The Met Ball Costume Institute Gala makes me miss New York. My New York.
During my post-college New York City years, I lived on 81st and Lex. I’m so much more an uptown girl than a downtown one, and my little corner of the city felt like the perfect location: safe, gorgeous, clean, close to Central Park, within 4 blocks of both an express train and a local train, crawling distance from some of the city’s best bars and restaurants–that’s not saying much in a city stocked with great bars and restaurants!–and, of course, only 3 blocks away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
(Oh, random side note: I watched the “I Heart NY” episode of Sex and the City yesterday, with its 4th-season-finale 9/11 coda, and it made me CRY! What a beautiful love letter to the city.)
But back to the Met. I used to walk over there on the weekend, flash my student ID for free-entry (I know, I know…but I was on a minuscule Conde Nast assistant salary!) and wander its corridors, usually finding myself in the Impressionists wing or “Royal Furniture and Stately Rooms” section.
One night, I was taking a cab cross-town from the Upper West Side when, as we exited the park onto 5th Avenue, a cacophony of lights exploded to my right. I looked and realized it was the Costume Institute Met Gala, a yearly celebration of the history of fashion sponsored by Vogue which was nowhere near as uber-famous as it is now. (I’m telling you, social media…!) I hopped out of the cab, spent 20 minutes watching the arrivals, and then walked the five minutes home, hugging myself at my good fortune to be living in what felt like the center of the universe.
Everybody thinks their time with a person, place or thing is the most special, but I’m particularly stubborn on that point regarding my own New York years. I lived there from 1998 through 2006, just after Giuliani cleaned it up, but while there was still grime and crime on the Lower East Side, before the Meatpacking District became EuroDisney and while Brooklyn was so far away it might as well have been Boston. Then came the 9/11 years, and everybody was a New Yorker: no city was more beloved, no place was more mythic. The city felt like I imagine Paris in the 1920s to have been: it sparkled and dazzled with promise, gold dust, money, and affection. Of course, with that affection came more money, and more scrubbing, and more transplants, and more Americana. I left a couple years before the economy crashed, not long after they opened a Red Lobster in Times Square. For me, that was the beginning of the end.
Now when I go back to the city for work, it feels different. I’m older, obviously, and the nature of cities–especially a city like New York–is change. I’m reminded of a line in You’ve Got Mail, of all movies, when Meg Ryan‘s character says,
“People are always saying that change is a good thing. But all they’re really saying is that something you didn’t want to happen at all has happened. My store is closing this week. I own a store, did I ever tell you that? It’s a lovely store, and in a week it’ll be something really depressing, like a Baby Gap. Soon, it’ll be just a memory. In fact, someone–some foolish person–will probably think it’s a tribute to this city, the way it keeps changing on you, the way you can never count on it or something. I know because that’s the sort of thing I’m always saying. But the truth is, I’m heartbroken. I feel as if a part of me has died.”
Each year when the Met Gala rolls around, for some reason it’s one of those moments that pulls me back in and makes me remember, with both affection and pain, how much I miss “my” old New York. I’m happily ensconced here in LA, maybe forever, and trips back a few times a year are enough to satiate me.
Still…with apologies to Ryan Adams, I’ll always love you though, New York.
Here, a few more of the Met Ball Costume Institute Gala looks that wet my whistle: