It’s day 7 of voluntary social distancing here in New York and staying at home has been a challenge and a blessing. Now we have all the time in the world to focus on the things that we could never catch up on before. Time has become a loose and fluid entity these past few days. Hence why I’ve taken a couple of days off the daily challenge to just reflect and connect with my breath and my thoughts and write something different.
I’ve slowed down so much from my previous rhythms, that I’ve had so much more time to reflect on what really matters here and what doesn’t. There are opportunities in this global health crisis we can’t afford to miss. We’ve been either forced to stop what we were doing before but also take stalk of what the hell we’ve been doing to our planet to each other and ultimately our own health. We’re nothing next to this enemy within.
We’ve been told to stay home, help the collective good for once instead of the personal gain. We’re going stir crazy in our forced solitude, and all of a sudden it’s become a reflection on the little things. That is all that truly is on my mind these days. The grind has stopped and sharing a cherished moment talking to a loved one has taken ultimate priority over anything else.
I ( hope) know this too shall pass but we’re at a pivotal point in our existence and the space we inhabit and no amount of analysis will change it. Here’s a few things I’ve taken from the past
In the past week, I’ve cooked a home made meal for me and my housemate every night. I’ve listen to music and read a book with so much attention I forgot to stop at 2 am. I’ve stretched and moved with my friends in Athens who are also cooped up in their homes without any clear idea of when this will end. And all that I am craving is the little things that make life worth living.
The delicate and personal, the memories and the things we share with those we most cherish. The beauty of this planet and the connections we build. The smell of a home cooked meal and the clink of a glass of wine with friends in a shared tavern table just at the foot of the Agean sea. The crisp folding of a page from a book I can’t put down and the feeling of clean air against my face. Quiet mornings sipping a cup of coffee with my family before the day unfolds. No amount of technology can replace it although taking to friends and family daily is of utmost importance. The list of little things is like a treasure trove that we nibble at when all the supplies have been depleted. And here we are cherishing all that we took for granted. Living what we thought was a given and saying all we thought was understood.
Let’s hope we share on those small joys more often.
One thing is for certain, this is one crazy March challenge. I never thought my daily posting would turn out like this, but for these last few days as the world is gripped by uncertainty and fear, I’m more determined than ever to turn to the things that bring a sense of calm and comfort in these insane, and troubling times, and to share them with you. We are all slowly being asked to self isolate. Something I’ve become quite good at in New York, and given the extra time and space I’m spending at home, I’m compiling my list of books that I’ll be reading during these next few weeks.
Nothing is certain at this point other than taking life day by day. As we all slowly become gripped by fear and panic, there are some certainties that give me some hope and an anchor on this crazy boat ride. As a continuation of my previous post, I’ve put together my top 10 Desert Island Books, to accompany you dear readers while you’re at home, some are in English some are Greek and some in spanish, and all are a great way to stay at home and catch up on some much needed ( no screen time )
My 10 — Desert Island Books for Covid-19 reading list: Along with: The complete works of Shakespeare.
– A Jane Austen Education by : William Deresiewicz
– The Penelopiad by: Margaret Atwood
– On Love by: Alain De Botton
– Εγκώμιον Απραξίας — Φρανσουα Ζυλλιεν
– Κωμικοί Έρωτες — Μίλαν Κούντερα
– Heroes by : Stephen Fry
– Just Kids— by: Patti Smith
– Water Dancer — by: Ta- Nehisi Coates
– Find me — by: André Aciman
– Leonard Cohen — The complete poems and songs.
The list grows longer and longer in my mind but I had to cut this to my 10 current picks. And I leave you with a verse from Leonard Cohen’s poem// song:
OUR LADY OF SOLITUDE:
All summer long she touched me She gathered in my soul From many a thorn, from many thickets Her fingers, like a weaver’s Quick and cool And the light came from her body And the night went through her grace All summer long she touched me And I knew her, I knew her Face to face
And her dress was blue and silver And her words were few and small She is the vessel of the whole wide world Mistress, oh mistress, of us all
Dear Lady; Queen of Solitude I thank you with my heart for keeping me so close to thee while so many, oh so many, stood apart
And the light came from her body And the night went through her grace All summer long she touched me I knew her, I knew her Face to face
A walk through my favourite parts of Brooklyn brought with it unexpected surprises and a small detour.
