We emerged from the Queens Midtown Tunnel after two days of driving and two months of frenetic activity preparing for a cross-country move with an infant, a 60-pound dog, and the emotional strain of shuttering the business we had built together and selling the house we had bought on our own. It was nightfall, and after the submerged white noise and claustrophobia of the tunnel and the hours of rolling Pennsylvania country side before it, Manhattan was a shock. Buildings shot up around us, miniaturizing us on our uptown pilgrimage. The streets were dotted through with lights and signs of life: footfall, yells, figures jaywalking across the blare of headlights, the scent of street cart gyros. I lingered somewhere between fear and relief: we had made it. But I wasn’t sure what “it” entailed.
How will this ever feel like home? I wondered as Mr. Magpie navigated his way up 8th Avenue. Even from inside the familiar pod of our car, fumbling to calm the familiar cries of my travel-wearied eight-month-old baby, New York appeared inhospitable: all sidewalk and bluster, movement and know-how. And yet just beyond my intimidation, I felt a shiver of excitement.
Have you ever seen New York City at night?
She’s the height of glamor and promise. The garishness and no-nonsense of daytime recede and the city runs electric with sophistication and possibility. She is slick and resplendent and — there is no other way to say it — impossibly cool in a distinctively American way.
I felt that then and I feel that now, three years into living here, and six months into living through a pandemic amongst its shadows and concrete. She still moves at night.
A reader once wrote that it takes ten years to officially become a New Yorker. That’s probably true. Do tenured Manhattanites still feel awestruck by the shape of the city under stars? Does she still provoke and intimidate and overwhelm even a decade into living here? Because I still stare blinkingly at the towering cityscape while rounding The Pond on the Southeast corner of Central Park. There is a building being erected down there, on 57th Street, that is so horrifyingly tall and jarringly blue that its sight transports me into a fantasy world and I feel as though it is simply not possible that I live here, that I call this cluster of ambition and dream a home. And sometimes — even on the well-worn paths I take to walk my dog and ferry my children to Central Park, even when I know which corners to avoid and which lights will be red based on the speed of my footfall — I feel myself float outside my body and I stare back at the 36-year-old mother-of-two walking quickly with her stroller and air of unimpressed purpose and I think, “What must it be like to live in New York?”
I used to ask this to myself when I visited my sister here in my 20s and could not wrap my head around the narrow four-story ascent her walk-up commanded of her multiple times a day, or the couple hundred square feet in which she lived. “Where do you keep your pots and pans?” I asked, bewildered, eyeing the Bunson-burner-like cooktop on the counter. “You mean pot and pan,” she returned, gesturing to the tiny stack on top of her narrow refrigerator. “There aren’t many plurals when you’re living in New York.” And I felt — in her unperturbed acceptance of this condition of city living — rube-like and unbecoming.
Yes, what must it be like to live here? I would wonder when we would walk through Central Park with the leaves just-turning and the light just-hitting and I could barely suppress my swooning interjections: “I can’t believe this is real and that you live on this movie set of a scene.” And then again when she would insist we take the Subway against my cringing protestations, and would remain entirely unphased by its grit and stink and occasional unseemliness. And when she would tuck us into a tiny ramen spot, dodging rainfall, and we would wait for an unbearable hour for a table, elbow-jockeying for space among unperturbable New Yorkers, and then slurp up the most outrageously delicious and satisfying broth I’d ever tasted in my life. And when I would spy on mothers my age corralling their toddlers down the sidewalks, or depositing their school-age children in the narrow apertures of intimidating stone buildings on bustling streets, or toting yoga mats under their arms as they scurried off to exercise, blase and busy. And when I would watch the city fly by through the window of a taxi cab, and feel the rush of her air in my hair and find myself stirred by her flashiness and elegance all at once.
“We live in New York City?!” Mr. Magpie and I will occasionally ask one another, a propos of nothing, mystified by how we got here and how we live here. We aren’t really New York types, I don’t think. I am too sensitive and he is too decorous. We are better suited to a suburban kind of lifestyle: quiet and manicured, far from the maddening crowd.
But we do live here. And I still haven’t worked out what it is like, three years in. Even though living through the pandemic has thrown a wrench into that reckoning — leaving me, strangely, missing the city in which I apparently reside — I still find myself awestruck by her in all the same ways I was when I first emerged from the Midtown Queens Tunnel three Septembers ago:
Still a shock,
Still glittering at night.
+I’d forgotten about this little piece I wrote about New York by night — a different take on its majesty. That’s the funny thing about New York: she is full of contradictions. I know the exact sensation I was writing into submission in this post, while walking Tilly down by Columbus Circle. That corner of the city feels comfortable to me because it was the first place I ever lived here. But she still feels like a shock.
+If you live in a city, you might appreciate this post on great gear for small apartments.
+I am so in love with these scallop-trim napkins. I have to order them.
+If you are looking to make a handbag investment and want to know what’s cool in these parts, two words: Bottega Veneta. I’m drooling over this, which is so downtown Manhattan I wouldn’t even recognize myself wearing it. Also comes in an even larger, flashier size.
+The pick-up line uniform for moms at mini’s downtown school: Birkenstocks and a designer crossbody. I stick out like a sore thumb because I wear sundresses most days, but I am unabashedly conforming by buying a pair of these clog boots, de rigueur amongst the moms there, as the cool weather settles. They are practical and chic!
+I’m actually dead over this shearling coat. It is OUTRAGEOUSLY chic. It’s pricey at $500 but it seriously looks like it could be Burberry or something well north of $2K. I will be eyeing this carefully for a discount.
+OK, THIS DRESS?! What! Like a Givenchy or something. Where can I wear this?! Oh my gosh, fall fashion is really making me excited.
+My bedroom is in need of a little refresh. Eyeing one of these dramatic pique monogram applique bolsters.
+Love these Manolo Blahnik-inspired mules ($45!)
+Currently on my shopping list.
+Super-versatile top — on-trend but also conservative somehow. Love.
+I rarely do black when dressing up but DAMN the tailoring of this dress!!!
+In case you were wondering, Westman Atelier’s Foundation Stick is unbelievable.