My advice for aspiring writers is go to New York. And if you can’t go to New York, go to the place that represents New York to you, where the standards for writing are high, there are other people who share your dreams, and where you can talk, talk, talk about your interests. Writing books begins in talking about it, like most human projects, and in being close to those who have already done what you propose to do. Walter Kirn
You cannot sum up New York City in one paragraph, let alone one word. Each borough has its own flavor. The combination of cultures that walk its streets: white, black, Asian, Arab and Latino, testifies to the city which was built by immigrants, where no one can lay claim, but to which everyone belongs. My gratitude snowballs when I think of the privilege to have had a season of my nomadic life in this electric city where dreams are made. I am not yet the published author I hoped to become when I landed at JFK for the first time, but I am on the way there and my writing chutzpah and community have only flourished in this publishing city. After 7+ years in and around New York City, I must bid my au-revoir, for a revoir there will definitely be, as I have far too many friends here not to return, especially as COVID19 prevented all the farewell parties I would have had.
Some Random Pics of 2013-2020 in New York City and on the East Coast
Obviously, I could write a book about my experiences, and yes, yes, I know I have been promising that travelogue for many years. It will happen. Meanwhile, I moved eleven times during these years, so let me walk you through just a handful of New York firsts.
I began my New York sojourn in Park Slope, just a couple of minutes-walk from Prospect Park and Brooklyn Central Library. The first Sunday morning, I was treated to breakfast in bed. Not grits or pancakes, but a genuine New York bagel, thickly smeared with cream cheese, topped with melt-in-your-mouth lox, and a scattering of capers and lemon juice. But wait, it gets better, I had reading matter too, to browse my matinée away. You guessed it, my introduction to the New Yorker, where one article could take several cups of coffee, and was like reading an erudite novella. Sorry if I am kvetching too much, but this was also my initiation into some insanely useful Yiddish expressions.
I then spent a few months in a couple of Bed Stuy locations, including my first time living in a Brownstone. This mid 19th century town house with its friendly stoop, offered large brick fireplaces, an old claw-footed bath tub and, in this case, a grand piano from my landlord who’d been pianist in some of the best gay bars New York has to offer.
Speaking of gay dives, truly perhaps only San Francisco could offer a better introduction to the gay scene than NYC. I am still moved when I visit Stonewall, and I have cheered myself hoarse at every pride march since I arrived. I felt singularly sorrowful when COVID meant the cancelation of 2020 NYC pride, on its 50thanniversary. This is a very accepting city in which to be queer and has been very healing for me.
Carroll Gardens proved to be my favorite Brooklyn neighborhood, possibly because of its French/Italian vibe. But also, most certainly, because I lived within walking distance of some of the coolest writer/illustrator friends I know and what became the first frequentation of many cool Indie Book Stores. Sadly Book Court, where I went to my first book signing, with author-illustrator, Lauren Castillo, closed in 2016 after 35 wonderful years in the community. Those friends have also left, and are all scattered to different parts of the US now, but boy we had some cool meetups in Bar Tabac, where I could indulge my culinary desires for a Stella Artois beer and steaming bowl of moules & frites.
I NEVER saw raccoons in Central Park, despite living in its vicinity for 2.5 years, both on the Upper West Side and in Harlem to the north, and being told they could be seen scavenging most evenings in trash cans. However, NYC did provide me with other critter experiences not to be missed. Now, you are talking to someone here who has dealt with flying cockroaches the size of small bats, in Malawi. But you’ve not experienced New York until you are rinsing conditioner off your hair in the shower and up through the drain just millimeters from your chalk white feet, a devilish black bug the size of a lime crawls out and scuttles towards you. Maybe the water masked my screams, but never has a shampoo bottle been wielded with such bloodthirsty murderous intention. The only other time I jumped out of a shower so quickly was in an outdoor one in Zambia, where you quickly learned frogs in the shower meant snakes nearby. My architect buddy Anne later entertained me with grim urban stories of American roaches, aka water bugs, entering Manhattan buildings via vents, sump pumps, and other access points to take a trip up a pipe to enter an apartment.
