Traveling and Dreaming: A Tale of Two Cities (The New York Chapter)

‘I suppose I should have warned Sartre about my arrival.’

 It has been 5 years since their last conversation, she replayed the moment when she walked away over and over until all she could think was the could have- would have- should have, her fingers hovered over a phone number she still hasn’t deleted. 

She was finally visiting his city, a metropolis of art, fashion, diverse cuisines, and theatre. It was a cold autumn morning; the fallen leaves gave the city a beautiful look an she was standing at the JFK airport at the perimeters of Manhattan. She decided to call for a yellow taxi that would take her to Columbia University for her guest lecture on her newest book. The taxi driver was a small framed Indian man with droopy eyes and grey streaks in his thinning black hair. In order to make small talk, he asked her “Is this your first time in the Big Apple?”. Beauvoir gave him a polite nod. Though it was her first-time visiting New York, she had quite an idea about Sartre’s city. All thanks to him, she had developed a fond interest in the city and its giant skyscrapers which were very unlikely to be seen in Paris. Fidgeting with her phone she decided to look up the last message that they had exchanged.

Her lecture was in a few hours, taking advantage of her jet-lag she decided to look around the place a little bit and headed towards Central Park which was just a 2-mile walk from the University. Full of lush greenery, Central Park is the green heart of the Big Apple. This lusciously green patch stretches to an area of 843 acres and is at the very center of Manhattan. She remembered how she had taunted Sartre by pointing out how Bois de Boulogne is two and a half times the area of Central Park. She walked through the strawberry fields which is right across the Dakota, which is an apartment building where John Lennon from the Beatles was shot. A memorial for Lennon was created there. She strolled for a little while and then headed back to Columbia.

The Imagine memorial

Her speech went just as planned but she kept searching for his face in the crowd. After her presentation, she mustered the courage to call him. “This phone number is not reachable, please try again later” is what she heard from the other side. She tried looking for him on social media but no luck there either. So, what would an author in the city of literature do in his free time? She headed towards the New York Public Library.

New York Public Library

Housing around 50 million books this place is any bookworm’s heaven and an architectural delight. Regal-looking marble lions and the crystal chandeliers add an ornate touch to its overall look and makes it a beautiful quiet space for literature lovers to sit and read. She meandered across this architectural beauty taking in the creaking sounds of old rusty staircase, breathing in the scent of decaying fiction and forgotten verses. A particular book caught her attention. It was The Great Gatsby. She remembered the brief conversation she had had with Sartre where he had mentioned that his favorite author to be Fitzgerald. Having read a few of his classics a particular mention of Hotel Plaza rang a bell. So, when Sartre had mentioned that she would know where to find him she couldn’t wait to give that place a visit.

The Plaza Hotel

The Plaza Hotel is New York’s most iconic, luxury hotel in the middle of Manhattan at the intersection of Central Park. Since its 100+ years of establishment, it has been passed to many owners including Donald Trump. Palm Court tea room is on the first floor of Plaza and the afternoon tea served inside Palm Court is considered a quintessential New York experience. The waft of tea welcomed her as she entered the room. The animated chatter of businessmen in their wrinkle-free suits, gossip of ladies enjoying their kitty parties added life to that place. But the noise of the hustle-bustle faded as she saw him sitting in the corner, sipping his ginger tea, turning pages of his book. His tanned complexion, curly hair gelled to the side, his mellow brown eyes had not changed a bit with only a few wrinkles added over time. She took a moment to take it all in. Not sure what to do next she just stood there. A tiny part of her wanted to scream at him right now. Another part of her just wanted to embrace his touch. She went up and down the stairs totally perplexed not knowing what to do and accidentally bumped into a waiter. Listening to the sound of shattering crockery, Sartre looked up and recognized her immediately. He waved and approached her. “Beauvoir, is that really you?” Sartre asked in an excited tone. “What are you doing in New York” he continued. “I’m here for my latest book launch, I tried calling the number that you had given me but it was unreachable,” she replied. “Yeah, I switched my number a while back. Hope New York has treated you well so far” he smirked. “If you call having tea spilled all over me a warm welcome then sure” she laughed. “Ah, then madame, let a local show you around. I just happen to have been staying here for a few years.” He interjected. “Yes sir, it would be a pleasure” she smiled back.

The jet lag had just started to click in but she agreed anyway. He took her to the inimitable Time Square Garden.

Times Square

Time Square is contained between 42nd- 47th street. It is the cultural and commercial hub of the city although New Yorker tries to avoid it as much as possible because of traffic and large tourist-clogged shopping malls. It’s the home to some of the city’s most iconic imagery including the obscene amount of lit up billboards and everything from street performers to small local food trucks. From a food vendor, they grabbed a one-and-a-half-dollar bagel. “So now you’ll agree that a bagel is better than a baguette” he tauntingly asked her and their never-ending fight over bagel vs baguette continued. Their trip would have been incomplete if they didn’t watch a Broadway show. It was super crowded and noisy. Having grown up watching Disney they booked tickets for ‘The Lion King’. Watching the opening scene Beauvoir’s eyes lit up.

Lion King, at Broadway

Since they were on 34th street they decided to give the Vessel a look and watch the New York skyline. Vessel is the magnificent centrepiece of Hudson Yards, its spiral staircase with soaring new landmark meant to be climbed through a flight of 2500 steps. It was designed by Thomas Heatherwick to give tourists a look at the city through different angles.

Inside the Vessel

The entry cost them nothing, but the view was worth a fortune. At the top looking over the magical view of the Hudson River, he asked her “How did you know that I would be in Hotel Plaza”. She hesitated and then jokingly said “Oh don’t flatter yourself, I didn’t come there to meet you” “Really?” he exclaimed. She slid through her purse a copy of The Great Gatsby. Astonished he asked her “You remembered?”. “Of course, I did” she winked at him. They enjoyed the coffee they had grabbed from a Starbucks and chatted a little more.

A view from Brooklyn Bridge

They took the subway route to Brooklyn bridge which cost 2 dollars 70 cents each. Being down in the underground subway system for Beauvoir felt like a post-apocalyptic humanity. They rented a bike and made their way through a wood plank walkaway made for the pedestrians and bikers. Brooklyn Bridge connects Brooklyn to Manhattan. It opened in 1883 and was the largest suspension bridge in the world. They enjoyed the view of Lower Manhattan sky scrapers on one side and the historic Brooklyn on the other side. Dawn came slowly, followed by the brilliant blue morning sky they had a breath-taking view of the Statue of Liberty. Sartre noticed that Beauvoir was cold and gave her his jacket. 

“Honestly, this was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. So, I was thinking…” Beauvoir had just mustered the courage to tell him how she missed him so dearly all these years but she was interrupted by the ringing of Sartre’s phone. “I’m sorry babe, I was about to call you. I met an old friend and had to show her around New York. Don’t worry I’ll be back in an hour.” Beauvoir’s face turned pale, she was just processing what she had overheard when Sartre chimed in “I’m sorry that was my wife, I forgot to inform her that I was with you. So, you were saying?” “Oh, nothing never mind,” said Beauvoir in an attempt of maintaining her composure. “I have a flight to catch in an hour I better get back to my hotel.” She said. They took a tram back to her hotel and said their goodbyes. “Au revoir Sartre” This was probably the last conversation they would ever have. 

She reached her room dejected.

Suddenly she realized that what she was regretting was not the lost past but the lost future, not what had not been but what would never be” This quote by Fitzgerald hurt even more now.

Where’s the good in goodbye?


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