On an unseasonably warm March Sunday morning; Brooklyn beckoned for a long walk through its tree lined streets and quaint neighborhoods. I have been feeling the effects of a sedentary winter, the crazy health scares and the political scene, like many of us; so taking a long stroll was just the medicine needed to wake up my winter body. It seems my idea was not a novel one, as there were many fellow sun worshipers taking their long awaited dose, of freedom as if they had been let out of their winter prisons.
After a hearty breakfast with a friend at her neighborhood Greek diner, ( yup every neighborhood has one); I decided to start my walk admiring the incredible victorian inspired architecture of Ditmas Park, with the final destination aimed at the neighborhood of Bay Ridge, ( the other Greek enclave outside of Astoria, Queens.
I first walked though my old neighborhood, taking a fresh look at familiar streets, eyeing suspiciously at new stores opening up where neighborhood staples had been open for years. The obligatory stop to say hello to my favorite Yemeni neighborhood bodega near my old street lead to a quick conversation and a joyful reassurance that god will look over us all. I suppose as a spiritual atheist I’ll take all the blessings I can get. I kept my pace walking up the hill between Greenwood Cemetery and Prospect Park. There lies a little secret street not many people know about well protected from real estate sharks tucked in a triangle all on its own. The architecture is a mixture of old wooden houses and pre WW II two story single family homes. Thankfully most of them well preserved and owned by old timers who desperately hold on as best as they can. Primarily an Italian American neighborhood until the late 1970s.
I know now that making time for diversions on my walks is always rewarding, because as I stood at the top of a quiet crossroads between my old neighborhood and Greenwood cemetery, I caught the eye of an older gentleman sitting on his stoop taking in the sun while reading his newspaper. I didn’t have a deadline except for making sure I was back home by sunset, which left a good 3 hours for my stroll. I greeted the older man who introduced himself with a smile. “Hello!” I say “taking in this lovely sun I see.”
Jack, is a genuine Brooklyn local, born, raised, married, had a family and lived on this block his whole adult life. Italian- American ( as are most of the old timers of this neighborhood since the early 20s) from the island of Favignara just off the western coast of Sicily.
-You’re looking well! I said which was part encouragement part truth, and he quickly replied “it’s all the extra virgin olive oil from the mother land!” To which I replied “oh I could not agree with you more, I’m from Athens and I don’t buy anything other than olive oil from my country” What unfolded was one of the loveliest conversations I’ve had the privilege of having.
Jack introduces himself with a sweet smile on his face, probably quite glad someone from the neighborhood stopped by to say hello. He is a spry 91 years young, and despite his blood thinners and according to him horribly restrictive diet, has a youthful demeanor about him. He has lived in this very neighborhood since he married his lovely wife in the early 1920s. He quickly pulled out his wallet to show me his wedding day picture which showed a handsome dark haired man with his strong gaze, standing proudly next to his elegant Italian beauty of a bride of 61 years. They moved from their cold water flat to this gem of a neighborhood, had two children, 3 grandchildren and 2 great grand children. I asked if his wife was around and a slight sadness overtook him as he explained her passing 2 years prior.
– I’m lonely now, everyone I know has passed on, my kids live outside the city, yes they visit but not often enough. He said as his eyes grew darker. Things have changed here over the years. You know what did it? That damn highway, ripped through our quiet neighborhood and changed everything since the 60’s.
-You don’t like change, Jack?
– No! He responded quickly in a distinctive Brooklyn accent now rarely heard around these neighborhoods.
– These ugly apartment buildings going up all over the park, I hate them!
– I don’t like change either, but what can you do? I’ll visit you Jack! I said and I meant it. Having lived with my amazing land lady of 95 years, I know how older people crave company.
-If I’m alive! He quickly responded.
-I just found you Jack, don’t leave me just yet! I joked and he laughed a toothy smile.
-Ok let me ask ya a personal question. He goes.
-Ask me anything, I respond ( fully knowing what would come next)
-You have someone ? he asks with a concerned look.
-Ah Jack… Not really.
-What! A lovely woman such as yourself?
-You wanna be my beau, Jack? I smiled.
He smiled back, and at that moment another neighbor brought by some chrysanthemum bulbs that he couldn’t use, and I lingered a little longer before I said good bye.
– I’ll see you soon Jack! Take care of yourself. I’ll bring you some spinach pie next time I come around. I won’t put too much feta in it.
