Leaving New York City

Abroad is the place where we stay up late, follow impulse, and find ourselves as wide open as when we are in love. We live without a past or future, for a moment at least, and are ourselves up for grabs and open to interpretation … The Romantic poets inaugurated an era of travel because they were the great apostles of open eyes. Buddhist monks are often vagabonds, in part because they believe in wakefulness. And if travel is like love, that is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity, and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end. ~ Pico Iyer

Thank you, New York. And goodbye for now.

NYC from the air

NYC from the air

Brooklyn Bridge view

Brooklyn Bridge view

Central Park

Central Park

Columbus Circle

Columbus Circle


Getting reacquainted with New York City: to flâne is human

One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years. ~ Tom Wolfe

Spending a couple of days acclimating to being on the other side of the world can be a joy. An infamous skyline, leaves changing colour, layered collages of buildings old and new, freshly carved pumpkins on doorsteps. Hello, New York.

Manhattan skyline

Manhattan skyline

Columbus Circle to Central Park

Columbus Circle to Central Park


Tom Fruin’s famous plexiglass house, Kolonihavehus, against the Brooklyn Bridge

freshly carved pumpkin, West Village

freshly carved pumpkin, West Village


Planning a trip to NYC

NY trip planning

New York trip planning

We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the world whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again – to slow time down and be taken in, and fall in love once more. ~ Pico Iyer

Anyone who knows me knows that I am an enthusiastic itineriser and joyful organiser. As I alluded to in a previous post, for me anticipating a journey through planning is all part of the experience. Travel lasts longer if you plan in anticipation and reflect upon return.

Packing is made easier by the packing list I made for myself back in my living-in-London pre-children days when I travelled internationally all the time. When crafting my list, I started with this online list and then fine-tuned mine over a number of years of regular travel. It includes lists for my laptop bag, carry-on and checked case. I never travel without my eye mask, ear plugs, camera & mobile phone charger. This time around I’m adding some creative, flânerial things to my case, as I outlined here.

On this, my third visit to New York, I’ll be staying at an airbnb apartment. The wonderful thing about that, in addition to having my own home in the West Village for a week, is the generosity of airbnb hosts in making your stay in their city as good as possible. For instance, thanks to my host I will arrive to a SIM card and a subway MetroCard already purchased for me, along with a list of local hangouts.

While I will be in New York for work (which encompasses amazing professional learning opportunities for me as outlined in my first post), the city that never sleeps is the perfect destination for planning some culture and fun around my meetings. As with my first two visits to Manhattan, I am planning my days around its gridded neighbourhoods and subway lines. My double-sided colour-coded itinerary includes my ideas for where to eat, drink, see or shop in and around particular areas. I won’t necessarily get to all of them, but I’ve researched my options so I have a sense of where I’d like to go and what I’d like to try. I also have printed copies of my Google maps, exploding with stellar constellations of starred places I hope to visit.

The nice thing about this being my third visit is that, around my work, I can squeeze in the NYC things I have loved before and those things I haven’t yet experienced.

In my last visits I’ve strolled the Brooklyn Bridge, meandered Central Park, ridden the Staten Island Ferry past Lady Liberty, stood silently at Ground Zero, ascended the Empire State Building, peered from the Top of the Rock, been spontaneously invited to a bar opening and been wowed by the sermon and gospel choir of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church. I’ve admired art at the Met and MOMA, seen Madonna at Madison Square Garden, danced in the aisles on Broadway, enjoyed live music at the Knitting Factory, watched a Yankees-Mets game at Yankee Stadium and wondered at the NY Public Library. I’ve eaten steaks at Knickerbocker, cupcakes at Magnolia, fried chicken at Sylvia’s, sushi at Sushi Samba, streetside hot dogs in the Bronx, dim sum in China Town, caviared blinis at Pravda, deli sandwiches at Katz’s Delicatessen, brunch at Pastis and dinner at Stanton Social. I’ve shopped up and down Manhattan, from flea markets to Century 21 to Fifth Avenue, and have tasted more than my fair share of creative cocktails.

