East 70th. between Lexington and Third…
By Caitlin Kelly
If you’re a fan, as I am, of the Japanese artist Hokusai — whose great wave image is iconic — he made 36 views of Mount Fuji.
Having lived in New York since 1989, (I live in a town 25 miles north of Manhattan, but have worked there at magazines and a major NYC newspaper, and spent much time there), I’ve experienced the city in so many ways that bear no resemblance to the notions most people gather from film, TV or visits. If you live here for any length of time, and travel the five boroughs — Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens — you begin to understand how complicated a place it is and how diverse.
Far too many tourists arrive here, blunder around midtown bumping into more tourists and spending time and money on amusements just as easily found at home in Ohio or Nevada, then leave, persuaded they’ve “seen” this city. Cross the northern end of Park Avenue, and you travel from multi-million-dollar apartments in grand and elegant buildings to witness stunning poverty within a few feet.
Working as a reporter for the New York Daily News for a year also showed me a totally different city — the readers’ median income then $44,000, which is a very tough amount for a single person, let alone a family, here.
Eleven ways I’ve seen the city:
Aboard the M1 bus driving south down Fifth Avenue. A man in a wheelchair wears the uniform of the poor: thick grey sweatpants, thick grey sweatshirt, a puffer vest for warmth, battered white sneaker. Only one — the bulbous pink stump of his right leg, sticking out of his sweats, remains bare to the wind and cold. The driver patiently attaches wide red straps to four points of the chair to keep him secure. Ten blocks further south, the driver opens the bus’ flat metal ramp for him, and he rolls off and away.
Sitting at Swann Galleries on East 25th. Street, waiting to bid on two pieces of art. I arrive, dressed up, excited — to find only a few people sitting in the folding chairs with me. These days, it’s most done by phone and online, so a row of staffers sit awaiting those bids. I buy two pieces, a Dufy engraving and a Vlaminck lithograph, delighted with my score. The highest bid of the day — $100,000 for a Picasso print — comes from a dealer sitting behind me. He might as well have ordered a coffee; for him, just another day at the office.
It’s pouring rain and I’m on my way into Brooklyn, not the cool hipster bits but the long narrow streets, each side lined for long blocks only with minivans — bought to ferry very large families. No cars. Large metal balconies protrude from buildings. Men wearing enormous plastic-covered fur hats, a shtreimel, pristine white spats and black patent slippers walk alone. Women wearing headscarves and thick flesh-toned stockings with seams walk with multiple small children. This is the part of Brooklyn populated mostly by Orthodox Hasidic Jews.
Her hair piled high into her signature pale blond beehive, she enters the narrow, small Madison Avenue restaurant wearing high heels and a suit. A handsome younger man — his crisp white shirt unbuttoned a little too far — follows her, trim in a costly suit. She’s someone every New Yorker knows by sight, and many by reputation — Ivana Trump, the President’s first wife. She looks tired and sad.
The annual orchid show at the New York Botanical Garden
The BQE isn’t short for barbeque — it’s the Bronx-Queens Expressway. From it, standing still in traffic, you at least can enjoy great views of Manhattan, of an enormous cemetery, of wheels-down low-flying jets on final approach heading into Laguardia. Along its edges stand 150-year-old tenements and dozens of new apartments, their windows mere yards from ribbons of traffic, so close you can look into their windows and admire their furniture and lighting. After decades of enduring the rusted, crumbling Kosciuszko Bridge, (built in 1939), a new, shiny version now lights up in purple. An enormous billboard suggests, in very tall red letters, EAT REAL FOOD.
The African-American family sits together in the living room, telling me what’s it’s like to raise their grandchildren after the shooting deaths of their parents. They bring out a blanket, custom-made with the images of the parents woven into it. This is the older, not-hip part of Harlem, a traditionally African-American enclave. As I get up to leave, a rare Caucasian on the street, the grandmother walks me downstairs and to the bus-stop.
It’s a cold rainy day and we’re having brunch at a friend’s home in Bed-Stuy, a gentrifying part of Brooklyn. Nine women gather for mimosas and tofu and — always — a heap of fresh bagels and five kinds of cream cheese. The hosts work in television, one a writer for a hit television series, the other, working in the basement of her 1880s brownstone, is a Foley artist, making sounds for a living.
Keen’s Steakhouse, on West 36th. Street, since 1885; my table is number 54
A bitterly cold winter’s day, and my agent and I are headed into the midtown headquarters of Simon & Schuster to discuss an editor’s interest in buying my first book, Blown Away: American Women and Guns, already rejected by 25 other publishers, so their interest is a welcome relief. We walk down long hallways lined with framed covers of the many best-sellers they’ve published. Intimidating! We sit around a conference table — five women and one man, (my agent.) After some serious pushback from the editorial director (true? a gambit?) I go alone around the corner to the 21 Club for coffee and profiteroles to celebrate.
There’s that final scene in The Devil Wears Prada, when Andy spots Miranda across the street — it’s on Sixth Avenue at 49th. — a spot that for decades held the Canadian consulate and still the headquarters of Simon & Schuster, which owns Pocket Books, now my first publisher. Standing on that sidewalk in 2004, holding my book’s galleys, feels like the best moment of my life.
