Friday, January 16, 2009

Back in New York

I shouldn't be writing this, I don't want to worry anybody, but anyway: I took a non-regular cab from the airport to the hostel. I exchanged some words with two guys, who said they had all the papers and their price was cheaper, and trusted them (they were not the only people offering alternative rides to tourists), so a black guy took me to Bedford-Stuyvesant, in Brooklyn - he said he had grown up there, didn't need directions. On the way, he told me about the plane landing on the Hudson. I said: you're kidding, and he turned the radio on so that I could listen to the news. We passed through deserted areas, abandoned apartment buildings and factories, until we arrived at a corner that he didn't think could be my destination. Good luck, man, he said. Patricia, a Japanese-looking girl who speaks Spanish (she studied for a while in Madrid, she said), showed me, in a quick tour, the hostel common areas - living room, TV room, kitchen -, which looked comfortable enough to me; but soon I found everything a bit of a mess. In the kitchen, the dishes had not been washed and I couldn't find a glass to drink tap water; food seemed to belong to everybody and nobody, cramming the refrigerator and the kitchen cabinets; nobody was in charge of anything, Patricia being just one of the residents. I wrote to Gabriela asking for moral support. She knows about this kind of places, she stayed in a very similar one in Madrid - I know about them too, but the ones I've been in, with her, have always been nicer, cleaner, more well-organized, all of them better, most of them a lot much better than this one. I wrote to her that the place was a chaos and that today I'd leave to find somewhere else to stay. I wrote about each floor having only one bathroom, about the conditions of the kitchen, the freaks I had already met. About a hysterical, very young Brazilian girl, for instance, shouting at her mum, via Skype, not to be hysterical. I thought and also told Gabriela that staying and getting to know these people - the majority of them, I must say, isolated, keying on their laptops - could be interesting, but things got worse when I went out to a Chinese restaurant. They said it was a Chinese restaurant, but it was an empty, distressing, scary take-away with the lights like those in the shops in Blade Runner. Back at the hostel, I ate the chicken chop suey, and went to bed decided to stay just one night.

I woke up with the same idea in mind. I took a shower at 8 o'clock, using someone else's soap, and went out to try to find a place where I could have breakfast and go through my Lonely Planet guide. The stretch of Bedford where the hostel is is all but lively, and to have coffee there is only a take-away. At some point, though, I turned into a street full of brownstones - sad, abandoned-looking brownstones, but brownstones all the same -, bare gray trees, and creaking snow on the sidewalk, and I passed by a black man (I'm in a mainly black neighborhood) walking two dogs. The man might have seen me too pensive, because he said, in a loud voice: "Good morning, how are you?". I answered, and I guess it was a few steps later that I decided to stay. That was a warm welcome. The Café that I found definitely cheered me up. It was homely, cozy, with two long wooden tables and two armchairs, with a magazine rack, all very country-like. And it had all kinds of salads, soups, pastries. The woman was in lack of bread, so I couldn't have the scrambled eggs, but I had a delicious, home-made banana muffin and a big cup of coffee with milk. Reading the guide I realized that in cheap places in Manhattan I'd be spending in four days what I paid for four weeks in the hostel. I also read a little bit more about it - the hostel. "For the adventurous", the guide says, "there are B&B in Brooklyn (...). For the experimental-minded, oversized 'loftstels' - big lofts turned into communal dorms in Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant".

Back in the room, I found my fourth room-mate - he wasn't there when the other two and I went to sleep. Guess what. He's from Porto Alegre. Guess what. He studies Law at PUCRS. We had a nice talk, I standing in the small space between the two bunks, he laying in the upper bed in front of the one I'm in, his laptop on. Downstairs I also talked to the hysterical Brazilian girl, a student from São Paulo. I took the G train and then the A train to Manhattan, and noticed that one of every three people was reading, including the passengers standing up. Books, mainly. A guy was reading the newspaper; a middle-aged woman, a folded New Yorker - holding it with one hand. I got off at 16th Street and had my second coffee with milk while reading about the unbelievable landing of the plane in the Hudson yesterday. And then headed towards what was my neighborhood in 2000, my hands and face aching because of the cold - it's freezing, I didn't say that yet; walking down the avenues, my nylon jacket crackles as if covered by a thin layer of hard snow.


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