I’ll no doubt make my way back to the New York Public Library; as a bibliophile it always draws me like a magnet as a beautiful space with great literary and architectural energy. I’m also looking forward to fall colours in Central Park (maybe even checking out the Central Park Pumpkin Sail), to revisiting the Met for this season’s rooftop installation and to seeing the 9/11 Memorial. I’m planning to make it into the Guggenheim; I’ve enjoyed the Guggenheims in Bilbao (Spain) and Venice (Italy) so am looking forward to seeing New York’s. The High Line’s final section recently opened so I’m delighted to be able to see Manhattan’s West Side from this historic freight rail line elevated above the streets. I’m also intending to investigate PDT as I can’t resist a speakeasy with a phone booth entrance. And I have a thing for carousels so I’ll see if I can visit the one in Central Park and Jane’s Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

What are your tips for planning and packing? What are your NYC absolute must-dos?

New York Public Library in the fall

New York Public Library in the fall

Words on New York: Manhattan through authors’ eyes

from Candace Bushnell's 'One Fifth Avenue'

from Candace Bushnell’s ‘One Fifth Avenue’

In a previous post I shared my New York fiction reading pile, as I prepare for a professional trip to NYC, which will be my third visit to the city but my first for work. As I make my way through the pages of my NewYorkspiration, here are a few quotes from some of those books.

“Possibly there were two tigers, the famous and chaotic one that lit the tabloid frenzy, and this more dignified one, who showed itself to us alone. It was after all moving along Eighty-fourth Street, toward the block where Brandy’s Piano Bar and Perkus’s old apartment lay condemned. Perhaps this was the tiger that put things back together instead of destroying them … it regarded us or didn’t, shone its light on us and then shut it off again, and was gone, leaving only claw prints and, with its tail, an inadvertent serpentine signature lashed into a parked Mayflower van’s snowy windshield.” Jonathan Lethem, Chronic City

“The bridge had been the first disappointment. Looking at it from the roof of her house, she had thought that crossing it would make her feel like a gossamer-winged fairy flying through the air. But the actual ride over the bridge was no different than the ride above the Brooklyn streets. … New York was disappointing.” Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn 

“I wonder how she’ll find New York,” Enid said. “Having been away so long.” / “Exactly the same, Auntie,” Philip said. “You know New York never changes. The characters are different but the play remains the same.” Candace Bushnell, One Fifth Avenue

Two weeks til takeoff. Carpe NYC!

art journal page: I heart New York

art journal page: I heart New York


The flâneuse’s packing list: a toolkit for observation & exploration

A dominant impulse on encountering beauty is the desire to hold onto it, to possess it and give it weight in our lives. There is an urge to say, ‘I was here, I saw this and it mattered to me.’ ~ Alain de Botton

some of my favourite flânerial things

some of my favourite flânerial things

Flânerie has been described as “gastronomy of the eye” (Honoré de Balzac) and a moving and passionate photograph (Victor Fournel). It is an active and deliberate way of understanding the world. Baudelaire described the flâneur as the passionate observer, responsive spectator, reflective mirror and lover of life. Flânerie is all about acute, intentional and subtle observation. Baudelaire’s flâneur exists “incognito”, surreptitiously rejoicing in the magic all around him, at home among the unfamiliar, finding joy in urban exploration.

As I plan for my week in New York and my packing list, I’m asking myself: What does the keen observer need to assist them with attentiveness to their environment and experiences? How does an édu flâneuse attempt to capture the kaleidoscopic phantasmagoria of experience and learning?

Here are some of the things on my flânerial packing list.

art journaling supplies

art journaling supplies

A journal. Journaling is thinking and therapy. Cavallini & Co’s Roma Lussa is my canvas of choice, a beautiful soft-Florentine-leather-bound journal with marble page-edges. For taking flânerie old school. With pen. Paper. Even the trusty Conté à Paris crayons I still have from art school. As my Typo watercolour pencils declare: the world is better in watercolour … and charcoal, and crayon, and paint!

camera gear

camera gear

Cameras & accoutrements. The flâneuse needs a variety of lenses through which to frame and record experiences. I am taking my Canon DSLR and lenses, as well as my iPhone and olloclip lenses to allow for snapping on the go.

