Last week was the first time I traveled to New York in nearly a year and a half, due to the pandemic. The main purpose of my trip was to catch up with Simply Gourmand’s staff. Catch up we did, and it really made a difference. Even though we communicate everyday on our devices, even though our in-person get-together was masked, there was not doubt in my mind that finding ourselves in the same space was long overdue.
Along with taking care of my business and reconnecting with colleagues and friends, this trip was a lot about catching up with New York itself. A world city I called home for nearly a decade. A city where my life changed in many ways. A city I still love deeply.
When I moved to New York in the mid 2000s I was a corporate banker. I came to work on large loans granted to Latin American metals and mining companies out of a midtown office. My work involved regular trips to Mexico, Brazil, Chile, and other countries of the region. Most of the staff of New York-based team was from Latin America, so I heard and spoke mostly Spanish all day long.
The ubiquity of Spanish all around the city was actually one of the things I had not expected. Spoken on the streets, in restaurants, and in stores. Written on street signs, subway ads, and official forms to fill out. Many other languages and cultures were of course prevalent in some areas of the city, some of which I was exposed to only sporadically, some of which I related to in a more personal way. My first escapade from Manhattan was to Brooklyn’s Little Russia, Brighton Beach, with a couple of Russian immigrant friends.
Soon after moving I knew I was hooked and I would have a hard time leaving the city. I was right about that: many things changed in my life during my time in New York but it took Minette‘s birth to eventually lead me somewhere else and settle happily in Cleveland.
New York is where Appa and I became a couple. Before getting there for his medical residency he had lived in Chicago and in California, so it was not his first experience of life in America, unlike for me. It made a lot of sense to me that an Indian man and a French woman would start living together in this, the quintessential multicultural city.
I think the reason why I felt at home right away in New York is not only because it is full of people from all over the world, it is also because most of these immigrant New Yorkers have intensely aspired to be there and the city is hungry for them. It is very much about love. Not necessarily easygoing and comfortable love but requited love all the same.
Even as I exited the banking industry and my fancy apartment on the Upper West Side, as I embarked on a less cushioned professional adventure and moved to Washington Heights, the pull and the sense of belonging remained. New York’s pervasive pulse is probably the single most important reason why I became an entrepreneur.
Last week I walked all the way from Simply Gourmand’s neighborhood, Inwood at the northern tip of Manhattan, down to Columbus Circle, through neighborhoods I know well and neighborhoods I know only a little. Black, brown and white. Poor and rich. It was a mild spring day. Not so much had visibly changed, apart from the masked faces and the Covid posters. More outdoor extensions of cafés and restaurants everywhere. A few stretches of vacated stores on the Upper West Side.
On Amsterdam and 110th Street I stopped to hear a string ensemble playing live on a block where car traffic had been temporarily stopped. Mostly young people, some of them Columbia University students, I guessed. Brown and white musicians bringing instant joy to an audience reveling in the pleasure of listening together, however socially distant. It was a beautiful and exhilarating moment. It was New York.