Through the looking glass…

I’ve been in New York for two days now, and have observed the following:

It’s similar enough to London that I feel very much at home, and different enough that I feel like I’m in one of those strange dreams, where you’re walking around a familiar location, like your hometown or your old school, and you start to discover bits of it you never knew existed, and find that the rest of it has gone all topsy-turvy, and that it suddenly feels like a completely different place. It’s home, and yet it’s not.

Riding on the right side of the road is strange. I always feel instantly at home when I get on my bike (when I’m drunk, I feel instantly more sober as soon as my feet click into the pedals), but having the traffic rushing past on my left instead of my right took a bit of getting used to, and at first I felt the same fright and subsequent indignation that I do when some idiot on a mountain bike undertakes me at high speed. And I kept forgetting that my right-hand side is now extra vulnerable to people opening doors, or walking out into the street without looking. And I’m not as used to looking over my left shoulder – I’ve had to stop tightening my bag so much, so that it doesn’t obscure my view. (Getting drunk seemed to help with the unfamiliarity – I finally felt like I was back in my element as I rode down Broadway to get get home after four cocktails.) Everything’s suddenly its own mirror image, or so it seems.

And some of the streets have the same names! I came across Rivington Street yesterday afternoon. It’s a lot better than the Rivington Street in London, which is one-way, but switches direction twice, so that it’s impossible to (legally) cycle along it in a straight line. Most of the streets here are one-way, but since the city has a grid pattern, it’s almost impossible to get lost. It reminds me of Barcelona, where I could quite happily walk home drunk at 2am, just remembering to go west till I reached Entença, and then north till I hit Rosselló.

(This is one of the few photos I’ve taken that aren’t of food. I am ridiculous paranoid about looking like a tourist, so I don’t like getting my camera out in public. But then, as someone pointed out yesterday, I can’t possibly look like a tourist if I’m riding around on a grubby fixed-gear bike! So I’ll try and overcome my inhibitions today…)

I haven’t had any of the usual teething problems I normally do when I come to a new city. Almost everywhere else I’ve ever been, I hated it for the first day/week/six months (that’d be London), but here I was comfortable right away, even as I walked the 20 or so blocks from Grand Central to my friends’ apartment, dragging a bike bag the size of a small house. Well, actually a medium-sized house.

It probably helps that there are so many friends, and friends-of-friends here. I’m already busy (or double-booked) for the next week or so, and have found loads of events involving bikes, academics and queers to keep me busy. Right now I’m torn between a Judith Butler symposium at Columbia, and curling up in a cafe with a book on postfeminism, for a reading group on Sunday. And tomorrow I can’t decide whether I’d rather hang out at the Monster Track afterparty, or go to some sort of Riot Grrrlz event that someone invited me to when I attended a class at Columbia the other day.

And, on top of all that, there’s a whole cityful of cheesecakes and cupcakes and bagels and pizzas and hotdogs and other delicacies to be devoured. I’m aiming for at least one cupcake per day. The first day I went to Butter Lane with my friend Chloe. She had a vanilla cupcake with pistachio frosting

and I had a more adventurous chocolate cupcake with grapefruit and ginger frosting.

They were really really good. I’ve always been a bit suspicious of cupcakes, remembering years of bland fairy cakes at children’s birthday parties, where the pink sugary icing is the best bit, and the rest of the cake isn’t worth eating. But these would have been delicious even without the frosting. The cake was light and succulent – even Chloe’s vanilla, which I’d initially rejected as too boring, was incredibly flavoursome. It tasted of actual vanilla, instead of just being ‘plain’. And they were nice and soft in the middle, and then slightly crispy on top.

Yesterday’s cupcake was from Sugar Sweet Sunshine on Rivington Street, as recommended by fellow courier Dan. I ordered a red velvet cake, with chocolate almond buttercream (seen here perching on top of Edmund White).

It was nice, but not as nice as the Butter Lane ones. For a start, red velvet cake, which I’d been looking forward to trying for years, is basically just normal cake with red food colouring in. And there wasn’t enough contrast between the lightness of the cake and the richness of the frosting, making the whole thing as claggy and over-sweet as the sugary little fairy cakes I remember from years of childhood birthday parties. Plus, the place was full of students arguing sceptically about global warming, and playing passive aggressive games with the few available seats.

I took myself off and discovered the Bowery Poetry Club

and Bluestockings, a dream-come-true of a queer, feminist, activist, vegan bookshop-cafe.

They have events almost every night, and a feminist reading group meeting on Sunday, for which I impulsively bought a 300-page book on postfeminism. I should really go and start reading it…

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One Response to “Through the looking glass…”

  1. casper Says:

    yes, phoebe practically bought bluestockings when we were there. we went to a really interesting event about the history of the lower east side there.

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