unlike New York and Rome, I don’t think I could live in New Orleans. I could probably go there once a year for the rest of my life, though, and I think I just might.

Favorites: Exploring the Frenchmen Street Art Market at night, walking through the Garden District after a delicious meal, shopping along Magazine Street (with an Abita Strawberry in hand) 

Chicago: The One That Got Away

When I was applying to colleges as a senior in high school, Northwestern was my first choice. I applied early decision and did not get in. When I was applying to jobs as a senior in college, Chicago was my first choice. I was going to live in the ‘burbs with my sister until I found a job and an apartment, but severe life changes prevented me from executing this plan. On two occasions four years apart, a life with Chicago slipped through my fingers, and I’ll never know what could have been.

Despite its irritating “we’re just as good as/better than New York!” attitude (you’re not), and the fact that they call tomato cake “pizza”, The Windy City is a fabulous place with a lot to offer, particularly affordable apartments with parking. The only thing that gives me pause about Chicago is the weather — I am one of the few people I know who actually doesn’t mind cold weather, but I’m pretty sure I’ve only been there once or twice in the dead of winter, so perhaps I couldn’t even hack it.

Favorites: Drinking coffee and reading good books at Bucktown cafes, shopping in Andersonville, also shopping at Water Tower Place (touristy, but oh well)

Baltimore: A Bad Breakup

Baltimore and I were together at a time in my life when I was extremely young and stupid: College. Our bond grew stronger the summer between junior and senior year because of an internship that took me to parts of the city I had never been to before, certainly not without the pressures of campus life and fellow students. That summer was when I realized that Charm City was more than just the background of my college experience, that there were actual nice restaurants and interesting street festivals and pretty streets, not just bars at which to get very, very drunk.

There even came a point when I stopped feeling like I was “going home” to New Jersey for breaks from school and started feeling like I was coming home to Baltimore. Unfortunately, not long after I graduated the city’s unbelievably bad crime reputation hit way too close to home, and now I have no plans to ever return.

Favorites: Walking along the water in Fells Point, eating seafood at an outdoor table in Fed Hill, drinking margaritas in Canton

Other Cities: Mini-Crushes & Second Chances  

I know there’s a whole “New York vs. Boston” thing, but I’ve never really bought into it. I think Beantown is just adorable, especially in the fall and especially in Cambridge and along Newbury Street. I also kind of have a thing for Philadelphia — my most fun business trip was to the City of Brotherly Love, during which I had amazing octopus at Barbuzzo and partied all night long in Reading Terminal Market, and my most fun New Year’s Eve was spent there as well.

I visited Paris, London and Barcelona while I was still quite infatuated with Rome, therefore I didn’t really give them a fair chance. I was in Paris in the middle of a snowstorm with dozens of other college kids — sure, we went to the Louvre for a couple hours and took a dinner cruise around the Seine, but the main activity was drinking. I was half-asleep the whole time I was in London due to the genius idea of staying up all night before an early morning flight from Dublin, and aside from a mini-tour of Gaudi buildings I don’t think I did anything particularly “Spanish” in Barcelona. All three cities need to be revisited when I’m mature enough to handle them. I’m hoping that time is soon.

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