A laptop. For writing, blogging and editing photos. Of course this can be done on an iPad (which is much more portable) but I prefer typing to tapping and the extra control and diversity my laptop provides.

flânerial fashion

flânerial fashion

Flânerial fashion. Exploring shoes. Eco sunglasses. Leather satchel big enough to carry laptop and/or camera and/or journal. The 19th century flâneur was always bedecked in attire appropriate for urban exploration. With style.

(Pictured above are my handmade Portugese Felmini ankle boots, Scaramanga leather satchel and Shwood wooden sunglasses.)

So there you have it: my flâneuse’s toolkit, ready for taking artiness on the road to observe, explore, jot, snap, scribble and sketch.

art journal page: New York is always a good idea

Applying the travelling mindset: embracing creativity

What, then, is a travelling mindset? Receptivity might be said to be its chief characteristic. We approach new places with humility. We carry with us no rigid ideas about what is interesting. We irritate locals because we stand on traffic islands and in narrow streets and admire what they take to be strange small details. We risk getting run over because we are intrigued by the roof of a government building or an inscription on a wall. We find a supermarket or a hairdresser’s unusually fascinating. ~ Alain de Botton

Alain de Botton described the traveling mindset as one of receptivity and openness. In 1794, Xavier de Maistre applied this mindset to his own everyday space. In my own experience, of traversing thirty three countries so far, travel is learning. Being submerged in the unfamiliar brings to the surface captivation, imagination and vulnerability.

I think being abroad is sometimes where we feel we can be most ourselves, untethered by daily routines, obligations, expectations and the mundanity and productivity of daily life.

So how is an educator to bring this outlook to professional meetings and visits abroad? My approach is one of embracing creativity.

@debsnet New York Journal

Research connects creativity with productivity, adaptability, novelty, divergent thinking, idea generation, flexibility and problem solving (see Dr Mark Runco’s 2004 article on ‘Creativity’ in the Annual Review of Psychology). For me, writing, drawing, painting, doing and making are physical mind-body processes which facilitate right brain thinking, foster creativity and enable authenticity – of thought, of action, of being.

Sir Ken Robinson’s 2006 TED Talk on how schools kill creativity has been viewed almost 30 million times. In it, he champions the cultivation of creativity and questions the rigidity of education systems which encourage conformity and compliance.

The #makered hashtag on Twitter and http://makered.org/ have plenty of ponderings, resources and perspectives on the meaningfulness of making and doing for our students.

Of course social media and this blog are 21st century extensions of traditional creative media but I am intending largely to ‘go retro’ on my October professional journey: reading print novels, keeping a visual journal, collecting tactile ephemera and enacting mindful pen-to-paper thinking. Using the camera and a journal to explore thoughts and experiences is a method of creative, reflexive, deliberate inquiry, as well as a way of recording both professional visits and New York herself.

New York #artjournal page by @debsnet

I hope this flânerial approach – that of the wanderer who is finely attuned, keenly observant and totally immersed – will help me to be at my most receptive, flexible and open to new learning.

New York anticipatory reading

Books are lighthouses erected in the great sea of time. ~ E. P. Whipple

NYC Books by @debsnet

Here is my little pile of NYC reading.

I have collected actual books! I have a Kindle which is much more practical for travelling, but I still like the sensory experience of reading: the look of a book cover, the feel of paper, the smell of the page and the sound of it turning.

In amongst professional reading, book club reading and PhD reading, I will read some of these before I go and some while I am away. The ones that come away with me will be ‘paid forward’ to people I meet along the way, so that they can find new homes … and so that I don’t need to pack them for the journey home.

My picks are quintessential novels of New-York-ness: Kerouac’s On the Road (ok, so only minorly relevant to NYC, but a key text in American travel and psyche), Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Lethem’s Chronic City, Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Cunningham’s The Snow Queen and Bushnell’s One Fifth Avenue.

I am starting with The Snow Queen, a book named after the 1844 Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale which also inspired the animated film Frozen.

It’s been coming down since midnight. Snow eddies and tumbles as the point of equinox passes, and the sky starts all but imperceptibly turning from its nocturnal blackish brown to the lucid velvety gray of first morning, New York’s only innocent sky. ~ The Snow Queen

What are your best NYC reads?