Graffiti in brooklyn

2Summers in New York City

I took an Amtrak train from Baltimore to New York City.

Upon arrival, I climbed from the depths of Penn Station up into the forest of skyscrapers in midtown Manhattan. I walked to the taxi stand and told the first driver in line that I needed to go to Brooklyn.

My cab driver, a friendly young man named Mark, was a New York City original. Mark told me about his troubled childhood, how much he loves the bible, and how he “used to be gay” before discovering Jesus and starting a new life as a straight man.

I learned all of this, and more, within 90 seconds of getting into the cab.

“Can you hear me back there?” he called, peering in the rear-view mirror. “Move over a bit so I can see you.”

Mark spent the remaining 30 minutes of the drive imploring me to read the bible. My guess is 99% of his passengers shut him down rudely (which I was tempted to do), or simply ignore him (which I was also tempted to do), and he was excited beyond belief that I was even listening (I was being polite, and maybe a little curious).

I wasn’t sure how to respond to Mark. Luckily I could hardly get a word in, even if I wanted to.

“I was meant to meet you today Heather, I know it,” Mark said as I hefted my bags from the trunk. “Read your bible, okay? Just read your bible.”

I thought: New York is so much crazier than Joburg.

Graffiti wall in Bed-StuyGraffiti in Bedford-Stuyvesant, or Bed-Stuy, the Brooklyn neighborhood where I stayed.

Although I grew up only a few hours from New York City, I’ve regrettably spent very little time there. I hadn’t been there at all since starting this blog. So on my most recent trip to the States I made a point of scheduling a couple of days in the Big Apple. I spent an afternoon in Manhattan with my father and aunt soon after flying in from Joburg, then two days at an Airbnb in Brooklyn two weeks later before flying out.

Images of New York City

I dreamt of leaving New York with a beautiful, iconic set of photos to share in this post. But I feel strangely dissatisfied with the pictures I shot. Despite being a visual and sensory bonanza, New York is harder to photograph than I expected. Maybe I just need to spend more time there on my next trip. Or maybe I’ll never be able to visually capture this befuddling, bewitching city in the way I actually experience it.

Anyway, here are my favorite shots.

Brookfield Place in New York City, lower ManhattanDad, my aunt Jinx (who lives outside New York City in Westchester County), and I visited lower Manhattan on a freezing early April afternoon. It was my first time visiting the area since the September 11th attacks in 2001, when this whole section of Manhattan was basically destroyed. Everything feels eerily brand-new now. This is the view from a massive office and retail complex called Brookfield Place, which is across the street from the new World Trade Center.

One World Trade Center in New York City
Looking up at One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. It was cloudy that day so we decided not to go to the top, although now I wish we had.
 The Oculus New York CityInside the Oculus, the new public transport terminal next to One World Trade Center.

Exhibit in the Cloisters in New York CityFrom lower Manhattan, my aunt drove us up to the far northern tip of the island to visit the Cloisters. The Cloisters, which is part of the Met, is a fascinating museum dedicated to European Medieval art. The museum was funded by John D. Rockefeller and built using actual excavated pieces of ancient French monasteries and abbeys. (Learn more.) 

Jinx in the CloistersMy aunt chills out with some five-century-old statues.

Tulips in Central ParkI was back in the city two weeks later, when the temperature was mercifully warmer. The tulips were just starting to bloom in Central Park.

James, Ted and Heather in Central ParkMy two Joburg friends, James and Ted, each happened to be in New York while I was there and I got the three of us together. We took a walk through the park and I felt kind of left out being the only one wearing a shirt.

New York City subway artI loved riding the subway in New York. I’ve always felt intimidated by the subway on previous trips, but it really wasn’t as complicated as I thought (although I made a few mistakes). This is the 14th Street station and I think I wound up there accidentally, but I’m glad I did because this is my favorite picture from New York. I don’t know whose artwork this is — I didn’t see anything like it in any of the other stations. 

2Summers in Brooklyn

I was pleased with my decision to stay in Brooklyn (one of New York City’s five boroughs) for a couple of days. Brooklyn has such an interesting mix of cultures, and while it’s definitely still part of the big city it feels more liveable than Manhattan does. Depending on where you stay it doesn’t take long to get into Manhattan via subway. I stayed in Bed-Stuy, near the Myrtle-Willoughby station on the G line.

Hasidic man in Bed-StuyBed-Stuy borders South Williamsburg, where thousands of Hasidic Jewish families live. I was fascinated by the beaver fur hats Hasidic men wear — in fact I was fascinated by everything to do with the Hasidic community. It was Passover so everyone was dressed in their holiday best. Unfortunately this is the only shot I got of a Hasidic person. I spent lots of time wandering the Hasidic neighborhoods but I was (uncharacteristically) too shy to approach people and ask to photograph them.

