Life Is Alive in Summer

Yes, you guessed right! Only one more post to go to fulfill the annual four-seasons- series. So far I’ve talked about the months from October to May. What else could be amiss then what is going on right now?

While spring and fall only last a few weeks if even a month, it’s up to summer and winter to make out the extreme and long-lasting times of the year. I have never experienced such a long summer as I have here (and the same can be said about winter, of course, but let’s not go there). Beach time from mid-May to September. Hot temperatures from June on. Even though most people seem to loathe the heat and cannot see the beauty of the so-called Dog Days from July on, I almost embrace them. After so many disappointing summers in Germany, the heat has been a welcoming change. Instead of windy and rainy weeks, which usually never turned into what I wanted them to, New York has given me just the right amount of sunshine I could possibly ever want. My desperate tries to catch a tan at one of Deutschland’s man-made lakes have been exchanged by long beach days at the Atlantic Ocean. No need to carry a jacket with you in the evening as the heat still lingers between skyscrapers all day and night long. The last two summers I have even made it through the humidity and sweat without an air conditioner. This year I gave up and crawled to Target to have one set up.
And even though this sounds like an incredibly hot season to bear, it really is not too bad. I’ve had worse down in Florida, where you truly have to hop from building to car, from car to building in order to avoid major sun burns. I believe the Northeast has found a great balance in being very hot but not hazardously burning during this time of year.

Of course there are also aspects that annoy me when it comes to summer. The way strands of my hair stick out to all sides once humidity reaches the dreaded 80 percent. But I carry my sun bleached strands with pride. They are a proof of many successful beach days and hours in the park. I have been able to dip them into salty cool water and have them washed out by sun and sea water. Accomplishing this without even going to an exotic location such as Spain or Italy – what a great feeling this is indeed!
And then the heat in the subway once you enter the underground. Boy, how all your efforts of looking good can be destroyed by a mere 5 minutes of standing in this boiling part underneath the City. Of course there is not much you can do about it other than sucking it up and trying to force a smile on your lips when your make-up is smeared by sweat and heat and your hair style has been effortlessly destroyed. Not to mention the cranked up air conditioners in the stores and offices. But you also have these during the winter, so I am not going to pin this one solely on summer!

New York offers an incredible array of things to do during this season. While spring has already kicked off a few events, summer is truly when this city comes to a full awakening. Band Shell music in Prospect Park from June to July. Further Open-air-concerts at the Summer Stage. Shakespearean plays in Central Park. Free movies screened outdoors beneath the Brooklyn Bridge and in Bryant Park. Operas shown at the Lincoln center and, and, and… And the best part about all of these outdoor events: They are for free! They cost zero. Nada! Null!

The Big Apple’s cultural list of things to do during the warm months is about to explode. And if you ever find yourself bored with any of these, you still have events at a low-cost to attend. Such as the Bi-annual Jazz fest on Governors Island. Or a boat tour on the Hudson River. Or you can simply take the train to one of Long islands fancy beaches ( Long beach, Fire Island, the Hamptons – the list goes on). Not that you really have to. You can go surfing right here, at Far Rockaway in Queens (and get badly burned if you don’t watch it).

Beergarden outdoors. Brunches outside. The Eurocup, Fourth of July, and Labor Day! Yes, summer is simply amazing in the city of 8 million!

Surfing at Far Rockaway/Queens!

The Best Season: Spring in New York

All of a sudden all hardships seemed brushed away with a single hour spent walking around outside. Running past newly sprout flowers and breathing in the freshest, warmest air of the year. The last few months – swept away by the tickling smell of a new beginning, the scent of a fresh awakening. The grayness, the darkness of the winter months, albeit mild themselves – forgotten because of the past few days which have brought us more sunshine and joy than any November afternoon ever could have. Everything that was and everything that had been seemed irrelevant.

So spring has finally made its way here! As I had already indicated in my last few posts, our half-winter has been bypassed by a wonderful, wonderful thing. It has cared to show up this week and given us one gorgeous day after another. Today a high of 72 degrees (23 Celsius), the air so warm I could feel the breeze of summer already getting to us.
You might have guessed it from the title. You might have also figured from my fall and winter posts. I am a person who embraces warm temperatures. The best seasons of the year are spring and summer to me. Each one of them is so unique in what they have to offer, it is hard to choose between them.

