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New York Through The 5 Senses, As Experienced By An Outsider

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I grew up in Los Angeles, and I love it. I feel so passionately about my town that I feel I must draw a clear line in the sand when it comes to our coastal rivalry with New York. The east coast, and New York in particular, represents such a stark contrast to our sunshine-and-sandals ways in California. Prior to this trip, most of my experiences with New York were brief 4- to 12-hour trips taking the train in from Connecticut or driving through to get my favorite foods. But this trip in particular, there’s something different.

Here, New York through the five senses:

Olfactory

New York has a smell. It first hit me when taking the subway in from JFK. That old familiar scent that’s a mix of a shirt from a vintage clothing store and sulfur. What is that? As New York has been here elevendy million years, that smell in the subway is probably a combination of a lot of things. Maybe urine, maybe wafts from the ethnic food stalls, or maybe it’s whatever is steaming up from those random pipes in the middle of the street. They say smell can be the most powerful trigger for memory and the endearing scent of this town reminds me of the fondness so many have for New York, that lived-in smell.

Auditory

Walking out of the serenity of my friend’s apartment on the Upper West Side you’re hit with a wall of sound on Amsterdam Ave. The siren. The garbage truck. The taxi accelerating. The kid laughing. The click of heels. The language of French and the language of “French.” The sound of a businessman yelling into his iPhone. The Puerto Rican couple arguing about Facebook. Now take all that and multiply it by ten, pretend it’s a fish, then slap yourself in the face with it. Sound is energy and that’s perhaps the most distinct part of the vibe of this city.

Tactile

You are sticky. You are grimy. You are happy. You’re constantly aware of the space (or lack thereof) around you because you’re always in contact with other people — may it be passing on the street or jammed into a line outside of a bar. You are touching the turnstile to get in to the subway. Your legs are touching the seat of a taxi. The feel of the Post, err, I mean Times, in your hand. Your shoes on the cobblestoned streets in Greenwich. The warmth of slice of pizza in your hand. All of these things become that special touch of New York.

Gustatory

There are people that eat to live and those that live to eat. I am the guy that drove four hours to Philadelphia from New Haven just to try the two warring cheesesteak places Pat and Geno’s because I saw them featured on the Travel Channel (then of course stopped at Serendipity in New York on the way back). A big part of New York to me is the food and that’s a draw for any trip I take. I know I’m not alone in this, as this is where a large portion of Michelin-starred restaurants reside, and this is where cooks come to be chefs. May it be from that special blend of gourmet burger at Minetta Tavern, a deceitful crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside cookie from Levain Bakery, the pure genius of the Halal carts, or the jarring, simple decadence of a slice of Artichoke Pizza. I can’t articulate in words the flavors of this town, but somehow, the food always feels like love.

Visual

New York is visually stunning, defined by the people and the buildings. The people are energy, feeling, and movement that create emotion, splashed against the canvas of the architecture. The buildings provide a stark, static contrast and permanence to a town that is constantly evolving. The lone flower growing out of a crack in the sidewalk is beautiful. The giant trees in Washington Square Park are beautiful. The rowboats and the ice skating in Central Park are beautiful. The view from the top of Rockefeller center is beautiful (and better than the Empire State building). The street carts are beautiful. Times Square at night is beautiful. The women are beautiful. The sleeping homeless man is beautiful. The doormen are beautiful. The train conductors are beautiful. The NYPD is beautiful. Everything here is beautiful, near overwhelming, if you’re ready to look at it full-on.

If you asked me two years ago about this town I would have said “I like New York but I’m not in love with it.” So if much of love is timing, then what does that mean for me now?

New York, I love you.

Title Photo Credit: flickr

Photo credit: flickr

Written by Chris Backley

Wayfaring paramedic writer @Latimes @AskMen. Always knows where to go eat. Author of How Much Does Love Cost: 33 Essays on Modern Dating.

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