I can’t tell you how many times I googled it in the past few months. “What is it like in NYC right now?” Plenty of news stories. But I couldn’t get a sense of the pulse, Louboutins on the ground, so to speak, of what it is like to actually be in Manhattan.
Some of the challenge, of course, is that everyone’s Manhattan, just like the drink recipe, is different. I can only share with you my own “recipe”, but I can tell you that if the past week is any gauge of Manhattan going forward, I’ll be ordering another, and another and another!
We began with fear and trepidation. After a cosseted year and a half in California, could we even do this? The Countess said, definitively, no, as she monitored the chaotic last-minute packing process.
After a harrowing day of travel (was it always this hard to get anyplace?) we arrived at Newark airport and easily grabbed a cab – there was no one in the taxi line! Our driver snaked through New Jersey suburbia, taking a route so nondescript that it was a complete shock when suddenly we were on the 495 and glimpses of the Manhattan skyline came into view.
It was a heart stopper. I felt like Dorothy seeing Oz for the first time. Then, of course we were mired in the morass of Lincoln Tunnel traffic, which brought me back down to earth…briefly. Because when our cab finally rounded a corner onto Central Park South I felt instantly infused with all the magic that is New York City.
We arrived in time for a glorious sunset.
And a celebratory dinner up the street at Bar Boulud:
We’ve taken it easy, getting a lay of the land. First things first, of course: the Park remains magnificent. I couldn’t wait to be wrapped in its lush green cocoon.
Our immediate question was “are things open?” And the answer is: well, mostly. Actually, even more so than we had hoped. Our immediate neighborhood feels almost normal, just minus the usual extra helping of tourists, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Outdoor dining has actually morphed into an art, judging by the inventive way restaurants have enhanced their street side tables.
People seem relaxed, cheerful, and positively buoyant. For all the negative things we’ve all heard about “those New Yorkers”, I have to say that all my encounters have brimmed with courtesy, kindness and that odd, ephemeral sense of warmth and connection strangers share in the city. A carriage driver returning to the stables clop-clop-clopped past us as we stood at a 6th Avenue crosswalk the other day. He caught our eye and nodded, almost as if in recognition. It was a look that said “Here we all are. And it’s going to be okay.”
Of course, it’s not all okay. If you happened to be dining at Philippe Chow the other night, you might have had a side of robbery and gunfire with your Peking duck. We have felt absolutely safe everywhere we’ve been this week but of course that can change in an instant. I walked the 3.5 miles from Soho to Columbus Circle the other day and my impressions were that there are certainly more drug-impaired and homeless people on the streets than in the past. As I waited to cross a street in the West 40’s, I saw a man block traffic, planting himself in front of a line of cars and refusing to move until – until what? He probably wanted money. I didn’t stay around to find out.
And this has become a more common sight; a new twist on having a view of the Park:
I don’t know whether these changes are related to the pandemic or politics. Hopefully both will be changing as New York soon welcomes a new mayor and navigates a path through COVID19, 20, 21…and beyond.
From what I see, it takes more than a bio-engineered virus to rattle New Yorkers. Yes, we are asked for our “papers” at most restaurants. But for the most part, people seem to have what is perhaps a somewhat cynical, somewhat bemused attitude toward the long haul. Outdoors, I would say that maybe 20%-30% of the people I see are wearing masks. Inside, some places insist on it, others don’t. Zara and other stores have adopted this approach:
There is a sense of freedom, dare I say even of joy? There is still the thrill of walking out of our building and having the city at our feet. I’ll get to the restaurants next week – oh the lovely meals we’ve had! And don’t forget the shopping: the department stores are OPEN!
Are we more likely to contract COVID here than at home? Well, yeah. Do I wish I had stayed home? No. Not even a little bit. There is risk everywhere and will continue to be going forward. We are having a magical, shimmering, glorious visit in this spectacular, resilient city of cities and it is an absolute tonic for the soul. If I can place an order for the future, please make mine a Manhattan.