I personally love spring for various reasons, but only one I can justify: I came to New York in spring. It was the first season I experienced in the Big Apple and every time it comes around it reminds me of how things had been way back then. Spring makes me forgot about how hard life had seemed just weeks or even days before. This season also makes me feel very alive. I see objects, colors, persons from a different side than winter and fall ever could reveal to me. I like to compare it to a veil that has been lifted from my eyes and gives me a review of how life had been just 9 months earlier. So yes, spring will always carry a very special meaning in my heart when it comes to New York.

Dumbo in Spring

I remember doing so many things during this season. Wearing my first green T-shirt in March already. For Saint Patrick’s day, the crazy Irish holiday Americans on the East Coast like to celebrate because all of a sudden they remember their Irish roots and how they have to want to prove the amount of whiskey they can down. Exploring Dumbo in April, when it felt like summer already. Consuming my first ice cream during that same time. Walking the Brooklyn Bridge one fine May evening, with a light wind caressing my face. Our first barbeques in Prospect Park. My first time lying on a blanket jacket nothing in Prospect Park or aimlessly wandering around the huge greeneries. Noticing the skateboarders and sports fanatics trying to prove a point and showing off their skills in the open. Wearing my first dress or skirt without freezing or feeling silly.

Spring here has so much to offer. The City is most likely one of the places you want to take in every minute of outside, if you can. So this time of the year finally makes it possible for you to do so. Not only can you visit one of the numerous parks NYC has to offer. But you can walk through the streets, from one sightseeing attraction to another, and actually enjoy the outside scenery. Appreciation for this season does not come hard. Usually winters are so cruel over here, people are simply happy March has finally started.

New awakening festivals are emphasized in so many different forms, no matter how small they might be. The Cherry Blossom Festival, for example. It happens every year at the Brooklyn Museum and it cherishes, go figure, cherry blossoms. Last year it had been at the end of April/ beginning of May – that particular day being rather cool to jump around in Prospect Park and worshipping some white blooms.

Another good celebration is the First of May German festival going on at “Zum Schneider’s” in Alphabet City. Last year, Heimweh had actually badly kicked in during that time, so that I had gone there with another German friend on the first day of May. Maifest is what Germans celebrate to welcome spring. The Schneider’s had its own little variation of the fest, as it was roasting a pig outside and giving out plenty of beer inside. Then, once cooked through, people joyfully danced around the traditional Mai-pig as it was being carried inside. At that time, I had already been too drunk to care about German traditions, so I cannot say how everything ended.

Spring is also one of those seasons during which you never know how to dress. One day it’s warm and in the 70ies, and you regret ever having brought that winter coat with you. Another day it’s turned blistering cool, and your sandals and tank top look outright ridiculous on you. However, a trench coat might be the easiest way of how to circumvent these fashionable weather mistakes and I actually plan on buying one. One day. In the future. After that Gucci dress I always wanted…

Today I was simply walking around in a trance, gawking at the green grass in the park and contemplating about the bare tree stumps. I was purely happy. How sunshine and high degrees can make you feel satisfied with almost everything – I had almost forgotten how that feels. I hope this year’s spring, which has so carefully started, will bring many glories with it. So far, I have a few travels planned out. We will see how the rest goes…

Prospect Park in Spring

Where is the Winter in New York?

Ever since November has come around I have been fearing the cold. I have shivered at the thought of putting on two extra layers, and a hat and mittens. I have been grossed out by the prospect of how long yet another winter in New York would be.

But now it’s January. We had spring-like temperatures in November. We had 10 Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) on New Year’s Day. And we had a wonderful warm, sunshiny day last Saturday. I am beginning to wonder what the lack of cold means for the rest of this year. So far, this has only been my second winter in New York.

