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Italians Love New York
A Pair of Neapolitans helped me to rediscover the one and only Big Apple
MARCH 11, 2007 - Living right outside of New York City can make you jaded and unappreciative of your surroundings. When confronted with the same scenery every day - even if it's the magnificent skyline of the city that never sleeps - it's easy to take it for granted. But every time relatives or friends visit me from Italy, I'm reminded of the magnificence of my place in the world.
Recently, Francesco, a Neapolitan, and his girlfriend Angela, from the Neapolitan island of Ischia, paid my family and me a visit. Even before they arrived in the Big Apple, they were breathless with anticipation. They would send me text messages expressing their gratitude and looking forward to the emotions they would experience upon arriving at JFK Airport. It would be Francesco's first time in America and Angela's second. But on her first trip, she had only seen a bit of New York because she stayed in Delaware.
The couple finally arrived in February for what would be the coldest and fastest two weeks of their lives. It was love at first sight, especially for Francesco, who couldn't get enough of New York's frenetic pace and nightly light show. Mesmerized by the flamboyance of Times Square, he kept repeating in English, “I love New York! I love New York!” He admitted to nearly crying when he first saw the skyline.
After seeing a Broadway show and eating at Jekyll and Hyde's - where the wait staff are actors who invite you to see what life after death is like and the murals on the wall follow you with their eyes - the pair said they were impressed by American creativity and ingenuity. They couldn't believe how hard we worked, how much money circulated in the U.S. economy, and how ambitious we were as a people.
Walking down Fifth Avenue, they also couldn't get over how rich some New Yorkers are. Walking through other parts of midtown, where they saw their fair share of homeless people, they couldn't get over how poor other New Yorkers are. The contrast in classes was striking to them because - at least in Ischia - they really only see the working middle class and a small percentage of wealthy tourists. They thought something should be done about that - and they're probably right.
Still, a trip to America had been their dream. And no matter how low the temperature got or how much snow piled up around the city, Francesco and Angela were never ready to go home and call it a day. We once walked about 30 blocks - and they were ready for more. There was a carriage ride and the zoo at Central Park, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, bowling and the batting cages at Chelsea Piers, shopping in Greenwich Village, hot dogs at Gray's Papaya (hot dogs were their favorite dish, by far!), watching the ice skaters at Rockefeller Center, a prayer in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Disney's Tarzan on Broadway, South Street Seaport and the Brooklyn Bridge, the World Trade Center grounds and memorials, and MoMA.
Through it all, they were most in awe of New York's sheer size - and the never-ending list of things to do in the city. Francesco and Angela were keenly aware of the fact that even though they covered lots of terrain in two weeks, they hadn't seen even one-tenth of what the city has to offer. That's why they'd like to come back. That's the reaction most Italians have when they first encounter New York. It's a bit loving and lustful, and it's all passion. Thanks to my friends, I re-learned to appreciate the beauty, bounty, and opportunities that New York offers its people. It was as though I was seeing New York for the very first time. And I liked what I saw.
To view more work by the author, visit www.francescadimeglio.com.
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