“A true community is not just about being geographically close to someone or part of the same social web network. It’s about feeling connected and responsible for what happens. Humanity is our ultimate community, and everyone plays a crucial role”. – Yehuda Berg
I got off at 110th and Amsterdam to the of sea of humanity and life that defines New York. As I walked down Amsterdam through the neighborhood of Morningside Heights in the Upper West Side, I was flooded with curiosity at what I’d find. It only took a few blocks for a potpourri of senses to settle in. Flower stalls, coffee shops, a Hungarian bakery, and any ethnic eatery under the sun caught my attention. The smell of greasy hotdogs, freshly baked bread and chicken curry infiltrated my nose while the sound of car horns, trucks braking and the distant hum of Mexican music rang in my ears. And I had only walked a block.
At 111th, I see a homeless couple sleeping on a plastic mattress on the dirty sidewalk, he shirtless with his arm stretching across his bare chest and resting upon her smooth sweaty shoulder. Shoes off, dirty sheets, and all their life’s possessions in a couple of see-through plastic bags. A few blocks later comes the grand entrance to the elite grounds of Columbia University where students of every color are abound, wearing ear buds, texting on cellphones and toting backpacks in route to class. Millennials eating lunch inside the fenced off green grass at the university or atop the grand stone stairway to their future success. Meanwhile a bum wearing rags and pushing a shopping cart collects trash from a full garbage can about a block away.
As I continue on, I hear a melodic harmony of sounds floating out an open window of a piano hall. I stop for a moment and close my eyes to listen but am interrupted by the piercing sirens screaming towards the Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital up at 113th. I then realize that within these four short blocks is a slice of New York and I am dumbstruck of how every spectrum of humanity seems to live within this small radius of space.
Feeling overwhelmed, I seek solace in the lovely children’s sculpture garden adjacent to the mighty gothic Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine which broke ground in 1892 and survived two World Wars, a fire, and major renovations over the past one hundred and twenty-five years. The church itself being a testament of New York’s rich history, humanity and resilience. For a few brief minutes I can escape the chaotic rhythm of the city and the overstimulation of my mind. I breathe in the scent of manicured scrubs which always brings me back to my time in Paris. Oh what a city New York is!
What other city on earth has The Hungarian Pastry Shop, Los Vecinos Meat and Super Mercado, Insomnia Cookies delivered hot until 3 am, the Dynasty Dry Cleaners, La National Money Order, The Ellington, La Toulousaine, and the Harmony Brows and Waxing Salon, all within a couple of blocks.
Chinese noodles, Tempura, Sushi, Taquerias, Chicken Tikka, Pizza, hot dogs, burgers and subs. Barber Shops with their old-fashioned, red, white and blue Barber polls swirling in the afternoon light. Beauty parlors with hot rollers and hood dryers lined in rows of three. Graffiti, grime and dirt. Garbage, flowers, and trees. Sidewalks, buildings and street lamps. People, cars, buses, and bicycles. Sirens and noise. Quarter Laundromats. Men playing checkers. Pigeons, Children. Strollers, walkers and canes.
As I neared the end of my walk, exhilarated by such an immense overstimulation of the senses I saw a pair of men dressed in white t-shirts and trousers sitting alongside the park playing dominos and singing to Cuban music. For a split second, I feel as if I’m almost back in Havana until I notice another group of men dressed in sweatpants a few feet away inside the park doing Tai chi, and a pair of young women sitting outside a cafe speaking french and sipping a cafe au lait.
That is the beauty of New York. I could be anywhere – Havana, Hong Kong or France. Yet a slice of humanity and its glorious diversity can all be found within a couple blocks in New York City. That is why I love New York so much. There is no place like it on earth.