It was ten years to the day that I first stepped foot in New York City’s Grand Central Station, my favorite place in my favorite city. Throughout the past decade, I’ve made 11 trips to Manhattan, all for varying reasons, but most involving love, in one form or another. Last weekend I went to New York City for operatic and culinary love. So it was only fitting that I arrived on Valentine’s Day.
For a city as massive and dense with impressiveness as New York City, it’s never her grandeur that leaves me dreading my flight home. It’s the hundreds of seemingly insignificant moments that take place within the shadows of her monumental skyscrapers and down the winding streets of centuries-old neighborhoods that captivate me the most. Especially the serendipitous connections made among the millions of people wandering her streets and the spontaneous conversations between strangers that leave me aching to stay there.
Like the cab driver who shared his story of long distance love as he drove me to Manhattan, telling how he and his now-wife split their time between New Jersey and Morocco before he moved to the U.S. Or the man from Amsterdam who spent a year as a foreign exchange student in small town Pleasant Grove, Utah, who gave me directions before complimenting my shoes. And the businessman that sat next to me at lunch who exclaimed “You’ve got to escape!” after I explained Utah’s drinking laws, as if I live in a prison.
As always, the connections were the most memorable. Like the chef who remembered me from the last time I was in the city that invited me to the kitchen after dinner for a behind-the-scenes peek of the cooking action, or the two Bulgarian guys at the bar whose birthdays surrounded mine, a discovery that lead to an automatic “Cheers!” between us.
But I can’t deny the lure of New York City’s lavishness, either. The Metropolitan Opera’s production of Rusalka with superstar soprano Renee Fleming was so phenomenal I was almost in tears before the end of the first act; New York City Ballet’s charming Coppélia was a striking introduction to world class ballet, and as I listened to the Tierney Sutton jazz band at Dizzy’s overlooking Columbus Circle, I wished that Salt Lake City had something — anything — comparable to the venues there.
And then there’s the culinary aspects. There was the tasting menu so exquisite I forgot I was dining alone on Valentine’s Day (which is actually quite entertaining), the adorable wine and cheese bar with amazing food and the Moroccan restaurant with the cave-like rooms that made me feel like I was in an Indiana Jones movie. By the time I got to the whiskey bar with 750 whiskeys (!) I felt like the whole trip was a dream conjured up especially for me.
As I watched the flurry of passengers running to their terminals in Grand Central Station, I thought about how much I’d changed in the 10 years since my first visit there. Yet I still come to the city in search of the things I love that I can’t find at home. Those, too, have evolved over the years, but it seems that whatever it is you dream, it can be found in New York City.
I’m not sure where my 17-year-old self hoped I’d be in life in my late 20s, but I can say with certainty that I dreamed I’d be in New York City. And what a dream last weekend was, just like always.