On Kindness in a Big City

kindness

There are days when seemingly everyone you encounter is rude. And not rude in a subtle, didn’t-keep-the-door -open-for-those-behind-him kind of way. They’re angry and downright hostile, and it can be difficult to shake off those encounters. This is what city people are like, you start to think. They’re selfish; they’re mean; they’ve lost their humanity.

But then, just as you’ve lost hope, someone does something extraordinarily kind, and you realize it’s not about the city–it’s about how people behave in general. They run the gamut from saintly to evil and here in NYC, you have to deal with all of it. Every single version of a human is on perpetual display; there’s no escape. We can’t seal ourselves off in cars or in large-lot suburban homes. We’re crushed together–often literally–as we make our way through the day.

Some visitors might get annoyed that our faces aren’t always open and smiling, but that’s not how city residents show kindness. In fact, smiling at the thousands of people you pass on the street on a daily basis might make you seem deranged. Being aware of how much space you take up, not bothering people if they look like they want to be left alone–that’s what being nice is in NYC. Rules that make sense elsewhere don’t really make sense here. And no, the bar isn’t lower. The spirit of humanity is still very much on display.

If I slip on a city sidewalk, I often have too many people offer to help me up. When my husband and I have picked up furniture we bought through Craigslist, bystanders have helped us secure the pieces to a car, and different bystanders have helped us carry them up to our fifth-floor walkup, all without being asked. I’ve observed fellow New Yorkers help those in distress, help those who are injured or lost. And just yesterday, I witnessed something that might seem inconsequential to non-city dwellers: three separate subway riders gently touched the arms of their fellow commuters to prevent them from sitting in a puddle of water. Initiated physical contact is almost verboten here, so this tiny bit of interaction seemed almost poignant. The rescued commuters didn’t mind being touched; they were grateful to be saved from the indignity of a wet behind. It’s a delicate rhythm, and we try and learn it and live it as best we can.

None of this is to say that every NYC resident is kind. They’re everything and everyone. They’re humanity at its worst and at its best. There are too many New Yorkers, and we’re all too different, for it to be any other way.

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Why It’s Easier to Walk in NYC

walking

There are days when my husband and I may walk 10 or more miles across the city before we realize how much distance we’ve covered.  If it’s a nice weekend day, walking is the activity, and we might cross all of northern Brooklyn, make our way to Manhattan, and then keep walking until it’s time to go home or meet up with friends. We try to choose routes we’ve never taken and streets we’ve never traversed. After 12 years as NYC residents, we find there’s still so much to see. (Like a historic Jewish cemetery on West 21st we first noticed a few months ago.) We’re not superhuman–we get tired eventually, but it’s usually after we’ve already logged more than 25,000 steps.

Last month, while on vacation in South Carolina, I thought about how much easier it is to walk in the city than elsewhere. My husband and I went for a stroll in our beachside neighborhood. After about 30 minutes, my energy began to wane. The houses were beautiful, but they were similar and, at least per New York City standards, spaced far apart.

It’s about stimuli, I soon realized. In the city, especially in NYC, there is so much to look at. And it’s all different. The stimuli–the variation–of a city streetscape can infuse us with energy. This effect was clearly evident when I walked the 25-block length of a street festival in my neighborhood, then turned down a parallel avenue and walked back home along a residential block. After the visual bombardment of the festival, the walk along the rows of brownstones, especially since it was one I’d made many times, felt like a slog.

And while a city walk may not be as ideal as a nature stroll for those wishing to focus or meditate, it’s a nearly unbeatable activity for those hoping to be inspired–writers, especially.

In an experience that echoes my own, a waitress interviewed by The New York Times in 2009 speaks about how she easily walks 20 miles a day in the city. “It’s different to walk here than it is to walk in the country,” she said. After only 5 miles of walking along a road in rural Pennsylvania, she had to call a cab to pick her up. She was exhausted and couldn’t go on. “There was nothing, just fields.”

 

Favorite Things Lately, Volume 10 (The All-Food Edition)

Ice & Vice: If I were to speak honestly, I’d posit that I’m an ice cream authority. (Humility is overrated.) By authority, I really mean: I’ve eaten a lot of ice cream, and therefore, I feel qualified to speak on the subject. This Lower East Side/Chinatown parlor is creating some of the city’s most inventive flavors. And not just inventive, these flavor couplings actually work; they’re not merely a study in senseless experimentation. To me, though, it’s texture that makes the cone. Many of the city’s buzziest spots are inconsistent–smooth one day, icy the next. Not the case here. Just fluid, milky perfection. While eating the two flavors below, Milk Money (toasted milk, sea salt, chocolate ganache) and Opium Den (white sesame, toasted poppy seed, lemon bread crouton), I kept repeating, out loud, “This is so good.”

iceandvice

Emmy Squared: While the original Clinton Hill spot, Emily, slings thin-crust, New York-style pies, this Williamsburg sister restaurant focuses on Detroit-style pizza. The pies rise as they’re are baked in square trays, with the crust taking on an other-worldly crispiness. While some folks discard the crust of their NYC slice, I can envision the inverse happening here, that is, someone eating JUST the crust–it’s the star of the show. Start with the “okonomi” fries–waffle fries topped with bonito (dried, shaved tuna) flakes. And, if you’re in a burger mood, the casual bar downstairs serves an indulgent two-patty, pretzel bun version.

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Dizengoff: The Chelsea outpost of this popular Philly hummus spot, from acclaimed Zahav masterminds Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook, is a shining example of how attention to detail elevates even the humblest of foods. The hummus here is smooth, creamy and destination-worth, but the pita, baked fresh, deserves its own write-up. It’s textured, not-too-dough-y, a bit flour-y, all-in-all: perfect. The frozen “lemonana,” their frozen mint-lemonade, is my favorite non-alcoholic drink of the season.

dizengoff

Sons of Thunder: Poké is having a huge moment in the city, and not without reason. The Hawaiian raw fish salad dish is fresh, tasty and healthy. One of my favorite poké bowls is at this Midtown East outpost. My salmon poké is always clean-tasting and never overly fatty. The accompaniments, like seaweed salad, cucumbers, and radishes, up the health quotient.

sonsofthunder

Via Carota: It’s not often that an Italian restaurant really surprises you. This spot from acclaimed chefs Jody Williams and Rita Sodi, of favorites Buvette and I Sodi, respectively, was an unexpected dining experience, in a really lovely way. The plates are thoughtful and varied. Everything on the menu feels as though it was pored over–the ingredients, the pairings, the preparation. One of my favorite dishes, a snap pea, mascarpone, lettuce and prosciutto salad, felt like the culinary embodiment of summertime.

viacarota

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