New York, New York – The Business of Life

The Empire State of Mind

I’ve been harvesting this thought for a some time now, pondering over why this city is so endearing to most people…to me, given that it has never technically been my home.  So I did some quote-searching online and found a couple that succinctly expressed it, but one in particular stood out:New York

There is something in the New York air that makes sleep useless – Simone De Beauvoir

Simple. That’s why it really is the city that never sleeps, why most people are either succeeding or striving, all types of people – artists, musicians, models, investment bankers – and people like me who were just break-ing for a bit in the city, yet woke up no later at 8:00am everyday just because it didn’t make sense to waste time sleeping in New York (Of course now that I am back at work and have to wake up at unearthly hours everyday, I’m having a tough time relating to my own holiday behavior)

But, even if you’re just visiting, the restlessness of the city creeps up on you. If you are  not actively trying to make something of yourself, you suddenly want to, just so you can justify your position on those crowded streets. If you’re going to push and shove, it must be for a cause!

What is the romance of New York? It’s not an exotic place; it is certainly not a relaxing place. But it is a lot of other things rolled into one. As Meyer Berger said, every one reads his own meaning into New York, and so I have mine.

Let me warn you, if you’re looking for a light read, this might get slightly philosophical. I may be over intellectualizing this but I feel the need to  articulate to myself, my own reasons for selecting this place. I need that connection between sense and sensibility for this one.

The whole objective of my break was to consolidate my 25 years in some way, make sense of events, experiences, just sit still with them for a bit. But more than that, to reinforce and never forget that there is so so so much more to do, to achieve, places to visit, people to meet, to succeed.

And if you really want to experience aspiration anywhere, it is this City. On the faces of people on the road, walking as if there is no tomorrow, in the lights that seem like if they shut down for few minutes, the universe might as well shut itself down, the yellow cabs that almost add to the illumination at night, the Statue that stands tall and upright, Times Square that is a little microcosm of the city really.

New York, at all points seems as if it is in business everyday, the business of life. Representing truly, what one wise man once said: The business of life is to be, to do, to be without, and to depart. You can’t really speak of the City without using a lot of verbs, to be, to do, to be without and to depart seems just right for the place.


Addressing the being and doing part, the whole world is in the city…literally (On day one, I bumped into three people I hadn’t met in years randomly). The mini-countries in Chinatown, Little Italy, little India-s spurting here and there; the immigrants, it seems, moved there and promptly plopped their countries alongside as well, and the city said “the more, the merrier” and adopted them as natural extensions of itself.

The theatre, art, glamour, commerce, fashion, the Hollywood and even the Bollywood, whatever you want to do or be, you have it. Just know how to get there, the map is important in the city.

Which bring me to the walking, one of the most delightful aspects of my trip. It isn’t called the Walking City for nothing. For one, try hailing a cab in NY. I walked on one hand, out of sheer pleasure and joy of being a traveler, and on the other hand because of my sheer disability to acquire a cab for myself.  There is too much competition, a line of people competing with you to catch one, and apparently the city disqualifies me for this game altogether because even if I manage to get one, I can’t keep one…somehow I never go to a place the cab driver would like to take me to, but the next person after me is always a perfect match. And let’s hope this is limited to cabs in NY only.

So back to the walking, this is when I overdid it and injured my Plantar Fascia (somewhere in the feet, my latest biological discovery). Apart from the obvious delights of the walking tours, you come across bakeries that promise “Happiness Unlimited” in the chocolate muffins. What a lovely idea I thought, why wouldn’t one go in to buy some happiness in the form of a chocolate muffin!

Man Shopping for Wife, NY

Man shopping for wife, NY

They don’t say this city is all business for nothing. Now look at this picture alongside, in which the man is “shopping” for a wife.  This is what his front and back read, “ Hi Friends, looking for a wealthy lady to be my wife. My name is Robert. Single, Never Married, No children. Call me…”

It transforms you a little too. In one of my first cab rides (the ONLY one) the Italian cab driver, when asked to take me to Chinatown, insisted that he must take me home instead, and I, in fact had a conversation about whose home he should take me, mine or his, till I reached my destination. This is what the city does to you. I do not typically chat with cab drivers, I don’t even receive telephone calls from numbers that don’t seem familiar. But here I was sitting in a cab, flirting with the cabbie, who feigned heartbreak as he dropped me off (thankfully) at Chinatown.

The city also brought my Sociology classes back to me. You are the place that you are in, you are the society, you are the environment.  In New York then, you are a lot of things at once. One time, at Madison Square Garden, I decided to stop and people watch. If I stayed there long enough, I’m pretty sure I would have caught the frequencies of the thoughts of all those diverse people frantically going somewhere: happy, sad, distressed, frustrated, exhilarated, success, failure.

It reminds you of all your life’s experiences at once. Somehow, I think the physical representation of grids; the right angled cross of avenues and numbered streets did this for me. I think the cross represents the cross between expectation and disappointment, excitement and gloom, hope and despair all rolled into one.  You take 5th Ave and 75 street and maybe buy some happiness at the big Apple store, you walk 42nd, and you’re bound to stumble upon excitement at Times Square, walk through Central Park, and you may experience contentment, take the financial district and you experience the despair a little, or stop earlier at WTC and some more gloom.  There are days when the tall buildings may seem like they’re all falling on you at once and other days when you feel like you are a part of them stretching unto the sky, into the universe gleefully, touching the stars and all that.

