People doing Tai Chi in Madison Square Park...only in New York!
Some people have the mistaken perception that I don't like New York City. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love it! Allow me to explain...
First of all, I feel like a New Yorker and New York feels like "my city." My grandfather was born and raised on the Lower East Side in the Jewish Tenements. My grandmother moved to New York from Pennsylvania at age 14 after she was orphaned and worked at Schrafts as a waitress and met my grandfather in a dime a dance hall. After they "made it" they bought a farm in Pennsylvania, which is where I was raised. But they always kept an apartment in the city, which is still in the family today. (In fact, the same doorman has been working in the building for at least 50 years and the other day I saw him out of uniform in Chelsea and at first I thought it was a celebrity sighting!).
Some of my earliest memories are coming to New York with them and staying in that apartment. It is half a block from FAO Schwartz, Bergdorf Goodman and the Plaza Hotel and one block from Central Park. What's not to love about that? I simply adore the Paris Theatre and have seen many movies there over the years. And my children were raised reading Eloise. In fact one of my children who I will not name here actually thought she WAS Eloise. She now lives in New York City, but definitely not at the Plaza.
I've been coming into the city for work for the past 25 years - 20 of them on the bus, the Bieber Bus to be exact. And lately I've been driving my Prius because I prefer the freedom of it. I've got my own apartment now, in Chelsea, by the Highline and near Chelsea Piers where I sometimes go to hit golf balls. There's even an organic soft ice cream truck a block from my apartment! Our offices are still in the same location and I love nothing more than to walk the two miles (yes WALK) to and from the office (usually listening to music on my headphones). I can't do that in Pennsylvania!
Yes there is culture, arts and all sorts of diversity in the city. And I love the creative energy and sense of freedom. I love walking by the Chelsea Hotel and remembering what Patti Smith wrote about it in her book, Just Kids. But most of all I love the food options. I get lots of ideas and inspirations from dining in New York, and love to try to replicate some of the tastes when I get home to my kitchen in Pennsylvania. I do not cook in my New York kitchen. Why would I when there is so much interesting food right outside my door?
I also think New York offers unprecedented opportunities for craziness. When I was a kid, my gay brother, who died of AIDS in 1985, absolutely adored Bette Midler (no surprise there). I also fell in love with her singing and crazy personality. So imagine now how weird and wonderful it is that I've been on the board for the past 10 plus years of Bette's New York Restoration Project and helped to plant trees all over the city and have gotten to know Bette a little bit! Crazy right? Only in New York! I admire her and the kind of fame she has, but I don't crave it for myself...and I think that's where New York has a hard time with me sometimes - New York is a city of craving for fame and recognition and financial one-upmanship. And I don't have that hunger. I don't mind people who do at all. I just don't have it.
Speaking of people, New York City is a great place to meet with people. Whether it's the book business, the magazine business or the digital business, if people aren't already there, they are usually willing to come to New York. It's easy to meet people for lunch or dinner, or have a meeting. There is an energy and intensity around the gathering of people in Manhattan that is probably unprecedented in the world.
To me, every place has a dark side and New York's dark side is the thinking that it's the only best city in the world and more important than any other place. As a person who runs a business....a GLOBAL business, and as a woman who has traveled around the world, I just don't buy it. Yes, I love New York. But I love a lot of other cities too. I love Philadelphia for its passion for music (and I prefer to go there for concerts). I love Hamburg, Germany for the fact that people will sit out in outdoor cafés even in freezing weather...with blankets! I love Tokyo for the bright and colorful modernity and sense of fun. I love San Francisco for its determination to be different, even though it's not that different. I love Seattle for the crazy wonderful food that is underappreciated. I love Sydney for its sunshine and relaxed happiness. I love Melbourne for the smell of coffee and brilliant tension between business and art. Paris is amazing for the scent of art everywhere and London for its history everywhere. I will go back to Ryjkevic just for that amazing brown sugar that tastes just like molasses! Dallas for its Chicken Fried Steak. Knoxville for it's fried chicken. Nashville for its music, of course. Miami for...the color of the water at the beach. Los Angeles for KROCK! The world is a wonderful place. And New York is my second home.
But Pennsylvania is home. I'm the kind of person who needs nature to survive. That's my hunger. And I love that Pennsylvania just knows that it's not the center of the universe. It's just a place where people live normal lives with plenty of parking for everyone. And the truth is, that's what Rodale Inc is built on - trying to help people EVERYWHERE, live healthier happier lives no matter where they live. For me, living out in Pennsylvania keeps me more connected to our customers and how they live. Our magazines and books are in over 40 countries. And I've got a long list of cities I have yet to visit. So New York, I love you, but you are not the only one. You are an important one, but not the only important one. I know that can be hard to hear, but I'm one of those people who speaks the truth, even when it's not popular. I know you don't like that about me either. But that's ok. I love you anyway.
For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com.