November 10, 2006
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.
Posted by jo(e)