Fifteen years ago, on my beloved and enchanted island of Stromboli, and precisely at Locanda Barbablù, I heard loud and clear a miscellaneous group of New Yorkers driving the monolingual staff crazy for miscommunication on the menu. I immediately snooped in to see how I could help. I have always loved speaking English, or I better say, just ‘speaking’. Plus these people were from New York. Il mio amore. They turned out to be a wonderful bizarre group of people, who nowadays are my family in New York: Palma, Pierre, Chloe-Rose and Amber. Real New Yorkers, made of heart and soul. Welcoming, generous, rich, giving, real, true. And every year I have the pleasure of spending time with my American family in their beautiful and magic nest at Palma’s on 28 Cornelia Street right in the heart of the Village. But let me tell you how my never ending love-affair with The City began.
I first came to the city at thirteen,traveling with family on a super touristy trip. I then came back at fifteen, while vacationing at my relatives’ in CT. I insisted they let me come to the city by bus on my own. But they were adamant. No way, Josè. I was too young and that was 1987 New York. It turned out later on that 1987 was the most violent year in the history of NYC. Not this gentrified, clean, polite new New York. But I have always been stubborn and a royal pain in the ass when it comes to things I really want . And they finally gave in. At that point, I guess wishing for me to get shot at, after being so obnoxious. Anyhow, I didn’t get shot and I still to this day vividly remember me getting off the Greyhound bus at Port Authority. A tiny little thing, with a Mandarina Duck backpack, a basic school-English and two destinations in mind: Strawberry Fields and Tiffany. Back then, I already knew what mattered in life. Love and Diamonds. It was December. It was freezing. It was scary. But, so what? I had to do it. The rule of attraction. I did go to Strawberry Field on foot and decided to walk through the park and get on Fifth Avenue. I had a map on me, but I lost my way. None in sight, until I saw the silhouette of a black guy approaching. And, I am ashamed to say it, I got scared. I guess he noticed how lost I was and asked me if I needed help. So I told him I was trying to reach Fifth Avenue. In my 15-year-old Itanglish: “ME GO TIFFANY” I must have looked like an easy prey … He told me he was going that way too and he could accompany me. Auch… I felt trapped.To trust or not to trust? I went with my instinct and accepted his offer. During the walk, I kept glancing nervously at the places around us, trying to match them on the map, which I kept firmly in my hand, although hidden in my pocket (hellooo I didn’t want to look like a LOSER with a map). Nothing bad happened. He was the nicest guy ever. I said goodbye and proceeded to my Audrey Hepburn fantasy. My mama has always loved old American movies and made me watch over and over again ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’,’Barefoot in the Park’, ‘Bell Books and Candle’ … I did enter the store and bought her a pair of silver earrings. And in the elevator, I bumped into a Milanese family I knew from home. I can only imagine the shock in their eyes seeing this cheerful independent funny little thing hanging around on her own. During this 5-hour adventure in the Big Apple, I kept collect-calling my relatives to let them know I was still alive. ‘Ma chi t’ammazza a te?’ (roughly translated as ‘Nothing could stop you’) they said exhausted on my fifth or so call.
When it was time to go back to Port Authority to take the bus home, I tried hailing a taxi on Central Park South. With no luck, until another helpful stranger saw me in distress and whistled ‘a la Audrey’ and stopped one. People in New York were nice. People in New York are nice, thirty-five years later. And they will always be. My very first lesson with this outstanding incredible city was never to judge a book by its cover. Even the weirdest can be the nicest. New Yorkers are the weirdest, the nicest as much as they can be the greatest assholes. As the city itself, which a friend of mine described as a boyfriend who abuses you but in the end you keep coming back for more.
This is how I fell in love with the city. Before falling in love with a man for the very first time. In NY.