– May god keep you happy and healthy always. Take care of yourself, you’re a lovely young woman. He gave me a soft embrace and I reassured him I would keep my promise to come by again.
As I walked up the hill towards the cemetery it hit me, how many times I drove by Jack’s house in the four years that I lived down the street from him and never passed by. The time was right and I do hope I get to see him again. These precious moments for him are morsels of sweetness in a life that has long changed since he moved to this quiet hill in Windsor Terrace.
– Bless you Jack! I waved as I resumed my stroll, realizing I had spent a good 45 minutes talking to my new friend.
The sun hit my face once more and I took in a deep breath. Thanks Jack, you’re a gem.
The little things matter. Saturdays are about the small morsels and the unique little corners of New York. Life here is rushed, frenetic and fast paced. The quiet moments are few, but it you take to notice; this city is just as much about the grand story as the snapshots and little secrets of our lives. Today is all about Saturday.
The crisp air of an early spring has finally arrived in New York. The usual characters are out in my neighborhood in their usual style. The light in the morning sky is just little softer, just a little kinder, yet it’s still too cold to walk out without a heavy coat. I walk to my neighborhood coffee shop, and grab my usual before heading to a client in the East Village. Today seems like the self isolation of the winter is starting to slightly loosen its grip. Kids are dragging their parents to diners in the city and young boys are racing each other down the street. Amidst the insanity of the political, social, and world health turmoils; sits a quiet life that doesn’t stop for anything.
Saturdays have a special ease for me. I let the day unfold, unrushed, and unscripted. Every other day has an early start, a schedule, a task, a job, a time line. Saturdays are open, lazy, and as the springtime comes; perfect for long walks. Taking strolls in New York are the best way to see the city, it’s a city of neighborhoods, and the people who represent them. Morning in my neighborhood is like no other in the city, and afternoon in the East Village, especially on the first sunny warm days of the season are defined by two things; Day drinking and loud conversations.
Walking through the East village is quite possibly one of my favorite things to do in New York. I love this part of the city, it’s rawness, it’s unapologetic New Yorkness, and the more I get to know it, the more I notice the little things, the secrets that this neighborhood slowly reveals. I walked into Tompkins Square Park off of 10th street just as the sun was at it’s peak warmth before giving in to the crisp early evening. The locals, the ones that have always been in the east village, before it became cool for everyone to be there have gathered in the entrance of the park, to share stories, smoke a joint and play chess. Hard faces, with a slight sadness in their eyes, share stories and lingered glances, as spanish is the official language of the square. It’s an unspoken rule, that the old guard owns the park. It’s their place of gathering, their living room, and I would not dream of interrupting them. I sat on a bench, closed my eyes and allowed the sounds to fill the air. Kids running near by, a small food market closing it’s stalls after a long day and the influx of loud young voices of the people leaving the bars near by. I steal a few more moments to listen in on the lively conversations, before I move on to Canal street Market for a quick chinese pancake. The delicate spell is quickly broken after I walk away from the park, I notice the noisiness of the city start to rise in preparation for Saturday Night. I take a few more moments in the cold sun before disappearing into the next subway towards home.
Saturdays are my date with the city days. Daily life, can get in the way of the intimacy needed to sit and savor the moments the little things, the little details that only reveal themselves when the city is allowed to exist without expectations. New York is still stretching out her wings, perched up on a rooftop somewhere observing the landscape before everyone else steals her quiet moment. There is nothing casual about New York life, except on an early saturday morning, after the previous night’s escapades have been cleaned up with the shop owners and the street sweepers prepare her for the tourists and the visitors and the ones who won’t ever see her little hidden gems. Saturday is the day when the city is just for us “locals” to enjoy.
Till tomorrow, by the skin of my teeth and on the eve of a bright Sunday morning. Goodnight and Good luck.
What started as a daily commitment experiment for personal growth, self discovery, and a writing challenge, has now become a personal writing tradition. This year I’m hoping I can make this challenge a bit more vulnerable and personal. As done in my last challenges; during the month of March I will be writing a daily post; observation and reflection. This daily posting challenge is a way to push open personal boundaries and redefine my commitment to writing and sharing more of what I see, what I experience, what I am deeply moved by, and how I rediscover the similarities in the cultures I encounter including my own.
This year I will add one more element to the daily challenge that will accompany you; my few but loyal readers on this 27 day journey.