Last year had been quite the opposite: After the summer of the century, the winter of the decade followed brutally and without much of a forewarning. Snow chaos one day after Christmas. Streets left uncleared days after the storm. Subways, which weren’t operating, and snow days at work. Feet-high piles of the white wonder which could not disappear to anywhere – not back onto the streets it had come from and not to the sideways which were still blocked themselves.
It had all started quite innocently on December 26th, when the first flakes of snow had come tumbling down the sky.
“Oh, how beautiful – your first snow in New York!” my German friend had exclaimed. She was visiting me together with her sister, and both had had their share of snow in Deutschland already for the year 2010. However, this was my very first snow in the Big Apple and I was pretty excited. But for some reason, the snow decided not to stop but rather to keep on coming down from the sky. During late afternoon we were fighting our way through a full-blown blizzard when coming from the post-Xmas-shopping spree (not worth it!) on 5th Ave. At night time I received a call from a friend who couldn’t make it out to his apartment in New Jersey. Both tunnels were closed and there was no way of getting across the bridge to the other state. He had to stay over in my place, which was slowly but surely turning into something resembling a youth hostel. We crammed together a few blankets and air mattresses but my friend and I thought we had to work tomorrow so we didn’t stay up as late as the others did. Of course the next day was a snow day. Snow day meant a work-free-day in New York.
The next day, I remember wandering around deserted Times Square which was covered underneath a still fluffy white blanket. I remember slipping when trying to cross streets. Then checking out Century 21, possibly one of those few stores open during that time. More snow coming down on December 27th. New Year’s Eve had indeed turned into a mess for those who stayed in the City. Philly was a bit warmer.

Hidden cars one day after the first blizzard
The streets were still not cleared two nights after this...
Troops of snow shovelers driving down Manhattan

And then January of 2011: Bittercold wind howling through the streets. So frosty that even the weather-proof BelaRussians did not want leave the house unless they really had to. I truly got to understand the meaning of wearing a hat: Not for the sake of looking good but for the sake of keeping your ears warm and your mind sane. There is nothing worse than cold wind that blows through one ear and escapes through the other –leaving your brain at a cold temperature. That is possibly also the reason I bought a fur-coat with a hood this year: After seeing how practical a knee-long coat was that offered the possibility to keep the wind away from your head, I was easily convinced to buy something equally practical for this winter. Up until then, I never understood the countdown advertised all around New York. “The countdown is on, 120 more days until winter ends,” I heard on the radio and read on subway ads all over the city. But those two months in the beginning of the year, I’m telling you, they really made you believe that counting down days to spring is the only option you have to mentally survive!
And while winter in Europe starts to clear up in February, this month is the worst on the American East Coast. I thought it couldn’t get frostier after December or January. But February pretty much topped it all: Getting outside was a true torture! Walking around Manhattan for no reason was not an option for me. Going out, having fun, or partying meant running from one bar or one club to another. It was definitely one of the worst but also one of the most entertaining times of my stay here. You really start appreciating the plans you have for New York when the weather is utterly disgusting outside. You start missing every minute of the past summer and start loathing the time spring will show up. Which of course was a long time from then, but how could we have known?

So, that was how winter in New York in 2010/2011 had been.

A nice contrast to what it is right now. I just started wearing a hat this morning. Not even for the purpose of necessity but just because it got “a little too cold” outside. Last Saturday felt like spring in March: People were wearing sweaters, dresses, or T-Shirts and strolling around Prospect Park and the Slope. In the beginning of January! If winter is truly to last until March, then we have about two more months to go. Two more months that might resemble winter. This year it just doesn’t appear to be very extreme. This being said, I’ m not sad anymore I never made it out to Jamaica in January. It has indeed been so mild I am not even getting the winter blues I had last year. The sun likes to shine very brightly now, feeding us with hope that spring will come around. I guess I’ll save that money up and spend it on other travels I intend to do during the rest of the year!

Prospect Park one year ago...
Prospect Park today!

A Day in Queens

Last weekend my friend and I tried out something new. We went all the way from Brooklyn to Queens!

Now this might sound unexciting to some of you. “Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, Manhattan, isn’t it all the same?” you might think. “Isn’t it all pretty darn close to each other?” No no, I have to tell you, it is not. You can actually spend a good 2 and a half hours of travel from the midst of Brooklyn to heart of the Bronx, and this is by means of normal subway (as I told you, most folks don’t have or need a car here).