There is something so tangible about the fact that such is life, c’est la vie, be it, live it. The disappointments, the frustrations, the insecurities, all are a part of it, and sometimes do come up on one street and that is fate. But there are times, when all you need to do is walk away, the next street is right there, holding in itself a completely different set of options and experiences, always running parallel tempting you to choose it as an option. You can decide what to do, to be, to live without and to depart from. Life is always an option that way, I thought.  Happiness is the consequence of personal effort and that effort is to get off that street and take the next one. Because it is right there, in front of you, just a block to your right or left, depending upon what you’re looking for.

Do check this video out, if you haven’t already, my post might make more sense:


Travel-ism or Tourism?

Apparently, there IS a difference

Each time I travel, I am faced by the same dilemma. Must I follow convention and go visit all the tourist-y places in the town first, or  follow my heart that is urging me to pick up a map, walk the street, try the food, meet the people and then perhaps if time allows, go see the tourist-y spots?

Walking in NYC, 2010

 I took some time to reflect on this travel quirk. Last year, I visited Hong Kong and Macau, had a great time. Then my sister and her husband did exactly the same trip two weeks later, and came back with pictures that looked entirely different from mine! Did we visit different places?

When I pondered more, it struck me that I have been to New York about a zillion times, but have never actually taken the trouble to go see the Statue of Liberty. I know great bars, eating joints, my favorite avenues, but no I can’t say I hate or love one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Thoughts accelerating now…I am living in Delhi and I haven’t seen the Red Fort. I was in Boston for three years and I didn’t take the trouble to go on the History Walk, or the Duck Tour (you can’t blame me for this though, this tour is on a “vehicle” in the shape of a duck that first drives you around the city, and then randomly enters the Charles river turning into a boat!).

This is enough to be identified as a pattern. Am I lazy? I don’t think so; I can spring out of bed for  Six Flags at 6:00am.  If the best crepes in town are 2 hours away, I’ll put an alarm to trek there too, just to catch the freshest ones. But an alarm for a packed day of city landmarks…

I’m not saying I never sight see, I do. I have been to Agra for the Taj Mahal and everything. But I do tend towards being a slightly eccentric tourist, for which I recently found a term.  Apparently, I fall under the category of what they call travelers. I spent some time researching this and found this definition that best explains this distinction:

The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.” G.K. Chesterton

It seems a tourist is a visitor then, a traveler more of a wanderer. When I started this trip, my first alone-trip, the objective was just that, to wander. Without a time schedule to be anywhere (unless it’s a movie), arrive somewhere accidentally and marvel at the places on the way. So I did exactly that…through the streets of New York, the little Italy in Boston, woods of Maine, countryside in Texas and so on. Hungrily walking from one place to the next, only taking public transport when necessary. And I started to make mental notes on 1) handy tips, how you can be a good traveler and 2) why travel-ism maybe picking up as distinct from tourism. The How part first:

1)      Whenever possible, walk. This saves cost and is the best way to feel the pulse of the city, the smells, people, and culture…

2)      Smile at people (try not to be creepy)– There is so much you can learn about the culture of the city if the smile returned (or not returned) is wide and bright (like in California) or suspicious (Hong Kong) or brief (New York).

3)      Food! This is a big one for me; this is one research I do do. From Chandni Chowk in Delhi to French food in California, to the eclectic mix in NYC, I can’t call a vacation a vacation if I haven’t devoured the food

4)      Gain weight: Don’t bother dieting on a holiday! And this is coming from an obsessive weight freak, but I have successfully convinced myself that holiday weight is fashionable, yes it is.

5)      Taste local wine: The best wine I have had was in the oldest restaurant

Casal Gracias, Macau 2009

in Macau. I have never found it after much search anywhere in India, America or even Hong Kong! (picture alongside for reference, if anyone can find me that wine for purchase, there will be a cash prize!).

6)      Marvel – always best to set aside time to just marvel. You don’t have to miss the slow sunset over Hudson, just because you have to be at Times Square to see the night-lights. In my experience, the refreshing moments that serve the purpose of the vacation come from what you see when you happen to see it, rather than plan to.

7)      Wear flat shoes and bring a camera: these are two things I share with the tourist-y clan. Always bring a camera; even if it’s a small walk, it can be memorable. And wear flats; I have been doing this even as NYC women tower over me in their mind blowing heels (I’ve come to believe, their legs must have a nutrition inlet of their own)

8)   Laugh: if you are a traveler, you will get lost. Also since you haven’t taken the trouble to research the place, you will make a lot of other cultural or social boo-boos. But that’s the fun of it, so laugh

On why travel is picking up as distinct from tourism. I think travel in general relates back to the human need to move. Historically, our predecessors first traveled out of necessity, then for religion, migration, emigration, commerce, enlightenment and finally for pleasure. But pleasure as a reason for the need to move has been around for too long to accept it for what it is, so we spend some time intellectualizing it.

We have heard the word rejuvenate so often that it has lost its impact. But it is something to ponder. Traveling is the only time we sit still for a bit. In real life, we are always on the go. The “go” often makes us do things uncharacteristic of us; at work, we may become competitive even if we are not, in personal life there may be other pressures we may have to succumb to.


Central Park Zoo, 2010

Travel, from time to time, gives us the space and time to just be, in a manner that tourism doesn’t. Joseph Campbell very succinctly said that a sacred place is an absolute necessity for everyone today. “You must have a room, or hour, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”


I think Travel-ism has picked up because it allows us to find that sacred place, where instead of getting out of the hustle bustle of real life and getting into the hustle bustle of being a tourist, it allows people to be still for sometime and come back really refreshed and ready to bustle again. So I guess, a little bit of a wandering once in a while is good. I’m reminded of the old adage, not all those who wander are lost.


A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” Lao Tzu

Visit Top Quotes, This and That for my other favorite quotes on travel. Do add in your own too!

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