Did you visit anywhere new this year? Any plans to travel next year?
In May I traveled to Jersey City, New Jersey to attend a friend's birthday party. (In that case though, "party" doesn't begin to cover it. Birthday Bash, perhaps.)
I have been to New Jersey before, but not that part of it. I didn't know much about Jersey City, and Hoboken, and all of those places, though of course I had heard of them. If there is such a thing as "small town big city" life, I think the places I visited while in New Jersey would qualify. I remember shopping at one point, and this street we were walking down had all kind of store keepers selling things on the sidewalks outside of their store. Fruit and vegetable stands, and that sort of thing. I admit to not thinking much about it before that time, but part of me sort of assumed that you couldn't really find city streets like that in this country anymore. Not that there is never an odd fruit stand here and there, but the idea of blocks-long lines of eclectic local merchandise being sold by an even more eclectic mosaic of people from all over the world, literally) I figured was just about gone in 2011. It was encouraging to see it was not. At least not in Jersey City.
I had falafel for the first time while I was there. From a shop in the city with just two tables inside. I enjoyed the meal quite a bit, and hope to have some of it again someday. I learned that the tiny shop, (the name of which I cannot remember) has some kind of rivalry going on with another tiny falafel shop on the other side of the city. (Or it may have been in a nearby city, I also cannot remember that exact fact either.) But that amused me for some reason.
Then there was Hoboken. We weren't in Hoboken much. I wish time would have allowed a longer stay there. For some reason I think I would have enjoyed hanging around Hoboken the most out of the places in New Jersey I went to. That's no disrespect to Jersey City, but Hoboken, or at least the parts I saw, spoke to me a bit more, if you will. Downtown at least had a certain presence that appealed to me specifically. I'd love to be able to elaborate on that, but I can't. Again, maybe if I had been able to absorb more of it. The best I can say is that there seemed to be an almost equal mix of past and present that you don't always see in cities of comparable size. Even other cities in New Jersey.
One thing I did get to experience in Hoboken probably had nothing to do with it being Hoboken, per se, though it was without a doubt an Urban New Jersey experience. It took place when we went to get the beer for the party at this huge beer warehouse. It was literally a warehouse you drove into. Cases of beer everywhere. While I waited I counted no less that 25 varieties of brew just within my eyesight. A crew of maybe five guys in overalls and hand trucks moved the beer hither and yon. They were my favorite part of my brief stay at the warehouse. They should have their own reality show on television.
Not that I watch those kind of shows in general, but this group of guys were, (at least from my outsider's perspective) sort of like New Jersey personified. Not like those Jersey Shore assholes, but true, working class, sarcastic and blunt Jersey. Though you aren't supposed to stereotype people, they did say many things and did so with accents that one associates with the area. Most of what I heard from this colorful crew came from the guy I assume was the floor supervisor. "Hey, why is case of Milla still sitting ova heeya?" He didn't appear to be happy as he asked this question. The Miller was not there much longer, though the yelling and snappy repartee between the workers remained.
I did spend a few hours in New York City itself, which of course is nearby. As always I enjoy getting to see Manhattan. Yet we were in area I had never been to before. Far from the usual tourist infested areas. On our way to and back from dinner and the short film festival we attended, I saw many sites that were also in the "small town big city" category. New York City is of course immense, but when you get as deep into Manhattan as we were, (we had gone on for so long I thought for sure we were in a different borough) it was like a different city. It's own neighborhood. (And again, my apologies, I don't know which part of Manhattan we were in.)
Local basketball tournaments under the evening lights in a park. Old buildings from a bygone era with their ornate architecture housing things like Starbucks and Apple outlets. Art. Bars and taverns. All lit street lamps, not by the glaring, ever present fluorescence of Times Square and Broadway. I love Times Square and Broadway, but I got a lot out of my time spent in the deeper parts of the borough, where the garish, manufactured, though intoxicating enormity of the famous hot spots faded away to reveal a slightly foreign (to me) but nonetheless more relatable and accessible humanity. The "everyday" of New York City, if that makes any sense.
Sometimes you can "learn" something you already knew. A concept can begin to dawn on you when you experience it first hand in a way it never could when it was just a concept of which you were aware intellectually. I of course knew there was more to New York City that the swarming, glitzy, warp speed mass of neon illuminated homo-sapiens that is Lower Manhattan. Yet that has been the only part of New York I had ever been to. This trip in May reminded me that even that city is made up of millions upon millions of regular people living lives not that unlike my own in scope, even if they differ greatly in culture and attitude.
If I do travel in 2012, (and I would like to, but money is an issue), I'd like a chance to experience some more of that everyday neighborhood flavor. Both in this country, and in other countries. (The United Kingdom in particular.) Where people are not quite as anonymous. Where it's clear that the neighborhood is an extension of the citizens within, as opposed to the masses of people crashing like so many ocean waves to be broken on the rocky coast of a nebulous downtown megatropolis.
Please do not misunderstand me. There are many big cities I long to see for the first time, (Boston, New Orleans, London), and some I want to see again (Seattle, Chicago, and yes, New York City.) I love the hugeness of a major city. The lights. The sound of traffic. The adventure and the site seeing. I'd never want to be denied that kind of experience. Yet in the meantime, (or perhaps, with the right guide, while I am in those big cities), I want to make sure I see more neighborhoods like the ones I saw back in May.
Do you live in one? Perhaps I will visit you next. If your town has falafel.