November 10, 2006

City sidewalks

city in the rain

My conference began yesterday, but I came to the city early to spend two nights with Urban Sophisticate Sister, who lives on the Upper East Side of the Middle Island. That first night, we met Schoolteacher Niece and Red-haired Niece (who are both grad students in the City Like No Other) for dinner. Urban Sophisticate had found a cafe where everything on menu was vegan. Even the entire dessert menu. This kind of thing is what makes City Like No Other one of my favorite cities.

Wednesday, I planned to spend the day pretending I lived in the city. I was determined not to act like a tourist. Of course, I suppose if I actually lived here,I would have gone to work like my sister, instead of spending the day wandering around in the rain and going to art museums.

Despite the absolute drenching rain, the streets were filled with people, most of whom carried umbrellas as they hurried along the crowded sidewalks. I watched the choreography of the jostling umbrellas to see if I could learn proper umbrella etiquette. These people were moving fast, and sometime in opposite directions, with all kinds of maneuvers happening at every street corner, and yet, somehow, the umbrellas did not crash or snag. How were they doing it? One person might raise an umbrellas slightly, another might tip her umbrella to the side, and smoothly, the flow of black umbrellas never stopped. And they did this all without words. I could not see anyone talking or even looking at each other.

I tried to fit in with the crowd, clutching the umbrella I'd borrowed from my sister, but it was like joining a dance troupe without knowing the steps. I kept knocking into people with my umbrella, or snagging a tip of their umbrella. I'd stop and apologize profusely, but then I never even made it through an apology because the whole thing would strike me funny, and I'd start laughing. So that is where I kept finding myself, standing in the rain on a city sidewalk, talking and laughing with a stranger, while around us flowed a crowd of people smoothly negotiating by with their umbrellas. My attempt to pass for a sophisticated city person did not work at all.

City streets are filled with windows, and on a dark rainy day, you can look right into the cozy lit worlds of bakeries and restaurants and tiny shops. I watched people in dark coats huddled at round tables, drinking coffee. I saw a woman and her toddler choosing pastries from a mouth-watering display. I brushed so close to the window of a coffee shop that I could hear the white mugs clinking as a young couple shared breakfast. The flower shops were just bursting with color, reds and yellows and oranges on this grey November day, big bunches of cut flowers in vases, all pressed against the glass. I can never resist stepping into a patisserie, just to smell the baking bread, or a flower shop to breathe in that fragrant moisture.

One of the great things about wandering around a city aimlessly is the sense of discovery you get when you happen upon things. I'd come around a corner and say to myself, "Wow, look at the shape of that huge building. How strange that it's round. How cool to have a museum that -- oh, wait! It's Famous Round Museum! Designed by Frank Lloyd Left!"

Big City Like No Other is southeast of Snowstorm region, and a warmer zone. Many of the trees still held yellow leaves, which glowed in the rain, almost shimmering against red brick or dark grey buildings. Even more striking were the leaves scattered against the sidewalks, forming really spectacular patterns, the delicate curves of the leaves contrasting with the geometric shapes on the ground.

wet leaves

31 comments:

TheRona said...

How long will you be in the Capital of the World? We should meet up. I'll be on the Middle Island most of the day Tuesday (I have an appointment at noon). You have my number, right? Otherwise, shoot me an e-mail and we can get together. Maybe you can even meet my mother, the two of you would love each other.

will smama said...

Thank you for this. I needed to get out of the country today and become just another person on a rain-soaked, busy street. Reading your words I could actually hear the horns honk and smell the pretzels burning.

Enjoy!

Leslee said...

it's hard to act like you're not a turist when you really are. great story

Mrs. Coulter said...

I love your description of the umbrella dance. It's amazing how the foot traffic flows in the Big City Like No Other. Everybody walks quickly and full of purpose, and the people just flow around and past one another, without hesitation.

That is, until a (*&^&^%**&^ tourist gets in their way. ;-)

Yankee, Transferred said...

Lovely glimpse of my favorite city ever.

RageyOne said...

Great description of your day. I also like the umbrella dance. I've never thought of it quite like that.

I think the first image you have posted would be great as a black & white shot with the green umbrella in color. If one were to use one of those photo editing programs to do that it would be way cool.

Dr. Brazen Hussy said...

Oh wow. You just made me more homesick than I've ever been in the six months since I moved away from there.

halloweenlover said...

There is a famous vegan cupcake place! You must try one! I've heard they are the best cupcakes ever! And send your pregnant friend one also! ; )

Songbird said...

I love your pictures, both photo and word.

Kyla said...

Wonderful! Simply wonderful, jo(e)!

Chip said...

I love that city! Glad you're having a great time there. I on the other hand am in a Small Southern City, and having quite a different experience...

Joy aka Wild Child / Preschool teacher said...

Stop that!! Stop being so clever. ;-)


Frank Lloyd Left indeed! My thoughts exactly, when I found out more of his family history. Still, his building designs are quite interesting... this from a resident of his home state...

Queen of West Procrastination said...

I laughed out loud at the "Frank Lloyd Left." (And knew exactly what you meant, in terms of the surprise of realising what building it is. I went through that experience a lot when I was in Paris. "Look at that pretty cathedral that's just like Notre Dame de Paris! Wait a minute..."

Reading this made me desperately want to visit City Like No Other.

Amy A. said...

Your picture of the walkers on the leafy walk is magical. You have quite an eye.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, jo(e), I am now green and slavering with envy.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful....

BeachMama said...

Awesome. You should be hired by the Big City Like No Other to write about it for tourism. Everybody would want to go.

Alice said...

Thanks for a great story!

Mom2BJM said...

You take the best photos...

Sue said...

This is so lovely. I've never been to the City Like No Other, but I would love to visit someday.

Anonymous said...

Gorgeous.... I think I've been to that cafe - then again there's probably at least ten of them.

KathyR said...

Love that leaf photo at the end!

When we were there last December, famous round museum was covered in scaffolding. Phooey.

purple_kangaroo said...

I love this post. Beautiful. It made me smile, then chuckle. I needed that today. I like the description of you bumping umbrellas and then starting to laugh.

Anonymous said...

What a great post and beautiful pictures. Now I'm feeling just a bit homesick.

zelda1 said...

I do that too, when I go to a larger city. I pretend that I live there but there is something about the culture of the people who are there day in and day out and if you don't belong, it shows. My last trip to Dallas, before my surgery, I visited a coffee shop and everyone came and went and ordered so many flavors of hot coffee and Mr. Zelda and I sat at a booth and tried to blend in, but we just weren't in as big of a hurry nor did we know the menu and our accents gave us away. It's fun, though, to try.

Anonymous said...

A great post! I love being in the city when it rains and you've captured the experience perfectly.

Sfrajett said...

Beautiful! The Guggenhiem and all of the magic of New York City itself pales beside your simple arrangement of damp autumn leaves on the sidewalk. Just lovely.

(un)relaxeddad said...

I spent a year working five to ten days a month in Manhattan and most nights, I'd just walk. Start at the bottom of Broadway and head north, see what I'd find. Mostly, I'd be foraging, trying to find a restaurant within my expense budget. And I remember the rain, sheets of it, warm in summer and icy in winter. Now you've gone and made me all nostalgic. One of these days, I've got to get back there and take supermum.

Mieke said...

You are making me homesick!

ppolarbear said...

I am not a city lover, in general, but you've made it awfully romantic.

Anonymous said...

Your post made me appreciate why my sister loves living in cities so much. It's been many years since I lived in a city, but now I miss it!