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  • Writer's pictureseimaistato

Surreal encounters with the world and myself

New York, August 2023

In my whole life I have seen more movies, photos and videos of New York City than of any other place on earth. A lifetime imagining it, like when you are secretly in love with someone and try to visualize them in all their forms and facets. "I wonder what it's really like." Yet before I set foot there, for several months I heard about how degenerate it was, a little dirtier and let go, a little more dangerous.

I joined my parents at JFK - I hadn't seen them in several months - and we got swallowed up by the city for five days, in tiny, smelly lodgings with no air recirculation that really had little to do with its pictures and price. "No big deal, that's not what I'm here for," I thought, watching my somewhat bewildered parents their first time out of Europe and everything that seemed familiar. I downplayed, pretending not to notice details that I knew would create controversy and complaints, and I felt they were slightly more chilled.

The city gives off an acrid smell in summer, alternating between weed and smog. You get caught up in the heights and spend time with your nose in the air, but it's on the streets where the real magic happens. The homeless, the people talking to themselves or wandering the streets rummaging through trash cans are many. Yet there is music, there is rhythm, there is character, there is diversity, there is art. I saw people doing crazy things with percussion when the only instruments they had were drumsticks and two empty paint cans. Toothy smiles looked beautiful to me. The street had turned into the most beautiful stage I had ever seen: spontaneous, natural, unpretentious, naked and raw.

We were walking one evening and decided to pass by Times Square because there was always music at all hours. My dancehall teacher had told me to look for a friend of hers, Bouba, who performs there every night with his crew. Needless to say, there were plenty of groups dancing. I didn’t give up until I saw a guy doing a somersault through the air and flying above the crowd. There's Bouba. The boys were spectacular, I walked up to keep my promise and sent them greetings and it turned into the most spontaneous and funniest conversation ever, a few strolls and big laughs. We made our way home while I was looking for the raffle booth with discounted Broadway tickets and two Bachata sensual dancers I've been following for years and adore pass me, and I hug them as if they were lifelong friends. I had an energy on me that I haven't disposed of for several weeks.

We discovered a place that did breakfasts with Brazilian fruit and açai, and I met Daniel, a guy from the Dominican Republic of infinite kindness and thoughtfulness who told me about his family he hasn't seen in 7 years, to whom he always sends money, and about his younger sister, whom he hopes to bring to the United States with him someday.

I had warned my parents that I was going to an afrobeats class. I thought nothing serious, but instead I found myself at an over-famous dance academy, with my parents waiting for me on the bench outside. A mixture of "I feel like a fish out of water" and "I feel like I'm in my dream from when I was 7 years old, 21 years later." In that room, I stripped away my fears, insecurities and not feeling up to par, and let myself go. "You have a positive energy that you can transmit to everyone around you. Steps can be coached by everyone, but it's all about face, and you had a lot of fun tonight." Elton reminded me to move my soul as well as my body when I dance.

And at the end of it all, I got it. That jumble of American clichés, stereotypes, idealized places, wealth, poverty, art, music, chaos, noises, smells - it had a vibe. I thought about how easy it is to judge, to ignore, to get stuck with negative things as we rush through the hustle and bustle of our routine, when we should just remember our humanity more often. I was not there to visit the city, but to take something from it. And I only realized it when I left, and I already missed that energy.

New York
In the street

New York
Walking around

New York
Football fields

New York
Deep breath into the present

New York Dancehall
Class with Elton

New York

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