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Try to imagine what it would be like to see Lebron James playing in your neighborhood. In Harlem, away from the chaotic epicenter of Manhattan, is a basketball court just like many others if not the fact that both amateur and professional players have played here.
Stars like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant or Julius Irving have been here showing their talent before heterogeneous crowds of anonymous and also famous people like Bill Clinton, Denzel Washington, Beyonce, Jay Z or Rihanna, just to name a few.
After some minutes playing on the court, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with a young man who was there. He told me all about the neighborhood, what was it like to live in the projects (in one of the Polo Ground Towers which look down on the court) and about what he did (he sings and produces rap music, films and edits his own videoclips).
“There are kids who spend all day here. It’s important for them to have something to do and to want to go out and see the world” I remember Meta Mike saying. When I asked him where he would like to go he said that Spain would be nice and Egypt as well – “I have a lot of Twitter followers from Egypt, I would like to go there”. However, he says that he will always go back to Harlem. It’s where he learned everything he knows.
I didn’t want to leave New York without visiting Harlem. I was really happy that I did. Places like this remind me about something singer Kalaf told me once about how frequently creative changes are born from the outside to the inside of the city – or as Jay Z says about his path “from Marcy to Madison Square”.
New York is a “mosaic of episodes” which extends for more than 2000 blocks, and this is one of those parts. It is also part of the day-to-day life of these children and teenagers who live in the projects close to Rucker Park. Be it in Harlem, the Bronx or Brooklyn, or in any other neighborhood, you can’t say that there ones that better than others. “People can inhabit anything. And they can be miserable in anything and ecstatic in anything. More and more I think that architecture has nothing to do with it. Of course, that’s both liberating and alarming…” (Rem Koolhaas). I totally agree.
001 To ride in a taxi in Manhattan.
002 To be on 5th Avenue and think how amazing the Guggenheim Museum building looks like from outside and to be just shocked once you get in. For sure one of the most amazing buildings in NY.
003 To cross the whole Central Park at night.
004 To skate at Rockefeller Center for 90 minutes and falling on your ass more than 10 times.
005 To cross the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges.
006 To see the whole city from top of Rockefeller on your last day in the city.
007 To visit Ground Zero and to notice how water is the only thing that breaks the silence.
008 To wait 10 hours outside Times Square for New Year’s.
009 Christmas Day Mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.
010 To see the most beautiful spectrum of colors at Central Park, during Autumn.
011 To notice for the first time how many languages you hear everywhere in the city.
012 To smell freshly cut watermelon at a street stand in Brooklyn on your first hours in the city.
013 To realize there are rats everywhere (even in some homes!).
014 To go to the barbershop and realize you only spoke Spanish the whole time you were in there.
015 Picnic at Central Park with people you have never met before.
016 Go “Banksy-hunting” with a friend after having dinner.
017 Go visit some of the locations for Breakfast at Tiffany’s (including Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building).
018 To eat Pastrami Sandwich at Katz Delicatessen on Christmas Eve.
119 To get inside New York’s first skyscraper: the Flatiron.
020 To find in Harlem a miniature Flatiron look-a-like building.
021 To go to Chinatown, ask for directions and realize that actually there are people who don’t know how to speak English.
022 To get a slice of pizza with friends after missing the bus.
023 To cross the city from North (158th St in Harlem) to South (Ground Zero) after sunset.
024 To be fooled once while buying something.
025 But to also trust people you wouldn’t normally trust.
026 To visit the Metropolitan Museum for 6 straight hours.
027 To eat a hot-dog at the steps of the Met, with sunset, at Winter Solstice.
028 Getting lost in Smorgasbord.
029 To play basketball at Rucker Park where Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dr. J or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played.
030 To understand that music by Jay-Z and BIG is Brooklyn’s soundtrack (except places like Williamsburg or Dumbo).
031 To eat at the steps of a building in Lower East Side while a Chevrolet Van plays 1960s Cuban music and friends outside speak English and Spanish.
032 To get disoriented after 2 hours underground and noticing that meanwhile it’s already 5pm and dark.
033 To understand that it takes the same time (2 hours) to get from Philadelphia to New York than it does from Port Authority (Manhattan) to Myrtle (Brooklyn).
034 To pass by the abandoned City Hall Station at the end of 6 train line.
035 To spend 1 hour inside two buses and waiting 30 minutes outside for a 2mi route because it’s snowing.
036 To go to Rockefeller Center for the first time and realize it’s much smaller than what it looks like in movies.
037 To go for a walk at the Highline, after dinner.
038 Running from Soho to Dumbo, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.
039 To go to the place where Woody Allen and Diane Keaton shot the bridge scene in 1979′s movie Manhattan.
040 To eat a Double Cheeseburger at “Five Guys” at 7th Avenue.
041 To have someone ask you for directions at Canal Street and actually helping him (even if you’ve been living for 2 months in NY).
042 To hear a cop complain about tourists in the city.
043 To have an employee from Burger King say that you shouldn’t eat fast-food because its bad for your health.
044 To have a guy hit on you, asking your name and if he can buy you a drink.
045 To think: “how annoying it must be for women to be asked for their name and if they want a drink”.
046 To go to a club with friends and listen everyone sing a (awesome) 1980′s song that you had never heard before.
047 To actually see two cops at Dunking Donuts ordering a box of them.
048 To end up going to a place you wanted to go but that you weren’t expecting going at that time.
049 To go to a part of the city and say “yeah, I could live here” :)
050 To eat a Salmon bagel with capers and cream cheese at Dumbo, looking at Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan.
