Certain things grabbed my attention recently as I traveled from commitment to commitment. Manhattan is full of activity, but I consciously tried to stay in the moment and keep my mind as quiet as possible. Because of this intention to be especially observant, a few small things remained in my mind long after I saw them. I noted them for further reflection, and this blog post is the result.
Navy blue confetti, Wow! One piece has survived, folded and battered, yet still intact. It is stuck to the curb on the street where I live, near the United Nations—far from Times Square where the confetti was ceremoniously released in celebration on New Year’s Eve, more than three weeks ago. How it managed to stay dry, and full of color for this long, through the cold and rain, is a mystery. Blue can be a color of hopefulness, and in this case maybe even resilience.
Each New Year’s Day I take a stroll outside looking for any confetti that was carried by wind as far as my block. I am always surprised that these little shards of tissue paper can travel so far overnight. Sometimes, if there is snow, they melt into it, creating colored patches as they dissolve. This is my way of starting the new year, searching for color on a gray winter’s day. Seeing the little blue square this late in the month felt like another New Year’s Day, a reminder that we can start a new cycle anytime, not just on January 1st.
As I wait for an E train to take me to a rehearsal across town, a trumpet starts to play Besame Mucho somewhere further down the platform. I cannot see who is playing, but I am immediately reminded of conflicting travel memories—thoughts of my trumpet playing friends in Sicily, Rome, and London (How are they? What are they doing? When will I see/hear them again?), fighting for brain space with my thoughts of Besame Mucho, time spent in Madrid, and questioning why I never learned Spanish. (Big regret, I should have taken Spanish in school.)
I look up and see I am standing beneath a sign that reads, “Do not wait for trains in this area.” I realize I am an accidental rebel. I do not move. I decide to wait right there for my train.
The only thing I wish I had not seen was a sidewalk vendor selling honey-roasted nuts. I was taking a cab across to 55th street and for a few minutes we were stopped at a red light. My window faced the vendor and I watched him stirring the nuts in what looked like a copper bowl over some sort of heat source. It smelled very nice, especially on such a cold day. It was also very relaxing to watch him cook.
Then, he paused and bent down to pick up some nuts off of the sidewalk, 3 or 4 of them that had bounced out of the bowl under his cart. As he stood up again, I assumed he would throw these nuts in the trash, but he didn’t, he threw them back in with the others that had not finished caramelizing.
At first, my “New-Yorker-ish-ness” kicked in and I wanted to shout at him, or report him to the Department of Health, to do something. But, the cab pulled away from the corner, and I started to second-guess myself—I thought that perhaps I had not seen it all correctly. I was left with so many questions: Maybe he threw the nuts into the fire and because of my angle from the cab I did not see that they were destroyed? Maybe, even if he did throw them back in the cooking bowl, the heat would burn away any germs? Would I ever eat from any vendor again? Would I hold all other vendors accountable for the actions of this one? That did not seem fair either. There must be many vendors who would be appalled by this story and tell me about how they maintain a high standard of hygiene for their product. Part of the fun of visiting a city is trying out the street food, I just don’t want to eat food that has actually touched the street—that is where I draw the line.