I grew up in Malaysia then moved to the United States as a young adult. Justin trailed along while his father’s highly transient career took him all over the country in his youth. So when it came time to make our own home, we fell into the normal trappings–we bought a house in a nice neighborhood in a state where it was sunny 299 days per year. But we found ourselves making regular trips to New York City that grew longer and more frequent, and soon we realized maybe it was more of a home to us than our house was. For us, home has never been about geography. It’s always been a feeling. A longing when you leave, and a pull to return.
It’s that time of year once again when, on its best days, the public transit system is relegated to a crude pneumatic tube belching hot air through the bowels of the city. We can add to that the now frequent occurrence of trains being delayed or stalling for prolonged periods of time. And then, of course, there were the three frightening derailments that have transpired since March. The truly incredible obsolescence of this integral system has been laid bare, the ugly truth plain for all to see. And no amount of half-measures–duct tape or bubble gum–can fix the mess. Andrew Cuomo’s “Summer of Hell” is in full swing.
Summer in New York City is more of a feeling than a season. Even though temperatures fluctuate wildly, everyone wants to be outside. That makes it a great time for one of our favorite activities: hunting down street art. We’ve decided to do a small series of posts on it here on the blog, which we kicked off last week with our post on the Bushwick Collective.
There is a Confucius quote that says:
“True wisdom is knowing what you don’t know.”
Shortly after we started blogging we realized what we didn’t know could fill an ocean. It’s been a journey, one we explored more thoroughly in our year-end review after our first full year of blogging. But we’ve received a lot of help and inspiration along the way, and no small part of that has come from other New York City bloggers that we’ve been fortunate to become acquainted with.
“May we borrow a cup of sugar?” I know, it’s a tad idyllic. And it’s certainly an anachronism in today’s introverted, disconnected world. But once upon a time, perhaps more recently than you can imagine, this concept was commonplace. You might recall recently hearing about Chris Salvatore and Norma Cook, a 31-year old actor and his 89-year old neighbor who were in the news when they became unlikely roommates (RIP, Norma). But there was a time when this wouldn’t have made headlines. We regularly reached out to those in our communities, shared provisions, broke bread together, attended to the elderly, and shouldered the burden of raising children. We knew our long-standing neighbors, welcomed newcomers and even stayed in touch with those who moved away.
I was pondering this recently, somewhat abstractly, while watching a movie on Netflix. It’s called Today’s Special, and I happened upon it during one of those all-too-frequent occurrences when I simply couldn’t find anything that struck my fancy. And I’ll admit, I juuuust about scrolled past it.
Today’s Special didn’t win any major awards. There were no flashy actors (though there were some incredible veteran players in the ensemble cast). It’s a simple, somewhat cliché story. But it embodies some beautiful ideals. It’s a New York story. It’s an immigrant story. It’s a story about cuisine, family, identity and love. And it’s a story that resonates with me, particularly in light of recent events.
There are many things I love about New York City, but there’s a special place in my heart for how the city celebrates the holidays. It’s a special time of year when everyone’s a little less brusque, a little less hurried. Tourists are in awe of their surroundings, but for a brief moment in time, the locals are too. And all we need to shield us from the bitter cold as we take in oversized trees, holiday markets and dressed-up store windows are hot cups of cider in mittened hands.
There are certain seasonal snapshots that feel timeless. Christmas trees for sale on the sidewalk with string lights hanging overhead. Salvation Army volunteers dancing and singing at the entrance to the department store. We get nostalgic around the holidays because it marks the passage of time ever so clearly, year after year. Memories are made, traditions are born. All of it feels sacred.
When people find out how long Justin and I have been married, many of them inevitably ask if we have kids. We do not. I don’t bemoan that circumstance except for once a year: at Halloween. Because of this. I mean, come on.
The boots, sweaters and coats of winter have long since gone to storage. The loafers, khakis, and jackets of spring have surreptitiously migrated to the bottom of the chest of drawers. And now, mercifully, the time for sundresses, chino shorts and flip flops — the compulsory uniform of summer — has finally arrived and New York City, in its typically brash, exploitative, never-halfway approach to everything, doesn’t just passively accept this change, it embraces it with something nearing pathology.
In a city with weather as temperamental as New York, that first sustained period of warm, sunny weather, such as was experienced on Memorial Day weekend, elicits a dramatic reaction from its denizens, particularly so when they have had to wait until the tail end of spring to enjoy it.
Storytelling, at its apex, is an art. It requires the philosophical contemplations, critical observations and the communicative dexterity of a writer, coupled with the intuition and instincts of a performer. It has existed from mankind’s earliest days, long before the first written word, as the primary narrative mode to disseminate ideas: communicating historical accounts, outlining philosophical theories, expressing ethical concerns, and challenging cultural norms.
Though much of my exposure to the social significance of storytelling originated with an elective class on folklore I explored at university, it wasn’t until my first trip abroad, to the United Kingdom, that I began to truly appreciate it as art. From cabbie to bartender, a newly minted acquaintances on the train from Edinburgh to Glasgow or on a bus in Dublin, the wit and mirth of the oral tradition were on full display in all its grandeur.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This proverb is often used when discussing art (let’s admit it, usually when we see something we don’t enjoy). Art appreciation truly is a subjective, personal experience. We’ve definitely seen our fair share of pieces that have induced that squinty-eyed, cocked-head pose, with a virtual question mark poised neatly above our heads. While we may not all agree on what constitutes art, whether it’s good or bad, or where it’s headed, we can (hopefully) agree that there’s an abundance of it and we’re better off for it. We’ve featured street art as well as the more conventional kind found in museums here on the blog, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t also talk about another way to access great art in the city: private galleries.
Although there have always been arguments about culture being only for the elite or art being corrupted by the super-rich, we (who are neither elite nor rich, much less super-rich!) have found no such barrier to entry, and we regularly enjoy visiting the multitude of galleries here in the city that have allowed us to get up close and personal with some stunning pieces of artwork. For free. There are bigger players like the Gagosian Gallery who have featured such heavy-hitters as Takashi Murakami and Roy Lichtenstein, but we submit that smaller galleries should not be overlooked. Gems can often be uncovered in these more experimental spaces. Such was our experience recently when we visited the Not a Photo exhibition at The Hole.