Text by Virginie Martin-Onraët

As subjective and as simple as that.

Manhattan is visual, tangible; anybody who goes there perceives that immediately. One discovers it and, in time, decides whether it’s love or hate. A middle ground is hard to reach.


Photographs by Virginie Martin-Onraët, @gini_martin

The aggressive beauty of the New York landscapes creates emotions that fluctuate from extreme wellbeing to frustration. The city’s urban planning presents a friendly map to the foreigner, an efficient and inclusive means of public transportation that allows you to cross the city in minutes. That same planning will allow for piles of garbage bags to accumulate along the sidewalks, producing nauseating smells, attractive only to rodents that will become a part of your daily routine: they’ll live in your building, take the same subway line and cross the park at the same time you do.

In a city where the average price of a square meter exceeds the minimum wage, people rent and share small spaces. Efficient storage shops become your best ally and the desire to spend time at home lessens. The city responds to that demand with an endless list of must-dos that the resident gladly executes, leaving his money circulating in the city. It’s as if an alliance existed between the stores and the city’s engineers that build these minute rooms that cause an inevitable need to go out and spend.

In NYC you discover the magnetic effect of window displays. Their perfect presentation manages to make the least trivial person stop, look, and think: “if I had that, I would be completely happy.”


Another aspect of the city is the absurd attachment to time. On one of those mornings you hop on the subway knowing you should be in your meeting by now, heels in hand, rain boots on and a light raincoat (you checked the weather app of course), you get off the subway agitated and one block down, you see a really pretty girl in heels, wearing a light floral dress, walking down 6th avenue. At that precise moment, a gust of wind caused by the accumulation of lined up buildings separated by a long and narrow hallway, blows that summer dress up violently yet gracefully. A smile is inevitable. You look around, nobody notices, every one saw it but no one reacts. The tourist in me is still alive.

The ability to be amazed in Manhattan depends on whether you live here or you don’t. If you’re careless, it vanishes; you simply turn into one of those people that walk without looking back. You wonder about the nationality of New Yorkers: it doesn’t exist. Any person from any given country abandons his tourist nature to become a New Yorker. The city is smart, and will turn you into another piece of the skyline in no time.

The overall goal of a New Yorker is to cheat time and dodge tourists. If you’re distracted as you walk, you’ll feel the body of a fast-paced pedestrian extremely close to yours, like a Ferrari in the fast lane. If you don’t get out of the way quickly, you’ll hear the typical “Jeez!” as he overtakes you from the right. Traffic jams don’t exist here, unless you go out looking for them. However, time is of the essence.


What is the New Yorker’s skill? Small talk. He’ll simply go: “Happy Friday,” in the elevator as you go for coffee; meaningless conversation. New Yorkers master the art of finding the perfect topic to fill that uncomfortable silence during a spontaneous and short meeting in a fleeting moment. The elevator, 37 floors in 40 seconds, each one attained to perfection. These moments can even be pleasant. You might laugh, but when you part ways, the stopwatch goes off: we’re strangers.

Like most cities that do not have Mexico City’s climate, the world revolves around weather conditions. The temperature in Fahrenheit makes climate changes seem more drastic. It’s hot, it’s 100 degrees outside. You suffer in summer as much as in winter. Bliss is achieved only for a few days, during spring, when the temperature is between 75 and 85 degrees. The margin is small and the people demanding.

The warmth of the city is due to its map; the proximity of spaces enables easy movement, a privilege few cities offer. The distinctive features of its spontaneous settings, lost and unexpected, make you experience four different moods on the way to your destination.


And just like minutes are worth a dollar during the week, on weekends time is endless. The plan: brunch. Where? Where ever the line is longest. No one will be persuaded by a house plan. We must go out!

And thus begins the checklist. You look for the best in each category. People need guides, recommendations; that’s how you become addicted to Zagat, Yelp, Foursquare, reviews, reviews, reviews. And just like that, you create expectations along with long lines of people willing to wait just to try the best gluten-free-banana-cupcakes in all Manhattan.

Events are going on every day: they’re sold out. You need memberships, you have to sign up to pre-invite lists to go see the exhibit in its opening days. You go to sample sales. You have to!

You fall in love with an intense, tiring rhythm that also corrupts you. The infatuation period is one of absolute joy. Time is promising and the list of pending visits is constantly renewed. There is no routine, very little repetition, and once you get the gist of things, the change of season swipes in a whole new set of activities and a generalized mood swing.


New York has countless icons that have been listed and studied in detail for people to choose their favored one.

Today’s favorite street, Houston, crosses the southern part of the island separating the Hudson River from the East River, marking off the city’s great neighborhoods and iconic corners. In one of the first chapters of Manhattan for dummies, you learn that it is not pronounced like Houston, Texas – you tourist, you! –, but “HOWston.” Without really understanding why, you simply accept it and use it. This corrupt use of the word is what differentiates a tourist from a New Yorker. Rumor has it, the pronunciation of the word is due to the fact the street was named after a congressman from Georgia, William Houston, who spelled it “H-o-u-s-t-o-u-n” by mistake. With time, the extra U fell off but the pronunciation remained the same. Every intersecting street with Houston is the entrance to a wide variety of artistic, culinary, alcoholic or entertainment delights. If you go north, you’ll find Alphabet City, East Village, Noho, Greenwich and West Village; and to the south, the Lower East, Bowery, Nolita and Soho. If you’re patient and want to get to the western end of it, you’ll find Pier 40. There’s nothing special about it at first, but a few steps further you’ll find the perfect view of the Hudson on the Westside Highway. In certain spots of the city, you’ll experience the opening effect. Amidst all the buildings, at the most unexpected turn, the city opens up and a surprising horizon appears before you, very instagramable indeed.

So long as this spontaneous opening of sceneries keeps slowing down the race against time, people will live in this city. Inhabitants usually plan in defined, short-term cycles. Few are those who dare say that their stay in the city is permanent. Few as well are those who wouldn’t wish to stay another year.

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