LOVE OF THE IRISH
I spent a lovely, lonely winter in New York and it inspired this piece for Narratively.com
When I arrived to spend the winter in New York, people naturally asked me why I was there. I told them I had no compelling reason not to be. I’d gotten lucky—a friend’s sister had a fifth-floor walk up in Little Italy she needed to sublet for a few months. An itinerant writer of my acquaintance had spent enough savagely bleak winters on the West Coast of Ireland to want a cosier bolt hole in Dublin–my place. I had a perfectly portable occupation, writing a screenplay, which I figured I might as well do in New York as anywhere else.
One of the first things I noticed is that a defining characteristic of the true New Yorker is enthusiastic complaining about how the city has changed for the worse since its former days of glory. My idealised New York is that of the Lower East Side in the mid Seventies–early punk, bohemia, drugs and danger. I knew that things had changed a lot since then, but was still surprised–is it really necessary to have such widespread access to cupcakes? There isn’t a cupcake shop on the Bowery yet, but it’s surely only a matter of time.
Most mornings I would write in the Rose Reading Room in the New York Public Library, nodding a greeting to the impressively-coiffed woman manning the information desk as I passed.
In the afternoons I wandered, always with a camera. It feels wrong to go out without one in New York–there’s so much life on every street, to miss any of it would be a crime.
Being in New York often feels like being in a movie–almost as if it’s some kind of illusion. When friends at home saw my picture of Leonardo DiCaprio on Broadway they were very curious as to what trickery I’d used to achieve the effect–how had I transformed the poster to make it loom over the building like that? The answer was, I hadn’t–I’d just lifted my camera and pressed the button. It was all right there in front of me, the brownstone and the twelve–story-high photorealistic mural. Only in New York.
Everyone in New York has an attitude–sometimes it seemed like even the dogs in the street expected me to account for myself.
After the bustle of the day has ebbed, New York is just the place for solitary late-night walks through deserted streets. I saw hellish liquor stores in the West Village…
…and wandered past a private moment between a girl and her hairdresser on Hudson.
Then I sauntered up to Hell’s Kitchen, where the sign in a deserted car wash reads like a mantra for Zen living.
Despite the amount of time I spent on my own, I didn’t want for company. I hung out with a German playboy turning his life around, and an Irishman who’d spent time as the world’s only part-time personal astrophysicist.
I dated an avant-garde music composer I met at a recital in a black box studio in Chelsea, where the deliberate atonality of the music was occasionally relieved by somebody in the band standing up and hurling an armful of cymbals at the back wall. I had my first ever Jewish Christmas (a movie on Third Avenue, soft-shell crab in Chinatown) and I spent New Year’s Eve at a Malaysian-Lithuanian house party in Harlem. I photographed pretty much everyone I met.
Even though the city reached out to me, I often felt alone. It was a bittersweet, oddly welcoming feeling. It felt right. After a while it dawned on me, that is one of the reasons I was there. New York is an excellent place to be lonely.