A year ago, I received an offer that I couldn’t turn down: Travel to the city of film par excellence to cover its Fashion Week edition from the Lincoln Center to Chelsea, where I was lucky enough to hug the Anna Wintour, living my HBO adventure, in an apartment in Upper East Side with its park, and that’s when I learnt that New York is an entire network of crossroads.
After undergoing an excessive series of gymkhana-like tests, security and passport checks, queues, border control, computers and cables waiting for the call from officials to turn them on at any moment and written and spoken questionnaires, the moment I saw the light of the Big Apple on the other site of the border marked by the airport door can only be described as pure magic.
Nothing left to do but get in the car, one of those enormous ones which you could lie across without your head or feet touching either of the side doors, just a jump and you feel like you can take on the heights of the world on the highest dashboard that you’ve ever seen.
Crossing the Apple, you get a good idea of the city with capital letters into which you’re delving deeper, from the poorest and most terrifying suburbs in the heart of Manhattan.
After dropping off my suitcase in the spacious apartment boasting a spotless wide glass front, I had all the world’s skyscrapers huddled together beneath my troubled gaze, without any further delay, and despite the eight-hour flight and three-hour airport ordeal, I go downstairs, map in hand, to wander the city that, thanks to a thousand films, adverts and TV series, we all dream about exploring.
Then I understood, with the music of a sad oboe playing jazz in one ear, that in this city, which seems more like a set than a real place where people live, it’s the people living here who represent the sights.
Each stroll in New York pays tribute to the thong-clad prostitutes with hard plastic heels, draped from head to toe in the colours of the American flag, glowing under the lights of Times Square; the fat and giggling baker with cheeks full of flour that can be seen in the backroom of the Magnolia Bakery; the acrobatic rappers that fly over passers-by for a few dollars, captivating the audience with their magical circus-style rhythm and their chiselled bodies in the heart of Wall Street; the tired police officer leaning on the railing of the Brooklyn Bridge perfectly dressed for any film scene; the elegant, proud woman with more red than Apfel walking by with her best finery and her competition poodles in Park Avenue; the well-groomed and well-dressed hipster/hippie couple playing Tibetan instruments in the controversial Dumbo; elderly men hunched over their chess sets at tables in Washington Square; the lift attendant who would welcome you dancing and singing as he opened the doors to the sky from the Rockefeller Center; the Asian family that welcomes you with open arms but tells you off when you don’t finish your meal in the Village; or discovering that there are two kinds of subways in New York but you never know which is which: the normal one serving all stops and the express subway which snubs certain stops without warning. And it’s the people who describe the journeys, like my friend Jerome, the ex-convict with gold teeth and a tattooed face who decided, after seeing me looking lost trying to go back to the last stop before Harlem, that, instead of mugging me, he’d be my bodyguard on the line back to the National History Museum.
It’s anecdotes that mark a trip. People mark journeys and represent places.
I’ve learnt to travel from people who describe the place in which they live with such soul. Passers-by lost between the frantic rhythm of a city that never sleeps and that narrates its daily stories in place names.
Main Picture: Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com