Small Girl, Big Apple

As a suburban-born 20-year-old college student, living in the heart of the West Village of New York City for a whole summer is probably the best thing that ever happened to me. Thanks to my wonderfully cool, kind, and generous aunt who, for some crazy reason, agreed to take me in, I have experienced the quintessential summer in the city -- or so I firmly believe. As my time in this extraordinary city comes to a close, I wish more than ever that I could relive every single moment spent here, enjoying a life I could never afford on my current salary of $0, and realizing that I knew nothing about New York or myself before this summer. What follows is a haphazard list of what I ate, learned, and loved during my brief but wondrous time in the West Village.

1. Flowers are more beautiful in New York City than nearly anywhere else in the world. Perhaps it is their scarcity that makes them such a treat to see, or simply the way their bright colors look against concrete, so vivid and alive. In times of extreme exhaustion or exasperation -- i.e., after a morning at the French Consulate trying to get a Visa -- seeing randomly planted plots of red, orange, and yellow reminded me that someone took the time to plant them, just because. Knowing that always made me feel better. Insider tip: The best places to stumble upon flowers are Park Avenue and Washington Square Park. Don't ask me why.

2. Walk everywhere. Despite having a weekly subway pass and extremely out-of-shape legs, I found myself walking as much as I possibly could. In fact, I learned my way around the city by walking it -- seeing where the different subway lines stop, using the direction of traffic to identify north and south, and learning every little neighborhood. Nuggets of knowledge: the Bowery is both a street and a neighborhood, and Rockefeller Center is the best place to spot a Rolls Royce circa 6:00 p.m. Sometimes I'd walk down 6th Avenue after work and pretend to be a big shot at UBS or Bank of America. I fooled everyone, I'm sure.

3. A great dinner is vastly underrated. Nothing makes me feel quite as content with life as a delicious meal with close friends. Good food and even better conversation can cure almost any ailment or misgiving; they are life's ultimate simple pleasures. I found New York's Restaurant Week to be a unique opportunity for enjoying restaurants I could otherwise never afford. My favorites were 21 Club and Maloney & Porcelli -- both feel like old institutions and both made me feel like a very classy lady.

4. Unplug, for your own sake. When I first arrived in the city, I listened to music constantly -- on the subway, walking to work, walking home from work, while exercising. If I wasn't doing something or with someone, I was plugged in and zoned out. I didn't realize all I was missing until midway through the summer, when I forgot my headphones at home one day. I walked the 45 blocks home from work listening to the world around me. I heard little girls singing as they skipped ahead of doting parents and I heard suited businessmen laughing between bites of greasy street food. I watched tourists huddle around maps and dispute the location of Central Park and I watched lots of tired, headphone-clad, people hurry past me, oblivious to the brilliant vibrancy of everyday life in the city. Plugged in, you are completely alone in your own world. Unplugged, you are never alone because you are in the company of wonderful strangers, living their lives loudly and unapologetically. Consider living yours that way, too.

5. The best burrata in the city is and will always be at the Four Seasons restaurant, but the second best is at Rosemary's on West 10th. I am proud to say that I have had burrata at more restaurants than I care to count and am extremely confident in my findings. Not only did I enjoy the ample size of Rosemary's burrata, but also I enjoyed it outside, under an awning of twinkle lights in the company of my parents. It doesn't get much better than that, does it?

6. On another, unrelated food note, the best ice cream in the city is at Morgenstern's off Bowery. The chatty cashier's favorite flavor is Tonka Bean and mine is Schoolyard Mint Chip. The line is always out the door and, at peak evening hours, people are sleeping on the street just around the corner. There is something so heartbreakingly "New York" about this dichotomy: overpriced gourmet ice cream just a few feet away from people who couldn't dream of such a frivolous expenditure. It reminds me how lucky I am to be in that ice cream line, no matter how long it is.

7. Stay away from Times Square. It is the least authentic part of New York that I can think of. The amount of electricity coursing through those few midtown blocks is so infuriatingly wasteful, and I'm not even that eco-conscious myself. More than anything, Times Square is a gaudy exploitation of American consumerism, replete with fast-food restaurants and huge screens that play live-feeds of passersby and of tourists waving, jumping, and going wild seeing themselves caught on film. Times Square exists for the people who want to believe that New York City is an alternate reality, one that is never dark or quiet or alone.

I found the real New York on West 11th, making my way to Magnolia's for a before-bed cupcake, and I found it again on West 104th street at my best friend's favorite yoga studio. I found the real New York on the cobblestone streets of the Meatpacking district at 2:00 a.m., where teens tumbled out of nightclubs as drivers sidled up to the curb, spitting out well-suited businessmen and their escorts. I found the real New York in Brooklyn on the fourth of July, stuck in traffic induced by mobs flooding the streets to watch fireworks over the bridge. I caught the last few colorful bursts and they were incredible. What I love most about the city is its strong sense of identity. Every neighborhood in New York is completely true to itself, to its purpose, and to its inhabitants. The Upper East Side is safe, stoic, and charming in its quietude. Every doorman is dressed to the nines and every storefront window boasts one-day delivery to the Hamptons(!). The Lower West Side is brick, unevenly paved, and knotted with tiny streets that wind around bookstores and flower-boxed brownstones. It smells like pizza and makes me feel like the only person in the world without a topknot.

In essence, New York is a conglomerate of many different neighborhoods that each exudes such individuality and pride. The city is not beautiful in its uniformity, but rather in its ability to accommodate so many different kinds of beautiful. It gives me hope that the rest of the world may someday be so accommodating.