Thursday, August 22, 2013
A New York Story
Most people who live in New York are not actually from New York. Or so I've heard. Maybe that's why it reminded me so much of Toronto on my recent trip there. I love a big city with many different ethnicities represented -- it makes me miss my Carlton streetcar rides through little Vietnam and little India in Toronto. The sounds of four or five languages spoken at once on a streetcar can be like hearing a song for the first time. An eclectic mix of words and laughs and intonations, it's almost like a track that you're not sure you like yet, but as you hear it over and over, it grows on you.
Aside from different ethnic groups, tourist attractions, theatre, art, music, fashion, etc. etc....a big city like Manhattan also boasts many amazing places to eat and drink -- everything from the acclaimed Le Bernardin to a lesser known but quite tasty Mexican food truck in Brooklyn. I was only able to sample a small taste of this massive food scene, but I had some pretty great experiences, more of which I will share on the blog soon! For now I want to tell you a little story about a tourist, a bar and a couple of Canadians.
A New York Story
It was my first journey to the Big Apple, and I had plans to see the sights, visit friends and family, and, let's get serious: eat my way through the city. Traveling solo can be very fun and freeing, and at times lonely, but for the most part I love it. One of the best bits about traveling alone is that you can decide at any moment if you want to do something new without having to consult anyone. The spontenaitey of it all really reminds me that I'm living in the moment when I'm on a trip.
One day after touring around the Lower East Side, I walked by a very cute little restaurant and bar in the East Village and thought, 'How cute!' My feet were tired, my throat was parched and I was on vacation, so I said to myself, 'Why not?' I walked through the patio by the white picket fence, the brightly coloured tables and the Provence-like window boxes filled with flowers, and entered the restaurant. I had a seat at the bar and was welcomed by a handsome bartender with model-worthy looks and rockstar edge who poured me a refreshing glass of Italian white wine.
As I sipped my well-deserved glass of vino, I engaged in one of my favourite pastimes: people watching. To my left were two elegant young ladies in summer outfits, telling stories and laughing over Negronis; to my right were two guy friends hanging out, drinking red wine and eating big, hearty bowls of spaghetti and meatballs. Just between myself and the pretty ladies was an attractive guy with a big personality. I was instantly entertained just listening to him talk. As I channelled my inner voyeur and soaked up the atmosphere in this restaurant and bar, it dawned on me that most of these people knew each other by name. I, a Canadian tourist in New York, had found myself in a local neighbourhood bar. I was loving it.
Mr. Personality's cute, quiet friend showed up and they proceeded to order the pasta special, preparing their stomachs with beer and shots of whisky while they caught up with each other. Eventually we struck up a conversation about music, certain embarrassing Canadian politicians, Italy, food, and everything else in between.
While we were chatting, a young guy came in to a chorus of hellos, almost as if his name was Norm, and he made his way to a back table with another guy to set up their rained-out chess lesson. As I looked around me, I thought, 'this is the good stuff.' People eating, drinking and connecting. Friends meeting up for bowls of pasta, girlfriends chatting over cocktails, games being played, people on dates, bartenders and chefs sharing jokes behind the bar -- this was way better than any planned outing or attraction I would visit in this famous city.
While chatting with my new Italian-American pal, I mentioned that I was from Ottawa. "Excuse me -- did you just say you're from Ottawa? I'm from Ottawa!" Suddenly the strawberry blond beauty was calling over to me. We played the 'do you know Bob from Canada' game and this time we actually did know Bob, except that his name was Adam. The pasta guys could not believe it. What a small world! Turns out the Jessica Chastain-esque New York model was actually a Canadian, and she was dating the dark and stormy bartender. A very handsome couple indeed.
As I left the bar after my second glass of wine and allowed my tourist-weary legs to carry me home to my East Village rental, I smiled, and thought of the people I had met and how they reminded me that, even in a big city like Manhattan, there really are places you can go where everyone knows your name.