So getting to Queens from Park Slope was very … interesting. Since it was a Sunday, the train schedule was messed up, of course. Trains usually arrive every ten minutes on weekdays and Saturday, but on Sunday they like to show up every 20 minutes, which is about three times an hour. Once we finally hopped on the F, we traveled all the way up to Roosevelt Av and switched to the 7-train. The 7-train is basically the connecting subway from Queens to Manhattan and it stops at Times Square. I rarely take it as I don’t have any reason to go to Queens. Indeed, I recall, the last time I jumped on it was exactly a year ago, and that was when I was looking at a room around Jackson Heights.
Anyhow, the 7 is tricky as it goes local or express. Local means it will halt at every useless stop. Express is the better option. After one and a half hours we finally breathed in fresh air when getting off at the Mets-Willows Pt stop. Destination: Flushing Meadows Park!

Flushing Meadows is a well-known park, as it is right across from the Mets stadium (football freaks!) and as the US Opens court is directly in the heart of all the green. Regretfully I’ve only made my way out once since I’ve been here. This was last fall and I had a good time shooting a few lovely pictures, taking in the last rays of the autumn sun, and watching Mexicans play soccer. Then a tragedy happened and in February I lost all the pictures I had taken in New York due to a hard drive failure.

Shit happens.

Now I am slowly rebuilding my path from last year without getting lost on its way.

So I definitely had to check out Flushing Meadows in October again, just to retake those infamous, beloved photos. My friend had never been and I considered this to be a great occasion to show him around.
We started walking towards the well-known emblem of this park. You know, the first thing you notice when watching an episode of “The King of Queens,” which by the way is completely shot in LA and, therefore, not really authentic. Back to the story. We started walking towards the Unisphere, illuminated by the sun shining through the metal bars of the back of the figure. This year as in last year there were many Latinos out, playing their soccer and having fun in the sun. It was an unexpectedly warm day outside and we didn’t need the jackets we had brought with just in case. But this time I didn’t know whether I should be happy or sad. Mexicans in New York definitely deserve a separate post, so I won’t deliberate too much on them here. It’s just so sad to see them playing out and knowing their life is better than the small village they came from in Mehiko but that they are still not being treated unbiased by the people here. More of this in a later post, though.

We shot some excellent pictures of the Globe. Basically, we had our own private photo session in front of it and I reveal to you some good photos worth posting.

The one and only Unisphere

Then I showed my friend where the US Opens are being held and we carried it on from there, walking around, until we got to a river-like structure. I still didn’t know whether to feel sad or happy. The murky water was filled with trash and I doubt any animal would survive in it. Families were posing in front of this pile of junk and acting as if it were a great scenery. Then the pigeons which were fed by passerbys. The few Orthodox Jewish kids who were running around in a minority compared to the Middle-American crowd. On our way out I passed a dancing group of teenagers. I think they were trying out the some Salsa steps and I couldn’t help but take a picture.

On the subway ride back we got off at Jackson Heights, as I remembered a block that was called Little India in the midst of Queens. I was eager to check it out and we walked right into an Indian street fair. Seems like we were at the right place to the right time, as it happens quite often. Since it was 5 PM already, some stands had wrapped up, but most were still open, advertising their good food, their colorful shawls, and other Indian exotics. I helped myself with a buffet, my friend got a cold dish the name of which I’ve forgotten made up of chick peas and various vegetables served in a sauce layered with bread. Both were really good. For dessert I sneaked around a kettle in which something resembling fried calamari was swimming around. Turns out these were traditional Indian sweets called Imarti. I bought a small bag and took a bite. Pure sugar mounted on top of fried pastry but very good indeed. I don’t think my teeth will like this dish in the long run, but it was worth trying.

It had been a long day. We were tired. Off to Brooklyn we went. This time I wanted to take a different way, so we stopped at Bryant Park and walked to the F from there. Then we had to wait those full 20 minutes until the next train showed up. So it was another one and a half hours back to the Slope. The colorful day had made up for the tedious trip, though!

For more pictures on Flushing Meadows, go to A Picture Every Day.

Fall in New York: It’s That Time of the Year Again!

