“What’s not right? What are you not getting? I can hear it in your voice,” my dad asked me during a quick Thursday night check-in phone call.
What he could hear was me holding back was the fact that I was terribly homesick. I didn’t feel like myself. I was getting bored and felt lost at the same time.
New York City is packed with almost anything. The struggle I was having, however, was it seemed like The Big Apple didn’t have the things I enjoyed most: a variety of quiet nature escapes, beaches, home cooked food and peace and quiet when it was time to head to bed.
Sharing a one bedroom, one bathroom apartment with two other people wasn’t helping me find the escape I was craving, either.
The problem, however, wasn’t the city’s fault. It was mine. My loneliness came through my mindset and the fact that my head was stuck in wanting to be in a comfortable, familiar place.
I didn’t come to that realization until one of my best friends, Hannah, called me to check in.
“You just need to find a place that’s yours. You need to find somewhere that feels like home and then you’ll start to feel more comfortable,” Hannah told me.
Seeing as she had moved to a completely new country for a semester to study abroad and had to find her escape and find her home across the globe, I knew I could trust her advice on this.
After I hung up the phone with her, I began to search for the thing I knew would make me a little more comfortable: food.
Coming from a half German, half Italian household, the world of comfort food has always felt like a safe place. The cuisine brings back memories of cookouts with my immediate family, special holiday meals with the extended family on both my mom’s and dad’s side and provides a general sense of subconscious security…and so began my search for affordable places to find the comfort food of my past.
After some Google searches of “Cheap brunch spots near NYU,” I found The Grey Dog, a coffee shop and bar with affordable comfort food and a vibe that felt like home…at least that’s what I gathered from their website.
So, as the next morning arrived, I grabbed my bag, packed it with the essentials for the day– laptop, chapstick, keys, wallet and the metro card– and headed out.
From the second I opened the door, I felt more at home. It was a hole in the wall, seat yourself and relaxed place to hang out and enjoy blueberry pancakes that tasted just like my Omi’s.
After stuffing myself with a $13 brunch, I had some work to do on my laptop, so I headed out to find a coffee shop with an outlet to plug into.
I started to walk back the way I came and ended up at the edge of Little Italy looking at a brick building with a sign hanging off of the corner of the building reading, “Caffe’ Roma.” On the side of the building, the Caffe had painted a large advertisement explaining they had Italian pastries and coffee.
As I walked toward the building’s large windows I noticed a sticker that read, “free WiFi.” Perfect!
I opened the door and was welcomed by the smell of fresh Italian food, forest green painted walls with wooden accents and round green mock-marble tables surrounded by small wiry looking chairs with backs that resemble the tops of butterfly wings.
I opened the door to my Italian family. The door to Christmas and Easter Day dinners. The door to Grandma’s pizzelle’s in popcorn tins. The door to strawberry pretzel jello on a hot and humid day.
After taking it all in, I felt almost completely at home, so I asked where the nearest outlet was for my laptop and took a seat at a round table in the back of the shop next to a wooden door that had a metal plate drilled into the middle of it reading, ‘Private.’
The plate was the exact same as the one on my Opa’s office door back in the Cleveland, Ohio suburbs, and when the owner of the coffee shop opened the door that led to the basement of the building, the smell of light must and slight humidity was identical to that of my grandparent’s black and white-tiled basement that I’d explore as a child.
The overwhelming feelings, smells and tastes of home settled my mind and my gut.
I had done it. I had found my escape. My sense of home, my sense of belonging on the crowded, chaotic island of Manhattan.
With calming jazz from the 20s that my mother’s mother and father’s mother would play in their homes running through my headphones into my head, a stomach full of fluffy, berry carbs and a sweet Italian classic sitting on the table, I’ve managed to curb the feeling of being lost for now.
While a beach and a hidden nature escape are still on my search list, I found my food from home, and most importantly, I found my quiet.
Who knew the cure to homesickness would be a dose of blueberry pancakes in a hole in the wall breakfast and bar spot and an Italian cafe defined by dark green features, a glass case full of cannolis and the faintest smell of sweet must?
Until next time, I’ll be finding my hiding spots in the hot concrete jungle.