The Streets were Paved with Diamonds
On one of the recent milder fall nights, I found myself getting off the train at 14th street, Union Square and wandering in the vague direction of my memories. 10 years ago a cab had pulled up somewhere in the vicinity of 11th Street between Fifth Avenue and University Place and let out an adventurous 21 year old from Omaha, Nebraska with a heavy suitcase and a head full of dreams.
I was naïve yet didn't want to appear so, and had read in one of the travel guides I pored over in my last weeks in Omaha that one should give cab drivers cross streets rather than an exact address to appear local. I of course confused the cross streets somewhat and with a youthful certainty got out of the cab about five blocks from my actual destination rather than admit that I didn't know where I was going. My resolve started to crumble rather rapidly as I was walking and dragging my heavy suitcase behind me in the frigid January air under a darkening night sky.
Doubts flooded me as I tried to find the apartment building that had been reserved for the law school students I was now one of. Unfamiliarity with my surroundings turned to fear and regret. Once I found the building, on what I now know as one of the most beautiful blocks of Greenwich Village brownstones and grande dame apartment buildings, my already dismal mood took a turn for the worse. There was no one else around, winter vacation being well underway, and the narrow hallways and aged décor struck me as squalid and depressing. I had yet to learn about New York City real estate and had brought with me my Midwestern assumptions of wide-open spaces and new construction homes as the yardstick to measure my current surroundings by.
After a tearful phone call to my parents I followed their advice and timidly set out to find a bite to eat. Once outside a change had come over the city. The gray cold dusk had turned into a brilliant crisp night, the streetlights, storefronts and taxicabs illuminating the inexplicably sparkling sidewalks. I was in love. Walking up Fifth Avenue that night, past the Forbes Magazine Gallery with it's collection of Faberge eggs in the windows and my first real bodega on the opposite corner, I felt the irrepressible promise of adventure and excitement that is New York. As the cars whizzed by I found a pizza place and sat and ate my $2 slice and took in my new surroundings.
The buildings seemed endless as they lined up Fifth Avenue and the view of the Empire State Building off in the distance was like a dream. Looking south I took in Washington Square Park, with the arch framing the entrance like it's French predecessor, the Arc de Triomphe. I would spend countless hours in the park during my law school years. Perfectly sunny spring days too beautiful for indoor classes were celebrated around the fountain watching the street performers, children, lovers and NYU students make the verdant plot of land their own oasis within a skyscraper empire. In later, more troubled times, the park would be a hushed site for candle light vigils and then also a gathering point for angry, teeming throngs of young people protesting a war as their parents had done so many years ago.
The turbulence of years to come was still unfathomable to me then as I listened to the hum of a city that would become my home, in good times and bad. My fears vanished in that magical first night in New York and I was looking into a future that seemed to glow as brightly as the city itself. I later learned that the glimmer of the sidewalks comes from the quartz in the granite but to me New York City streets will always seem paved with diamonds just as they did 10 years ago to an idealistic, young student finding the city and herself for the first time.
About the author
Jessica Horani has lived in NYC off and on for over ten years since first coming to Manhattan as a 21-year-old law student. After a slightly traumatic address mix up in Greenwich Village on her first night, she fell in love with the City over a slice of pizza and the sparkling January night air. The love affair never ended and after a period of working for the Public Defender's office in Miami, she has returned to live in Brooklyn and pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a writer. The roaring New York of her twenties remains a fond and sometimes bittersweet memory, like an old lover,but there is another New York; one of serene beauty, historical importance and vibrant diversity that she is discovering anew every day. She hopes to share her love for New York City, both new and old, and the personal journeys it can take you on with the visitors to NYCfoto.com.
Jessica Horani is an Editor-at-Large of NYCfoto.com