The Brooklyn Bridge
Pouring rain. I’m late, lost, annoyed, trying to meet a Bronx DA for an interview. I finally find a parking spot outside the mammoth Bronx Courthouse, and dive in. An elderly woman starts shrieking at me that I’ve stolen her spot. She screams. I scream. Windows start to fling open across the street as she calls for back-up. She gets a tire iron. I can’t leave because her car is blocking my car. I call 911 for help. A cop arrives and speaks to each of us. She leaves, and I finally meet my subject and the photographer, an old friend. They slide into the car, and I burst into tears of relief. The DA takes me to a dive bar for a soothing shot of whisky. It’s not even noon.
Charlotte Bronte’s clothing, a show at the Morgan Museum
“Who speaks French?” the city editor shouts across the newsroom, the length of a city block. I do, and am sent to the Hotel Edison near Times Square for a stake-out, which means a gaggle of competing reporters and photographers stand or sit in the 90-degree heat for hour after hour after hour awaiting the Quebec tourists — one of whom was stabbed (not badly) — we’re supposed to speak to and photograph. I sneak into the hotel with an intern and the New York Times’ stringer jumps into the elevator with us. He really needs a shower. “Wherever you’re going, I’m going.” We flee to the women’s room. The intern finds the tourists’ room and I sneak upstairs to tuck a note beneath their door. A security guard finds me, shouting that he’ll call the cops, and throws me out.
21 thoughts on “11 views of New York”
i absolutely love these slices of life in NYC. i would read a whole book of these and enjoy every page.
Thanks! That would be fun.
Not sure if you read the NYT(?) but they run a weekly column a bit like this called Metropolitan Diary to which readers submit their anecdotes about the city, past and present. It’s really cool.
I try to buy it as often as I can, can’t afford the subscription, but love the paper. I’m addicted to the Sunday puzzle and love the column as well.
Caitlin, I love these slice-of-life NYC vignettes!
Thanks for your insights on New York. I went there for the first time last month to attend the EQUUS Film Festival in Brooklyn and loved it. It was only four days, so I will go back and look for experiences off the beaten track.
It was actually great to stay in a lovely boutique hotel in Brooklyn. Found THE best Italian restaurant around the corner and a lovely little bakery where we ate breakfast each day.
I thought I would feel overwhelmed by NYC, but on the contrary, it rejuvenated me. 😊🍎❤️
Oooh, that sounds fantastic!
Since we live 25 miles north of Manhattan, Brooklyn is a good hour’s drive and one I rarely make. I do need to set aside a weekend — do you mind sharing the name of the hotel and restaurant?
The secret of NYC (I just wrote in London, as it’s like all big cities) is finding a calm, residential neighborhood and settling in and exploring slowly, when possible. It’s crazy that so many (and I know why it may be appealing to some) stay in noisy, crowded midtown and think that’s the best of the city when I think many natives would agree it’s the worst.
So glad you enjoyed it!
I grew up in London so I’m aware of many areas outside the centre that are lovely to visit.
Anyway, the hotel was the Franklin Guesthouse on Franklin Street. Great accommodations and pretty reasonably priced. Nice people, too.
The restaurant is called The Naked Dog. Yes, an unusual name for an Italian restaurant, but excellent authentic cuisine and amazing service. Such lovely people. It reminded me of the ambience of a restaurant in Siena that we enjoyed.
The bakery is simply called “The Bakeri.” Amazing food! Lovely community ambiance.
Sounds like I’m selling Brooklyn to you! 😂😂
I lived in London ages 2-5 and my aunt/uncle lived in Hampstead for many years. We’re planning a visit back there next fall. So much to explore!
My last visit I enjoyed Marylebone. And my favorite museum is Sir John Soan’s House. I stayed with friends in Bermondsey and enjoyed getting to know it as well.
Hampstead is beautiful.
My mother performed opera in London’s West End all through my formative years. I grew up in North London so we went through Hampstead often to get downtown. Walked the Heath many times. The romantic memories of childhood.
Lived in Wembley for the last several years before returning to Canada. That was an experience around soccer finals, for sure.
Hope you enjoy your next visit. 😊
What a great life you’ve led! So true. I still (?) remember an amazing robe climbing apparatus at Chelsea Open Air Nursery….and in our bathroom is a old black and white of me about to feed the pigeons in Kensington Park. Depending on your vintage, you might have seen/heard my aunt/uncle on radio and TV, Barbara Kelly and Bernard Braden.
Vintage 😂😂 Love it!
We were there in the 70s/early 80s. I listened to Capital Radio and watched BBC mostly. Names sound vaguely familiar.
I love London. At least, I love what it was when I grew up there. Have not been back much. Life gets in the way. Maybe this year on our way back from France.
There’s a great Royal Air Force Museum in Hendon if you’re interested in that sort of thing. Two or three stops up from Hampstead on the Northern Line. Really interesting place. That area of London is my old stomping grounds (age 7 to 12)
Ohh, yes please! Thank you! I follow (bizarre but true) a bunch of pilots (mostly women!) on Instagram and love aircraft and aviation. I really like the Pima Air & Space Museum in — of all places — Tucson, Arizona.
Then you’ll love the RAF Museum. 😉
I really enjoyed these little scenes from a day in your life in NYC. I went into Amazon to see if your book Blown Away was available in the Kindle version, but sadly it wasn’t, so I made a request to the publisher through Amazon to see if it can be made available. if not, I’ll just order the paperback version. When I was reading the Amazon sample I was really getting into it, especially when I read your quote on “Denial spins a seductive cocoon” … it left me wanting more. Thanks for your post, Caitlin …
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A wealth of memories–thank you for sharing them. But the steakhouse–that is such a quintessential NY view, right? Dark, cozy, lots of bourbon and red wine.
So fun! Going back there soon with a friend for lunch.