I would be remiss not to give a shout-out to Sydney the rat atop the trash can in the gardens of the natural history museum who never failed to greet me with a twitch of his tail if I passed after sundown. There are tales of seal-spotting off Long Island and bird-watching in Central Park, but the most enduring fauna-experience of my Manhattan years was in the apartment I stayed in for just one week, in which I encountered a bug that would give me nightmares and phantom itching for more than a year. I only brought one medium sized bag and a small backpack when I moved to the States, and I got rid of that and almost all its contents when I left the bed-bug infested room just before Christmas in 2013. Actually, it turned out to be great preparation for COVID19 as many folk wouldn’t hug me or let me near their apartments for many weeks out of understandable fear of the spread.
I’ve biked, and walked, and bussed, and subwayed the streets, parks and bridges of NYC. I have kayaked and sailed on the Hudson and in Long Island Sound. I highly recommend doing a walking tour, whether with a ranger in Central Park, or if you are really lucky, with Leonard Marcus, who does Childrens Books Walking tours in various locations (think Eloise at the Plaza and scoops about the world famous publishers on 5thAvenue). If you think only cities as ancient as Rome have treasures around every piaza, you would be wrong. There are nuggets of history all over this city, from Seneca Village, a 19th-century settlement of mostly free black landowners in the borough of Manhattan within present-day Central Park. … to the haunting 9/11 memorial. Not to forget the 24-hour urban heart-pumping humanity at its most dynamic. The throb of New York, I have experienced nowhere else. I was sad to move out to the nearby suburb of Mamaroneck, but being in cycling distance of work, still by the water, and just 45 mins ride into Grand Central made it worth it.
In Mamaroneck, I immersed myself in the French community who have been settling here since the opening of the French American School 40 years ago. It’s been weird and cool to wander into Trader Joe’s and hear French being spoken, or find books in French at the wonderful Larchmont Indie bookstore, Andersons. Also, this has been a great location for many hiking trips with my gal pals into Harriman park and Bear Mountain, as well as longer trips up to the Catskills, the Green Mountains of Vermont, the Adirondack peaks and even the Blue Ridge.
Since buying my old Subaru 5 years ago, I have explored every state from Maine to Georgia in the east. I’ve tasted my first: SouthPortland lobster bake, clam chowder at the Boston wharf, oysters in the famed Grand Central Oyster bar, some exquisite wine from Cape May vineyards in NJ, homecooked deep-fried chicken and ale out by a Tennessee firepit, grilled pink snapper on a Florida Keys’ beach, po’boys in New Orleans café, shrimp n grits on the banks of Moon River Savannah, and so much more.
I have loved my years out east, but I am itching for new adventures. It’s a strange time to be taking a road trip, but on July 1st, my trusty Subaru, Matilda, will be pointing her hood westward toward the setting sun—destination, San Francisco, where I am thrilled to be joining a new writing community in the Bay Area and taking up the role of IB librarian and the French American International School of San Francisco. So many new friendships and places to explore lie ahead. What a journey. I shall be photo-journaling my trip, as always, on FB and IG if you want to come along. My playlist is ready (as is my stock of Purell and wipes), but feel free to leave your audiobook recommendations for me.
Lastly, I would appreciate your good thoughts for safe travels and a smooth visa transfer. Merci.
I love San Francisco. It’s an amazing place where I have indulged in a variety of coffees, soaked up the sail boat-dotted views, watched the Golden Gate Bridge disappear in the dense fog, meandered up and down many streets, met and laughed with critique partners and friends, and came home feeling refreshed. I wish you safe travels and all the ingredients to make countless, happy memories.
Thank you so much, Leslie. I have been wanting to move to San Francisco since I first started contemplating living in the USA in 2011. I am soooo excited.
Ah, Bon Voyage to you! As they say in trucker movies, keep the rubber side down and the shiny side up.
hahaha, thanks so much Brian. Maybe we will meet up again on the west coast.
Exciting! Look forward to hearing about your adventures ?
Safe travels! Stay healthy! ?
Thanks so much, Lori.
You will be so very missed, dear Jo. We’ve had such fun being part of your East Coast and NYC experience! Love you – and will be toasting your new adventures!