Rastafarian Church in Bed-StuyA Rastafarian church in Bed-Stuy.

Graffiti in WilliamsburgBeautiful graffiti in Williamsburg.

Old car, WilliamsburgOld car, Williamsburg.

Street art and hanging shoesStreet art, hanging shoes, and one upside-down teddy bear (look carefully).

Plastic gardenLast, but certainly not least, an electric blue house with a rainbow plastic garden. Blooms year-round.

Until the next trip to New York, when my quest for the perfect Big Apple photo will continue.

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11 Comments

  • Reply autumnashbough April 28, 2017 at 3:42 pm

    I landed at Penn Station, too, and was utterly befuddled as to whether I was heading “uptown” or “downtown,” because that’s what the signs say. I asked the cops, and they gave me blank looks before asking me for the street address. BTW, Harlem is definitely uptown. 🙂

    I like your photos. Especially the turquoise house.

    • Reply 2summers April 28, 2017 at 3:44 pm

      Hahaha, thanks. I had also never Ben clear on the geography of Nee York before this trip. I’m much more confident now after spending a couple of days there on my own.

  • Reply Amelie April 28, 2017 at 4:48 pm

    So sorry for people who have to walk through Penn Station as their first impression of NYC, it really is a hellhole. I am also originally from Westchester County like your aunt so I grew up pretty much in NYC’s backyard and so glad I got to commute through Grand Central instead of Penn Station. It is too bad they tore down the original station to make room for Madison Square Garden. If you google old pictures of the station, it really was beautiful. Grand Central escaped a similar fate in large part due to Jackie Kennedy’s conservation efforts to designate the station as a NYC landmark.

    And it’s probably best you didn’t ask to photograph any of the Hasidic Jews you saw. Some of them actually work in my building, the men always have long overcoats, big beards, and those top hats. They tend to stick among their own and don’t really mingle with people apart from their own community, it’s pretty insular. It’d be like trying to photograph the Amish who notoriously don’t like to be photographed.

    But this was a great post! It’s hard to document my city, there’s so much to see and photograph. I’m actually thinking about potentially moving to Brooklyn in the fall (currently living on the Upper West Side) which is where my sister lives. It’s such an interesting and funky borough.

    • Reply 2summers April 28, 2017 at 5:36 pm

      Hi Amelie, thanks for the comment. I was actually thinking I really should have gone to check out Grand Central on this trip – I’m pretty sure I’ve never actually been in there. Next time…

      It’s funny, I didn’t get into this in the blog post but when we drove through South Williamsburg my crazy cab driver actually rolled his window down at a stop light and asked one of the Hasidic guys what his hat was made of. The guy answered beaver fur, and then Mark asked if he could touch the hat and the guy let him! He was actually very cool about it. (I, on the other hand, was cowering mortified in the back seat.) Hahaha.

  • Reply Eugenia Parrish April 28, 2017 at 5:52 pm

    Unlike most places you’ve blogged about, there is actually a possibility that I might someday get back here! I’ve never been to Brooklyn, though, but I can’t wait to check it out. Thanks for the tour.

    • Reply 2summers April 28, 2017 at 5:53 pm

      My pleasure. I LOVED Brooklyn – I could have spent my whole visit there and actually I nearly did.

  • Reply mvschulze April 29, 2017 at 2:07 am

    We live outside NYC in NJ and often had the pleasure of driving friends or business acquaintances from as far away as Perth, Australia on tours of Manhattan hi-lights (best done after the traffic subsides.) it was always like kids in a candy shop, they creaning out the car widows in a constant state of awe. Love your take as well. There is no other place like it. M:-)

    • Reply 2summers April 30, 2017 at 1:06 pm

      That’s what I always tell people in South Africa when they ask about New York. There is no other place like it. Really the best possible description.

  • Reply hancarabine May 1, 2017 at 5:49 am

    I’ve just discovered your blog and was very intrigued by this post. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to reading (and seeing) more.

  • Reply annacronism May 5, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    Just back from ten days in New York – Manhattan/Brooklyn. I have never walked so far for so long! It’s frantic, noisy, very polluted and quite overwhelming – even for city people like me. And if you can’t tell immediately where north, south, east and west is – you’re screwed!

    • Reply 2summers May 11, 2017 at 8:12 am

      Haha, I actually didn’t think the pollution was that bad! But anyway I loved all the walking – it’s the thing I miss most about living in SA.

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