051 To get back to NY after a few days and feeling like you missed it.
052 To spend hours trying to find a place you can buy a Lycamobile SIM card.
053 To catch the “Humans of NY” guy interviewing someone on the streets.
054 To be asked where you are from because they can’t figure it out through your accent.
055 To be surprised by the visit of a friend you weren’t expecting in New York and having dinner with her.
056 To get lost on your way back home from groceries at Target because you got in the wrong bus (but finding something you were looking for).
057 To be invited for a MoMA conference and meet someone you met before in another country.
058 To go from Dumbo to Williamsburg by ferry.
059 To look at the Empire State Building and the rest of the city while you take a break.
060 To go to for a coffee at 5pm and notice the office has a giant plastic bubble at the entrance.
061 To receive a book mailed by a friend, at your office.
062 To ask random people what were their best NY experience.
063 To have lunch while working at your desk.
065 To play soccer in Williamsburg after work, with The Chrysler Building just across the river (and realizing girls here play just as well as guys).
066 To steal a saltshaker at Katz Delicatessen (after eating the best Pastrami Sandwich ever)
067 To cook a Portuguese recipe with cod-fish in Brooklyn.
068 To eat risotto for lunch (and the best Cheesecake in town) at a colleagues farewell lunch, in Chelsea.
069 To eat roasted chicken (Portuguese style) with rice, fries and “Sumol” drink, in Newark.
070 To talk with someone at Pret-a-Manger and staying in touch with her.
071 To find a car with a licence plate from your hometown.
072 To wave at a stranger who is in a building right in front of your office, and to see how happy she got that you noticed.
073 To eat Portuguese custard tarts, in Newark (not NY but worth it!)
074 Thanksgiving at Pablo’s.
075 Dinner at Koreatown.
076 To take the ferry to Staten Island (go outside!)
077 To understand that there are walk-up windows at MacDonald’s (and that they are actually used).
078 To understand that NY is as horizontal as it is vertical.
079 To ride in the F train for the first time and feeling like you are inside a time machine.
080 To meet a Rem Koolhaas (author of Delirious New York) by chance while leaving the office (and realizing he was just as afraid as I was).
081 To be fascinated by street food packaging.
082 To see the pinkish sunset over New Jersey every working day.
083 To see a real fire rescue service on your block and realizing that it was false alarm.
084 To go to MoMA on a “Free Friday Night” and realizing it’s so full of people it looks like Macy’s on Christmas Eve.
085 To turn on TV for the first time and see that a rerun of a show you saw as a 5-year-old kid is on.
086 Drinks after work with colleagues.
087 To have someone at the guesthouse eat your peanut butter jar with a fork.
088 To see a wedding proposal on the ice skate ring at Rockefeller Center.
089 To send flowers to someone.
090 To come across a friend’s doppelganger.
091 To be invited to a Mexican party on the floor below yours and realizing there are 20 people dancing and a band of Mariachi playing inside a 200 sq. ft. room.
092 To go to Queens and realize how underrated it is and wishing you gone there sooner.
093 To arrive home and watch your favorite show with some hot chocolate and marshmallows.
094 To have a party in your office.
095 To pet a Police horse.
096 To wake up and be surprised by the first day of snow.
097 To smell the fragrance of Christmas trees on the streets.
098 To naively think that it is possible to get out at 6pm from work and watch the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting.
099 To shop at Macy’s and use the wooden escalators.
100 To go to FAO Schwartz toy store and see the floor piano where Tom Hanks played on”Big” movie.
101 To listen to “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” while feeling homesick.
102 To stay in peace for 30 minutes even though in seated at Times Square, absorbing the whole atmosphere, not thinking in anything else.
103 To have a stranger ask your name and number.
104 To look at the Empire State Building and realize it’s the last time you will see it (for some time).
105 To listen to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” played by a pianist at the Empire State Building main lobby.
106 To spend Christmas Eve at the Turkish and Russian Baths (and feeling like a million bucks after)
107 To have a Christmas dinner in a Chinese restaurant with a bunch of people you haven’t met before.
108 To eat the first pretzel right after New Year’s.
109 To sleep at a friend’s house after realizing you were chatting for hours and it’s snowing outside.
110 To kiss someone while snow is falling.
111 To see for the last time NY and realize that it is a real strong city.
Have you ever witnessed the expression “living under a bridge” applied in real life? For anyone arriving at or leaving the Sete Rios train station close to Lisbon’s financial district, it is quite a view. For some people, at first it can be disquieting to see how a margin of people are currently living. But after awhile – especially for those who are not invertebrate – it is truly obnoxious to realize that this is a reality for some people.
To observe this phenomenon is not – by far – a proof that it is unprecedented. But it does reflect the profound marks of the economic crisis in societies which did not see this coming (or at least that’s what we are told).
With almost 2 million empty houses -and 500.000 of them overcrowded – almost 1 million are underused with more rooms than necessary. It is quite extraordinary to understand that society has found this way of spatially rearranging itself in what domesticity is concerned, and all of this because of the need to rearrange those who hold money.
Ironically – or not – as result of the “housing bubble” we had to compress those families who were financially struggling before deregulation, while others maintained or expanded their spaces. Thus there seems to be a direct proportionality between (overcrowded/underused) space and wealth. It wouldn’t be so tragic if not the alarming scale of this phenomenon.
This sort of unbalanced mentality is also applied in other areas, most importantly with respect of health care. Poor people are compressed against the great wall materialized in the increase of health care taxes while premium healthcare services have never been so affordable for those with money. But also in education you can see similar phenomenons. The increase of Ph.D students who dropout as result of the lack of support networks is disturbing symptom of the slow evaporation of the concept of meritocracy – so much proclaimed by our parents.
Like Nobel prize laureate José Saramago said, worse than the economic crisis is the moral crisis, a lack of values, responsibility and conscience. What type of natural selection will be produced as result of the way we deal with these issues is still not very clear. Hopefully we will remain with a spine.