Elena Bowes

New York-London design & culture writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

Notes on Manhattan

October 16th, 2017
New York City

Love seems to dictate where I live. I moved to London three decades ago to be with my then boyfriend. And I’m moving back across the Atlantic now for the same reason (different boyfriend). Sounds so simple. Basically, just a round trip ticket with a thirty-year layover.

But a lot has changed. For starters, my new home didn’t exist when I lived here eons ago. That would be the Apple Store by Lincoln Center on the Upper West Side where I seem to spend much of my day.

Ditto Bed Bath & Beyond, Williams Sonoma and Whole Foods. New York is very distracting. I stare in wonder at the dedicated trolley escalator in Bed Bath & Beyond.

I went to Williams Sonoma to buy a lamp and came out with a bronze monkey – and not one on display.

I somehow befriended Eileen, a motherly sales assistant, and the next thing I know, we’re scrolling through her computer to see if there’s maybe one last monkey left in stock. My daughter Kate is concerned.

I wonder what happens to you in New York. Time just disappears.

You could say that again, especially at the Whole Foods by Columbus Circle. It feels bigger than the British Museum, and everything is for sale. There are about ten queues to check out and you have to look up at a huge monitor to know when it’s your turn.

Invariably, I pick up one of the design magazines while I wait.

Hey lady, you’re up!

Off I scurry to pay for my basket at checkout number 27. When I write my address down for delivery, the cashier glances at my handwriting and says flatly,

I can’t read that.

I’m not in Kansas anymore. (Or the Waitrose in Belgravia) I need to snap-to a bit, fill up on caffeine, no snoozing on the job.

Moving to a new country, even if it’s your old country, is both terrific and exhausting. I am boggled at how the cashier at Starbucks work two registers simultaneously. My Israeli hairdresser zips and snips three clients at once. Efficiency cubed. This is a city where people work hard and play hard. They don’t have time to waste time.

Strangers speak their mind. Everyone is on the same level.

You gonna wait? a man asks me by a fruit stand on Columbus Avenue. If Mohammed doesn’t come back in thirty seconds I’m putting these bananas back.

That never happens in reserved London. All people ever say to one another in Waitrose is an apologetic “Sorry” if they accidentally nudge your cart. While people can be ruder in New York, they also can be friendlier, more open. What seems blunt is just honesty with a voice. I tell the man that I’m going to put my blueberries back too. New York chit-chat. I like it.

I can ask lots of questions without offending people. Like this morning when my sales assistant at Sephora told me his name was Hansel Moses. I had to ask. And now Hansel (how he prefers to be addressed) and I are buddies. He threw an extra lip gloss in to cement the friendship.

People talk louder here too, or I am just paying more attention. I overheard one single mother tell another in the park,

When I went up there everyone I saw was coupled with a kid. Staring at me in the face. Last time I went.

Walking around the reservoir, a well-heeled man, about 60, spoke into his earpiece,

I guess my concern there, I’ve never had a boss in my life.

Who has never had a boss in their life? I remind myself to stay on topic, don’t get sidetracked. This crowded city moves at the speed of light, and I’m racing to keep up. I Facetimed my London friend Jessica yesterday from my new rental apartment,

Why are you wearing your jacket? Jessica asked.

Oh, I haven’t had a chance to take it off.

I’d been home for three hours. (Note: I have actually moved into the rental with my boyfriend Stretch. So not only am I adjusting to New York, I am adjusting to living with a foreign species. That’s a whole other blog).

Last night I went to a meditation class at Pace Gallery in Chelsea. It’s run by the same people who taught me in London several years ago. It was the best thing I’ve done so far in this distracting, adrenaline fueled metropolis. I left Pace not worrying about my ‘to do’ list, feeling at peace with the world, particularly New York. The city has limitless attractions, outspoken and generally well-meaning residents, but sometimes I need to dial it down to appreciate it. I plan on meditating daily from now on. And then I’ll go to Whole Foods.

October, 2017