This element, especially in my rediscovery of what it means to be a yoga student, instructor, and a person who genuinely loves guiding people towards better and more self empowered health; is my most challenging. For the past two years I’ve been redefining my own personal practice, and in that light; I will be adding posts and thoughts about my personal physical, spiritual and wellness life, and how it is informed by daily yoga practice, unscripted kinesiology and movement exploration, crazy dance classes, food creation and wellness routines. As my body ages, I realize I’m capable of far more than I had ever tackled in my teens and twenties as a dancer and young yoga student. I invite you to place your own personal 27 day challenges and share them with your friends and loved ones. Motivation sometimes comes from inspiration and I hope this challenge will give opportunity for inspiration and discussion.
Day 1. The Peoples Park
Running on empty.
This past winter, both physically and mentally has been a bit of a challenge. Even though the winter was far less harsh than in previous years; I felt I had to work twice as hard to self motivate. Pulling myself by my bootstraps, as it is often passed around in the U.S, by those who feel the need to show off their unwavering personal resilience to failure. I challenged myself to a biweekly (no matter the weather) run in the park. My body in the last year has gone through some welcome and unwelcome transformations. This morning, as I had done last Sunday, I got out of my winter skin, and with a chilly sunny day, as a backdrop took a very slow run in my favorite park in New York : Prospect Park.
Some may argue that Central Park is better, fancier, more sophisticated, has more to see, and they might be right, but for me Prospect Park has been my sanctuary, my safe haven, my meditation spot, my writing spot, my open gym, my place for self reflection, and where I go jogging from April till November. It’s filled with little nooks, beautiful open lawns, nice shady spots, drum circles and open air concerts. It’s a back yard, a meeting spot, a quiet space and a gathering space. Unlike any park I know in Athens, New York parks are stuff of legends and many stories. Since I don’t have a garden to sit in anymore, the Park has provided a green haven away from everything that reminds you, that you live in a crowded city. Today was no exception. Gorgeous sun reflected off the lake shimmering the waters as people ran, biked, played music and took in a few late winter rays.
It’s a little bit of magic. You will see everyone from the surrounding neighborhoods come together. Kids running through and playing with trees, cyclists whizzing by; re-construction on the old gazebo in the lower end of the park. Today I ran so slowly, even an old grandmother passed me by, but I pay no mind as my feet slowly got used to the rhythm of my heart rate. The Park transports you to places of the past as the trees have secrets only they will ever know. After cutting through the lower half of the park; the wind started to cut through both my hoodies as I walked home. It’s still too cold for me but I’ve pushed through today’s first satisfied with my progress but mostly exhausted and sore.
Living in one place long enough, you forget to see it with curious fresh eyes. You walk up the same train station, drive the same route to work, take the same street to your yoga practice, gym, dance class; go to the same cafe or bar for a drink with friends. None of this is bad per se. There is something beautiful, comforting even, about the familiar faces and places you encounter every day. Yet shaking up the pot ignites renewed curiosity in a place that has become part of your everyday life.
I challenge myself to the newness of things in order to avoid getting into a much dreaded rut. Daily life is not often full of wonder, unless we make a concentrated effort. Practice, go to work, teach, give massages, come home, cook, write. Rinse and Repeat. I try to stay true to my commitment to novelty, curiosity and keeping a fresh eye on things I see everyday. The reason? I have to gaze at things with absence of predictive air, feeding my need to stay present so I don’t get lost in the same story line. So I don’t get lost in myself.
Routines, set schedules, predictable outcomes can be equal part comforting and a trap. Looking up at that special moment when all you want to do is bury yourself in the same thing over and over again requires a little extra effort. I say this because falling in love with a place you don’t consider your home requires effort, presence and a sense of wonder. Falling in love with it when it’s all you know is twice as challenging.
New York is not an easy broad ( and for me she IS a broad— not a lady, or a missus, or a woman she’s a broad with whatever images you care to understand reflect that characteristic).
She is harsh, unromantic and somewhat uglypretty. ( a Greek word not really translatable “ασχημόρμοφη” ) a trait she shares with my hometown Athens, who’s femininity is always cast over with a shadow of the unkempt or wild. Taking her for granted and ignoring her nuanced beauty is easy to miss. She’s not glamorous or sexy like Paris or Rome but she’s enchanting, and when you take a moment to notice; she will make you fall in love with her. Unlike my love for Athens, which is in my blood, my love for New York has been peppered with anger, loneliness, pure joy, grittiness and forgiveness. New York is a cinematic love, Athens is a poetic one.
