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60 Views of New York City

New York is a city to be loved from afar.

Sure enough, on your first day it will feel magical. You will arrive at JFK and get on a train into Manhattan. Its roaring and rattling will impress you, as will the time it takes you to get into town. You didn’t imagine the city to be that large because you knew it was so densely populated, but in fact it is both.

You will walk down Broadway and spot the first yellow cabs. Together with the skyline they will make you feel like stumbling into a movie set. A few days later, you will turn around a corner in the Village and see Kate Winslet kissing an actor you don’t recognize, over and over again, until the director is satisfied.

You will meet the craziest, kindest, most generous people. They will let you stay on the couch, share a meal with you, even show you the view from the rooftop.

But that doesn’t change the fact that in the end, you’re on your own.

You will find yourself in Central Park, past midnight, having your dinner: a bag of baby carrots, a jar of tomato sauce and some bagels. Somehow you will manage to eat all of that with your bare hands, even though they are freezing. The only living beings within sight will be raccoons, and for a moment you will be afraid you might have to defend your humble meal against them.

Food will be a real issue, and if you won’t go hungry, you will spend a lot of time at the grocery store, comparing price tags, looking for the items that will blow your budget the least. Ironically, you will make a lot of visits to Trader Joe’s, because in Manhattan, that’s the cheapest option.

You will bump into a homeless man just as you open the door to Grand Central. He is wearing flip-flops because somebody stole his shoes. You know that even in the world capital of millionaires, there are people who have so much less than you. So you will give him a dollar, or maybe it was two.

He will look at you, with desperation in his eyes, frosty air encroaching on his bare feet, and ask you for a twenty. You will be shocked, at first this will seem like pure ungratefulness to you. Twenty dollars is more than you can spend on an entire day. But of course it’s not his fault. His circumstances won’t give him any other choice.

This is the first time that you will feel this city’s outright contempt for individual lives.

You will walk and walk and walk, until your body tells you it can’t take another step and your shoulders make you want to scream in pain. You will have to carry your backpack with you every time you change hostels, because storing it even for a few hours costs nearly as much as one night’s stay. And you will have to move a lot, because the price of accommodation seems to be going up with every passing day.

You will hear somebody say: »It’s actually not that hard to find an apartment in Manhattan. It’s just hard if you’re looking for an affordable one.«

You will be eagerly awaiting the Saint Patrick’s Day parade, expecting to find people raving and getting drunk in the streets. But as you will find out, it is about as exciting and civil as watching a school play.

Eventually, it will dawn on you. This place is only dressed up to look like fun, when in reality it eats away at everyone’s soul, making promises left and right while it hardly ever delivers.

Days go by. They turn into weeks, then months. You have finally made your way to the West Coast. You get on a plane, it takes you to another continent.

During all this time, you have never really left the city. You can’t turn your eyes away, so you keep watching on screens big and small. You notice the skyline that mesmerized you so many times, acting as a backdrop for tragedy and comedy. You see people visiting the sites you have visited, and their smiles wipe away any recollection of your misery.

You start reviewing your own footage. You discover small details that previously slipped your attention. So many pictures you didn’t appreciate when you took them, but now you begin to like more and more of them. There is so much beauty that it overwhelms you.

You start feeling homesick for a place that never made you feel like you belonged. And then, thousands of miles away, with no prospect of returning anytime soon, you realize that you can’t wait to get back.

Florian Lehmuth
1 November 2016

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