And I will miss you guys to the west coast and back again! xo
So many wonderful experiences! The adventure continues, and I guess I’m lucky enough to have the chance to say “WELCOME!!!”
THANK YOU. I can’t wait to catch up properly with you.
So much to say after all these years working in such harmony and hanging out together, my dear Joanna… Have a safe and lovely trip, it is going to be amazing! I will really miss you, see you in SF! – Love.
I couldn’t have had a better colleague (and friend) working alongside me. Working in another library without you won’t be the same. See you in SF. xo
Oh how exciting. You are brave and adventuresome and so alive with possibility. I enjoyed our time together when you visited and hope you know you are always welcome in CNY ! Can’t wait to read your travel journey blog, see all the photos, and hear how you are faring on the west coast. A vicarious thrill if ever there was one and then, reading a book by you some day (sooner than later, I hope). I love the way you embrace life and opportunity, Jo. We have traveled vastly different paths but I sometimes wish I was braver and more able to try newer things. Of course this Covid mess has really put even more of a kibosh on life. Stay safe and I am sure you will have a wonderful time. I know you will make many new friends and I am guessing you are going to visit a lot of others on the way out west. Your new school is lucky to have you there! Au revoir, I hope. Embrace everything, dear Jo.
Thank you so much for your kind words, Janet. I have such great memories of my week with you at the Finger Lakes.
San Francisco will welcome you by opening its golden gate. May you have as much sun or fog as you want. Remember to go to a bonfire at Ocean Beach, to eat lots of Mitchell’s ice cream, and to check out the Mechanic’s Library.
Alas, I will not be back there for a while. But when I am let’s have a coffee in North Beach.
I love advice like this. And if not in North Beach, I shall have to visit you and Ed in Colorado!
Can’t wait for you to arrive, Joanna! I agree with Jim about the bonfire and the library. It’s where you’ll see the green flash. We’ll make that happen, my green-flash sister, KEC and I. And the Mechanic’s Library is where Jim sent me when I arrived in San Francisco. One of the best writing places ever. I don’t know about Mitchell’s ice cream but I do know about Dandelion Chocolate on Valencia… 🙂 See you soon!!!
So many cool tips. Can’t wait to see you again real soon. xo
So happy to welcome you here! Wishing you and Matilda a super trip and waiting for you to celebrate Bastille Day 🙂 Huîtres et champagne seront au rendez-vous ?
It is a new start in Bernal Heights and you’ll love it. You already have plenty of friends here, and we can’t wait to see you. Exploring the west coast together with Robert, Sheeva, and Mathilda is going to be a blast!
Thank you for your sweet words of welcome, Sophie, and for all your help in finding the perfect accommodation for me. I feel so fortunate to know I have such lovely people where I am moving to, not forgetting of course the four-legged ones!
Can’t wait to celebrate le 14 with you and start exploring! xo
Many happy adventures my dear spirited friend. I too love the way you embrace life, looking for the positive and fun in everything and everyone. Stay safe, enjoy and always keep in touch. Love you heaps. I hope we meet again some day soon.
Sweet Diane, I think I am going to feel nearer to you in New Zealand in the west coast! xo
I am thrilled for you my wandering friend. By the time you read this message, you probably passed near me on the interstate on your trip west. You’re going to be the IB librarian and the French American International School of San Francisco! It’s time, my dear friend! I can’t believe we’ve been in contact for nearly 10 years now. We were great friends and critique partners before neither one of us knew what we were really doing! I’m so glad I was able to meet up with you in LA and NYC. I’m glad you’re staying in the US — Yay! You have to look up Craig Wiesner of Reach and Teach book store in San Francisco. Be safe and well. Thrilled with your news. And, I loved your lengthy post!
I know, I can’t believe it is almost ten years either. And I have actually been trying to move to San Francisco since then! ? i feel very fortunate, and of course I will look up the bookstore! xo
Safe travels to you! We made the East to west transition in March. Now in Oregon. Best to you!
Oo, you arrived just before the Pandemic! And now we will be almost neighbors!
It was great to see you, Joanna, if only a few times. I look forward to hearing about your future journeys!
I really enjoyed our connection too. Thanks, Fran.