The Big Apple. Gotham. The Empire City. NYC has many nicknames but there was just one phrase that describes our incredible visit - "The city that never sleeps." Insert air mattress joke here. And duct tape.
You see, over the years I've learned a simple but important capital T -Truth - when shit happens, do not fight the universe, because:
1. You'll never win, the universe is too big and powerful and it has black holes! and
2. If you try to fight it, you'll miss the valuable lesson it was trying to teach you in the first place.
Our trip to NYC started on the right foot, a quick stop at the duty free for a fantastic bottle of Oban Little Bay (or two), and a flight that arrived ahead of schedule into a sunny but slightly rundown Newark Airport. Then my first ever Uber ride into Manhattan. Total Uber wait time was three mins. The Price? About $10- 20 cheaper than a taxi.
Our Uber driver delivered us into Union Square, which for those not in the know, is smack dab in the middle of everything Manhattan. What could be better than location, location, location...well I'll tell you - its staying with amazing hosts. We stayed with our ultra cool extended family; well travelled, well schooled, accomplished, and best of all - human beings with big hearts. And so after a 4am start to our day, a 4800km flight, a fun night of wine and beer and catch up at euro styled Cafe Select where zucchini is deep fried to perfection and the red wine is served cold, it was now time for yes, finally...some sleep.
At midnight we were shown to our lovely bedroom, a converted office that now held a very cozy and comfortable inflated double bed. Our amazing hosts said their good nights and we prepared for much needed sleep. And then it happened...Deflation-gate. As I sat on the bed, my butt proceeded to sink all the way down, through the inflated air mattress, and straight into the metal stands holding it in place.
No matter, I thought, we just need some tape. Duct tape ideally. But none could be found. So instead we used what was available in any apartment at midnight -packing tape - which, it quickly turned out, was completely useless. With little fan fare and our hosts in bed, we made a call - time to go Japanese style, and sleep on the floor.
And so we slept, as best we could. Making the most of it, but knowing, without doubt, that leaking air mattress would be repaired in time for night two. How wrong we were. After an amazing day at the US Open, and evening drinks with our hosts, duct tape was introduced, which, seemingly repaired the air mattress hole. The bed felt firm, fantastic. Goodnights were exchanged, bedtime rituals completed, and the lights went out.
One hour later, a sound appeared from the darkness. Subtle, steady and growing, like an infection spreading across deep space, until it overtook everything, like a black hole sucking in all life. The air mattress was leaking again. I checked my watch. 12:30am. We had slept for a total of one hour. I jumped out of bed, floated underneath it, and pressed my hands against the hole. The duct tape remained, but it somehow was failing, air was seeping out at an alarming rate. The ship, our tranquility life raft was in danger. Rubbing the duct tape back in place, the sound stopped, the leak, for now, was gone. I crawled back into bed knowing a rough voyage was ahead. I wondered what Matthew McConaughey would have done if this was Interstellar and he had to save humanity? The question stands.
130am, 245am, then 330am, 445am, 550am, 710am, and finally 8am. Each hour, I would rise, and each time it would be more painful than the time before. In the end the black hole had us, or me anyway. Lost in space. In a place of rest without sleep.
What probably was one of the worst nights of sleep I'd had in at least the past twenty years had come to pass. My brain was broken. My eyes bloodshot. I was in a drunken state. But it was now morning, and our days in NYC were numbered, we had to get up and make the most of the day, however seemingly impossible that would be. I shook it off. And went with the flow.
We set off to explore the city. First stop, Central Park. And then something miraculous happened.
As we walked through central park, with light dancing between the leaves, I noticed that my senses had become heightened. I was experiencing more of NYC than I did the day before. Time had slowed down, words floated through the air longer, with more meaning. Emotions stirred. A sense of inexplicable calm came over me. Then violins started playing. Was I dreaming? No. We had stubbled across a quartet of string musicians playing the most beautiful rendition of Hallelujah I had ever heard. College students perhaps, professional musicians? I couldn't say for sure. I quickly grabbed my phone to capture the moment.
When the musicians finished the small crowd gathered broke into heartfelt applause. Amazingly the quartet seemed humbled by our gratitude. The gift of the moment had become circular. Emotions stirred. We took a deep breath, gathered ourselves and moved on, continuing through central park to our next destination...one of the best museums in the world, The Metropolitan Museum.
My first visit to the Met, as the cool kids call it, was short but inspirational. That feeling that stirred us in central park was still close, just underneath the surface. We split up and made our way through the museum, taking time to view the art at our own speed. I visited the Egyptian archaeological section first. Stone work thousands of years old. Moments and gods carved in time. Ideas lost and restored, saved for eternity. The Met has this strange ability to allow thousands of people to walk inside its walls with space and solitude.
I left the Egyptian exhibit in search of something completely different - the European Renaissance. With no specific painting or artist in mind, I walked through the Renaissance section hallways in search for something. And then it found me. Jan Van Eyck. If you've not heard of this artist he is the godfather of the term iconography. His works during the early renaissance depict the people, fashion, culture, trade, hypocrisy, wealth, depravity, and much more in highly detailed and carefully constructed works on canvas. His art is the highest the period had to offer, and in my opinion, are still unmatched today.
Jan Van Eyck is most famous for The Arnolfini Marriage but it would turn out, he had something else on offer at the Met. A work I'd never seen before, or even knew existed. Once I found it, I struggled to look away. It was pure magic.
Jan Van Eyck - The Crucifixion; The Last Judgment, 1440-41
After The Met we enjoyed a bus ride down 5th Ave. A fun and underrated way to people watch and enjoy the sites for just a few dollars - thanks to our expert hosts we departed at 26th ave and hit Madison Square Gardens for a tour of the Eataly, an amazing Italian styled mall and food court filled with amazing eats.
But with the noise levels high we instead went back outside to the Shake Shack, famous for it's shakes and burgers and low key outdoor fair. We ordered burgers, fries, wine, beer and partook in what for me would be my favourite moment of the trip. Just us and our good friends, enjoying good food, a moment of sunshine, and discussing friends, family, fathers, mothers, and everything in between. The emotions rose and we celebrated life in the beautiful and simple moments it offers, when you are willing to take them in.
Our trip included a wonderful day at the US Open where we saw stars and legends play for love and money. We visited a show, appropriately called "Sleep No More", which included a bizarre masked voyeuristic horror hotel themed walking theatre experience. With scenes and acts that made little sense we enjoyed the unique strangeness of it at first, but eventually caused us to leave early in dismay.
A week ago if you were to ask me what this blog was going to be about I would have confidently predicted a piece focused on the US Open, with some highlights of NYC, and a close with the aptly named theatre show. And while I may come back to those topics in a future blog, the inspired tip below really sums up the lesson the universe unexpectedly sent us during our visit to the city that never sleeps...
THE INSPIRED TIP: Visit a place that's beautiful to you, or undiscovered, and include great friends, or family or both. Don't worry if you are tired, it may even enhance the experience!
Catch up with your friends. Get to know them better. Don't wait. Make the time. Plan it out, because you never know how long you'll have to make it happen. Time is not on your side.
In the end, our battle with the air mattress, the heightened sense of reality it brought on, awoke something inside that was sleeping, dormant. It was a moment, a day, an experience that is truly difficult to describe unless you experience it, as you should, for yourself.
Up next ...Montreal. Food, family, friends and everything in between.
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