Friday, May 07, 2010

East Village is a Mash-Up of Rich and Developing World

Landing in the East Village this week, I got a distinctly developing-world vibe. People had their used goods spilled all over the sidewalk, selling random items like picture frames and old shoes. There are giant mounds of garbage all the time, both in bags for pick-up and swirling loose in the wind, newspaper pages flying around my feet. New York smells and is unbelievably loud. Don't get me started on our apartment where not a single wall knows how to behave (i.e. be smooth and flat) and our school-locker toilet room (not technically a bathroom since it's just a room with a toilet) is among the worst I've ever seen, and yes, I'm counting Mali and Indonesia.

I love it here!

The energy is contagious, the people are from everywhere. The other day, I walked home following a woman in an abaya, black fabric caught in the wind, every part of her covered except her eyes and her shiny purple cell phone.

Impossibly cool kids with giant 'fros skateboard down the street in packs and senior citizens scoot solo on Razors.

Downstairs, in the coffee shop on the corner, every table is taken up by a cafe dweller with a Mac.

Standing in line at the Trader Joe's, which snakes around the entire store and is actually quite complicated, I watched as a verbal tussle broke out between a young student wearing earbuds, an old white-haired lady (oldies do lose their inhibition, don't they?) and a lady who, in classic NY fashion, chimed in with her perspective on the entire incident (a perceived butting-in-line). The last time I saw an impromptu people mash-up was while traveling in Bamako, when Tania and I got into an argument with our shady cab driver and all the people on the street gathered around to work it out for us. In Toronto, it's like everyone is surrounded by an invisible force-field a la Lost, that inhibits anyone from speaking to a stranger. Your head could be aflame and passerby would just stare straight ahead. Here, I find myself chatting about Lady Gaga in line at the corner store, and you don't even have to be talking about a reigning pop icon. At the grocery yesterday, we had a full 5-minute conversation with a nice man. Topic? Red chile flakes.

It's a strange blend, the East Village, both riche-chichi and grimy. I know my impression of a developing world vibe comes from being Canadian, where it's really orderly and clean and all systems are a go, and only having experienced this kind of exciting unpredictability in places that aren't technically first-world. The East Village, though, is both. Rich and struggling, luxurious and...not. My eyes and nose say, Fancy AND smelly.

As our friend Dave pointed out, the vibe here changes with each step, from block to block. I love Avenue A and our proximity to Tompkins Square. Speaking of Dave and Jacqui, they had us over for a homemade pizza dinner with lots of wine, a welcome to the neighbourhood. It was so comforting! Being invited for a meal in someone's home is sincerely the nicest way to land in a new place. We're among friends already!

And celebs. I saw James Iha with his pug the other day and passed Luke Wilson on the street last night. That's about as much excitement as we've had because Isaac and I are just working a lot and setting up shop, i.e. lots and lots of errands. We are working in our funny little apartment, Skyping, typing, even recording V/Os (it turns out our first joint project ever will be Isaac's latest assignment which is an animation for a Dutch health portal...I'm reading the script - not what I imagined our first joint project would be, but it's fun!).

Tonight we will actually socialize by going out for dinner. A note on food: I am both in awe and fear. All this exciting, enticing food could easily become a trap in which my wallet and winter fat suit will become entangled (go away fat suit, it's May!). Taking a stroll here is like being at a carnival of food. Everything is enticing, exciting and you can't go a step without finding something delicious to buy and stuff in your face. Take another step and there's an entirely different but equally delicious food to stuff. Another step. Another step. Et voila, Pinkberry-falafel-hot slice-ramen overload.

That's all for now. I am off to a lesson at the Apple store in SoHo.


Blogger Sophie said...

hannie! i just read all your NY posts and love them so much. you are so great. i really miss you, but your stories make me feel good. oh, ha ha, just as i'm writing this, someone outside my window is playing the guitar, like a little soundtrack to my comment on your blog.

3:24 PM  

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