Yesterday was the first day of fall in New York. The air was crispy, the trees still wore their leaves, the people were partly bundled up – the peace of a different era was lingering in the atmosphere. When floating down the streets towards Prospect Park I had mixed feelings of both fear and sadness but also joy when looking forward to a new season and a fresh beginning.

Technically fall is supposed to start September 23 all around the Northern Hemisphere, and when I came back from my trip on the 18th, I was surprised at how chilly the City had gotten. However, we still had our share of repeated warm stretches in the past two weeks and last Friday I was out in a T-Shirt – just like back in May, the beginning of summer. Sunday was finally our last nice day, as we enjoyed warm rays of sun shining down on us and triggering thoughts of how this summer should never end.

When I woke up Monday morning and stepped out of my door, I was tempted to go back in and snag my hat from underneath the pile of winter clothes lying around in my closet. It was unexpectedly chilly! Today was indeed the first day since March during which I’ve worn my wool hat again. While last week I had still walked around in open sandals and flip flops, this week made me want to go look for those winter boots I haven’t touched in over six months. The extreme change of weather is so typical for this city.

This will officially be my second fall in the Big Apple. As I remember from last year, fall in New York never lasts long. It’s the same with spring. Those two seasons do not get enough attention here, weather-wise that is. They seem to be going on for only a month or one and a half and then either winter or summer marches in with its extreme temperatures. The two seasons I actually love the most in Germany for they symbolize action and change are sort of forgotten and left out over here. I guess you have to enjoy every single day of fall here to say you have experienced it. Because once you’ve finally acknowledged it has come around, that summer has secretly disappeared and that there will be nothing stopping the inevitable, once you’ve done all that it will already be winter. Typically this weather only stays for a short period of time. In less than six weeks it will most likely be freezing cold outside and time for a true winter jacket. Yes, it goes quick here, the turn to winter.

Another true problem aside from the length is the fact that no one knows how to dress during this season. Yesterday I saw a mixed group of people: The summerlies and the winterlies. The summerlies bravely shoved their feet into open-toed-shoes and flip flops, showed bare legs in short khakis and skirts, and only threw on a sweater, as it “was surely not that cold.” The winterlies bundled up in scarves, boots, and jackets almost as thick as winter coats while marching down the street. I’ve decided to go with a mix of both: A thin wool hat, a fall jacket (yes, I bought it in Germany), ballerinas, and long pants. Maybe I’ll be able to wear this outfit for another four weeks until it gets too cool.

Aside from all the aforementioned drawbacks, this season is one of the best. My hair is feeling the difference in humidity already and on dry days it is easily tamable (oh all those summer months that had made me desperate to fix these sticky strands of hair which stubbornly ignored all of my attempts to straighten them out). Also, the heat has not yet been turned on in our apartment, so my skin does not fear the dry air we have during winter times. Our office has already unpacked their heater and when we got in today it was irritably hot compared to the outside temperature. A forewarning to what I can expect in the next 5 months….

What I am afraid of the most during fall season is the awfully cold winter that will always follow it. Last year’s December was already packed with icy cold temperatures that I thought I’d never make it through January and February (as you can tell, I did, but to what degree?! Certainly not completely undamaged!). No more tanning at the beach, no more watching Salsa groups at Coney Island, no more enjoying drinks on an open rooftop, heck, no more rooftop parties on my own roof. How sad. Officially a bit less than 8 months until I can go for a swim again, at least in New York.

Back to the gist: Fall is truly awesome! It is just the right time to start with the habits you almost forgot about during the summer: Brunching is more fun insides and more justifiable during this type of weather. Bloody Marys taste better on a chill fall day. You can still linger outside without being annoyed by the cold wind blowing in your face. You can go for a stroll in the park and see how the leaves start to change. You can visit museums and not feel like you are missing out on the outdoor weather. The air is surprisingly fresh and the people are still peaceful enough to not annoy you. The grumpiness starts way later, so you still have hope that this fall might bring a different winter with it. You start considering different paths and rearranging your life. To me fall brings opportunities. New York has many to offer.

Now, let’s not talk about those 80 plus degrees Germany had on the weekend! Despicable! How could they have warmer weather than we do?!

At Flushing Meadows in Queens, Fall 2010