Living and learning to love a city that is not my place of birth is about a deeper kind of love. It’s about understanding the hustle, the grind, and the soul of this metal giant, as the facade of its deep felt inherent kindness and humanity. Some days it takes effort and patience not reserved for your average New Yorker …. but just like I’m not your average Athenian, I’m certainly not your average New Yorker.
Belonging to this city is a work in progress, and like most die heard New Yorkers will never miss a chance to state that: you don’t deserve to be called one unless you’ve spit blood, sweat and tears for it. Noticing it’s magic, however belongs to everyone regardless of socioeconomic status, birthplace, or location. Ive learned to love New York as I hade learned to love myself. She has become a part of me and I a part of her, and every now and then she enchants me, this gal of mine.
She stands tall. Gotham dreams of a place unknown and known. A legacy thrown into turmoil, she breathes.
Her. guts scream.
Her power unseen.
She grapples with the visitors and the takers of her streets.
A queen, taken from her throne and thrown about like a beggar in her own neighborhood.
She stood tall, and she will again. The threading of her story is still in the making. Patterns left unfinished and long forgotten, will rise like a falcon over a clear sky. Triumphant, confronting, scrutinizing our every move.
This lady is still about liberty underneath the layers of depravity. She’s my sanctuary.
Nothing is more iconic and telling of New York life than during the holiday season. Rockefeller center and Macy’s light display, the skating rink in Bryant Park. Landmarks, and points of interest. Many more tourists come during Christmas and New Year’s eve than any other time of year. What I’ve always been drawn to and notice is the other side of the spectrum. Noticing the loneliness, the isolation and the art of the Christmas hustle. What makes this city especially harsh during the holidays; is that they are treated as a commodity, and everyone who does work during them is part of that mechanism.
This year I chose to ( was forced ) spend the holidays in the city. Work kept me here so I used the opportunity to take this unavoidable staycation and treat myself to a little bit of a tourist viewpoint.
New York has two ( at least) worlds; one of opulence and tourist attractions and one of familiar locality. Small local joints, people who know each other and greet you on the street, and an absence of frivolity and pretense.
Real New Yorkers however they might be depicted in movies and television; are a caring, loving people and the heartbeat of this city, and when you get to know them, some of the kindest people you will ever meet. Staying here during the holidays in what seemed an almost empty metropolis, gave me a chance to meet and actually talk to many more people I otherwise would have overlooked. Stay open to possibilities in the year to come, you never know where they will take you.
Falling in love with Gotham is not an easy love. It’s not a quiet love it’s a passion unlike any other.
I’ve fallen in and out of love with New York City, its culture and its people for as long as I can remember. First in 1999 and now 20 years later. It was and is a place where you undergo change in order to survive, you must evolve in order to thrive and you must find yourself before you get lost.
This place is not for the faint of heart, and most importantly it’s not for the faint of mind.
Finding myself, my purpose and identity in NYC is the deepest journey of self knowledge I’ve undergone in recent years. Very few cities I’ve visited or lived in have had the same effect. For those who are natives, lifers, and full time residents; it’s a daily chess game of willpower and focus. You have to stay ahead of the monster and the game.
Yet the city has changed.
Whatever bohemian, free, society New York once was; has now been transformed, altered and deeply changed. For the better, or for worse , only time will tell.
Part of me liked the dangerous, mysterious Gotham to the fancy free NYC full of kombucha, beard oil and gluten free butter biscuits. New York at its core is not hip or cool, it’s subversive, loud mouthed, deeply spiritual, proud, driven city. It’s a city of newcomers and visitors, a city of passage and immigration and a city who’s pulse is in the hustle.
The give and take and heartbeat of nyc is on its streets. It’s not a romantic place. I’ve written about the lack of eros in this city since I first stated writing this blog. It lacks the finesse, and the flirtation of older cities but makes up for it with a true heart.
New York is not a place for the faint of heart. The love here is fierce, possessive and demanding. She’s drunk in the middle of the night with mascara running down her face. She’s messy she’s unforgiving she’s crude. She’s remembers everything. Yet hers is a love that teaches you first and foremost to love yourself.