For years I’ve dreamed of going to New York City. My desire to experience all of the sights and sounds I’ve gotten so used to seeing in TV shows and movies has always been a quiet, lingering thing in the back of my mind. Having grown up in a small, touristy, mountainous town, The Big City was a myth I desperately wanted to experience. Now that I live in a city (albeit a small one), the desire has faded a little, but that doesn’t mean I was any less excited when my partner’s parents offered to take us to New York City for a day for my partner’s birthday. It was a really, really cool experience.
My partner and I have already made plans to go back to the city if for no other reason than to spend an entire day in the Strand, a bookstore I have literally salivated over when friends have described it to me in the past. In real life, it’s just as overwhelming: four stories of books, books and more books, all of them aching to be read. The rare books floor, in particular, had me in actual tears over some of the titles (and their prices — if only, if only…). There are lots of other things we’d like to see and do, also, but that’s definitely a goal. Books!!!
We started our day at the New York Botanical Gardens in Brooklyn, where we visited the Frida Kahlo exhibit. I didn’t fully comprehend what the NYBG would look like, or how it would make me feel to be at a plant museum, but I came away from the gardens feeling not only inspired by Kahlo’s works and her life and her activism (all things that a very passionate volunteer told us about when we first entered the NYBG’s recreation of casa azul, the house Kahlo shared with her husband Diego Rivera in Mexico City), but by the gardens themselves. We didn’t tour all of the gardens, mostly due to our limited time, but we did explore the greenhouse where the museum curators recreated Kahlo’s garden and parts of her home, as well as the library where a small selection of her paintings and sketches were on display.
The plants in the recreated casa azul and other parts of the greenhouse were absolutely stunning. Some were terrifyingly cool/weird (like the staghorn fern, something I couldn’t properly capture in a photo even though I tried and tried and tried — seriously, google it, this plant is weird) and others were just downright beautiful. I saw birds of paradise and bougainvilleas, the flower Frida Kahlo is known for wearing in her hair in several of her self portraits. I saw dozens of succulents (and thirsted after the ones for sale in the garden shop, though I couldn’t afford to purchase any) and even had to face my crippling fear of lotus blossoms. (I feel stronger having seen them in person and not had a full-on panic attack, but I couldn’t bring myself to take any photos of them. They just make me so uncomfortable. Eugh.)
The absolute beauty of these plants is difficult to explain in words, or even photographs. Being surrounded by so many different types of flora was an experience I haven’t ever really had, at least not like that. I’m lucky to have grown up in a mountainous area and to have lived in New Hampshire, where wild plants and animals are basically everywhere. I think I’ve always kind of taken that for granted, though. Seeing these plants so carefully displayed for this exhibit was really cool because it allowed me to see native plants from a country where I’ve never been, and it reminded me of how breathtaking nature can be. I think I forget, sometimes, to “stop and smell the roses” — that expression is old and kind of awful, but if I’ve realized anything since selling my car and becoming a bicyclist, it’s that being outside is good for me. Visiting the Botanical Gardens was cool as hell because I got to see so many plants that are just so foreign to me, and it’s clear that the people who work there are incredibly passionate about what they do. It was humbling and inspiring and calming, all at once.
After the Frida Kahlo exhibit, we made our way downtown to Manhattan (which took us a little longer than expected, because we couldn’t find a subway station in the Bronx — but we eventually figured it out and made it to the restaurant where we had planned to have lunch, which made us all feel more human, I think). We walked past the Chelsea Hotel, which was surreal and honestly really emotional, and I realized as we walked that the cities I have seen are all very, very small. I am very, very small. New York City is huge and tall and intimidating and I would love to go back, hopefully soon.
We ate at one of five Blossom du Jour locations and the food was scrumptious. Honestly, I had every intention of photographing my vegan chicken BLT wrap with Caesar dressing, but I was so ravenous and the food was so delectable that I’d eaten it all before I even thought to take out my iPhone. The onion rings were also amazing, as were the chocolate chip cookies and the milkshakes. They even had Blue Sky soda, something I haven’t had since I left my job at Cafe Indigo. And the best part? Blossom du Jour is vegan fast food, which is something I wish there was 1000% more of in the world.
We ended our day by wandering through a farmer’s market in Union Square and then visiting the Strand, which I discussed above. I walked out with a pencil pouch that has been repurposed to hold my backpack toiletries (courtesy of AR’s dad, which was so kind) and AR walked out with a new book. I picked up and put down at least a dozen titles because I couldn’t commit to anything, which is why I want to spend a full day in the store; there’s so much to see, from my never-ending to-read list to titles I’ve never heard of but are most likely really wonderful reads. The problem with a bookstore so big and so beautiful is that unless you know where you want to start, you can’t find a starting point at all. Being surrounded by so many books always feels really, really good to me, though. I loved just being in the building, breathing in the scent. The rare books floor had me quite literally in tears. It was an experience I yearn to repeat.
Last, but most certainly not least, we left the Strand and walked a few feet down the sidewalk to Forbidden Planet. Beyond the door (which has handles modeled to look like Cap’s shield, of course), this comic shop mecca had everything you would expect to find and more. I walked out with a ton of graphic novels, including a Daredevil volume I’ve had a really hard time finding here in PVD. The struggle I encountered at Forbidden Planet was different from the one I encountered at the Strand: I wanted so many graphic novels that I had to think about which ones I can find at any Newbury Comics and which ones I can never find even at local shops like the Time Capsule. It was an interesting challenge because it forced me to really consider my purchases, not just because of my budget. I’m really pleased with what I purchased (though I’ve yet to dive into the books because I’ve been working so much since our day trip) but I would love to go back on a day when I have a little more money to play with and a little more time to dig around.
A few years ago, if you had asked me what I would most want to do on my first trip to New York City, I never would have talked about plants or comics (though I definitely would have talked about the Strand). This trip wasn’t about me, it was about my partner and celebrating their birthday doing things they wanted to do, but I was so happy they asked me to come along and I was even happier to share these experiences with them. I had a really, really good day.