Percy Jackson lived in New York, fought in the Battle of Manhattan to defend it, so I thought visiting Manhattan would stir something in me. Despite never considering myself a city girl, I thought I would love New York if just for how many of my favorite fictional characters lived there. Instead, my time there… can I even call it interesting? It was certainly eventful, let me put it that way. I now know which airline to avoid at all costs. I know never to walk into crowds or wear boots.
Most important, I know that New York doesn’t wait for you to adjust to it.
I never loved California. I didn’t consider it as the greatest state in the world. Not when I lived in Los Angeles for university, or even now when I live in the middle of almost nowhere. I couldn’t see the appeal that everyone else did. Boy oh boy, do I see it now. Let me explain. Getting to New York was a nightmare, but that story might need a whole other article that I will probably not write. When we did arrive, driving into Manhattan by Uber, my mom and I shared one thought and one thought only: did we accidentally travel to Beirut?
When I tell you that these two cities look exactly the same in so many places? Unreal. New York should feel different, right? New York meant special. One of a kind. Surely this first impression couldn’t mean much when you actually explore the city.
To its credit, I will admit that a lot of differences exist between the two places.
For one thing, Beirut certainly doesn’t carry anything in its depths like Central Park. Central Park probably makes my top three favorite places in the entire city. It felt alive, and in autumn it looked downright beautiful. Cyclists travelled through one street between the wide-open fields and marathon runners ran down the other. People sat on picnic blankets, vendors offered soft pretzels, ice cream in the freezing cold and coffee that you could smell from blocks away.
I don’t even think of myself as a people person (no offense), but wow did the place feel like a Georges Seurat painting in a busy Paris. You felt excited just walking through, seeing people go about their lives. Like, “Hey! Look at us New Yorkers just lounging in Central Park on a Sunday! Effortlessly chic, huh?” It felt like a whole other planet, like something you only see on the TY show FRIENDS.
The hidden nooks of New York also felt otherworldly. Where I live in California, everything comes across as wide and out there. You couldn’t find hidden corners or pockets because everything existed in these open spaces. In New York everything feels kind of crowded, so you could easily imagine plenty of secret staircases that led to these obscure coffee houses. Bookshops squeezed so tightly in between convenience stores that you almost missed them if you didn’t know exactly where to look. Pastry shops hidden in the depths of parks that unless you knew the name of the place to look up on Google Maps, you carried no hope of finding them. It almost felt like an initiation of sorts.
Once you found enough of these secret spots, it meant you finally got the hang of the city.
Maybe it came down to me living in Beirut for so long. Maybe I just got good at slipping back into that busy city mindset, so I didn’t feel overwhelmed at the crowded streets or tiny shops. I certainly didn’t love it because I just couldn’t love a city. Everywhere I looked, buildings rose in the distance when I already felt used to seeing mountains. Too much happening, too many people, too much noise. That said, New York did feel a bit like returning home in a sense.
I already knew what a city like this felt like. Try Beirut for a few days and tell me they don’t feel the same. I also felt a certain excitement walking the streets that Percy Jackson himself walked. Call me a dork, I don’t care, I needed something to cling to. I would definitely visit New York again, the Metropolitan Museum made it onto my list of favorite places, I could visit for a month and just go there every day without getting bored. If nothing else, New York certainly gave me an appreciation the palm trees of California that I never felt before.