Ever since I moved back to New York and published Paris, My Sweet, many people have asked two questions: with my obvious love for Paris, how I ever could have left? And, now what?
The first question, though not so black and white, is easier to answer. I returned to New York for love. The love of my family, the love of my friends, and my love for the city all drew me home.
As for what my next project is, well, it gets a little fuzzier. I have several ideas, mostly book-related, but not one that’s jumping out, saying “Pick me! Pick me!” I’m hoping time will steer me towards a delicious and fulfilling project.
That said, if there ever was a book I’d love to write, it’s the one that Jeryl Bruner wrote. My City, My New York shares scores of New Yorkers and their favorite things and places. When I read it, it really spoke to the million different reasons for having returned to this most amazing city.
I’ve had the good fortune of getting to know Jeryl personally (in fact, we’re going to do a joint reading at Posman Books, Chelsea Market, on April 11 – please join us!). She’s one of the warmest, most wonderful New Yorkers you could hope to know (which made it easier to curb my envy for her fantastic book). To wit, she took the time to thoughtfully respond to some questions about her book and her own New York passions. I hope you enjoy the read as much as I did.
I love the Green Guerrillas anecdote that opens Chapter 1... how did you uncover such lore?
Thank you! I am glad that you enjoyed the Green Guerrillas story. (For those who might not know, during the early 1970s, Liz Christy and her friends, who called themselves the Green Guerillas, would stand before the gates of junk-filled abandoned lots and hurl “bombs” or “grenades” filled with seed, fertilizer, and water to help ignite gardens. And that’s how New York City Community Gardens came to be.)
In any case, it’s always a happy accident to suddenly stumble upon a community garden in New York. They seem to be tucked away behind gates in unsuspecting hidden pockets of the city. When I decided to begin each chapter of My City, My New York with a relevant story pertaining to a quote contained in the chapter, I researched the back-story behind how the community gardens came to be and learned about Liz Christy and her Green Guerillas, the forces responsible for them. I fell in love with their story and decided it was fitting for a chapter introduction.
How did you decide whom to contact for this book and then go about reaching them?
I always hoped that My City, My New York would be the book version of a great dinner party of New Yorkers. I tried to be as eclectic as possible. Imagine a mix of actors, athletes, media and business moguls, artists, architects, designers, writers and directors. I love that you can find Daniel Boulud, Jay Jay French (lead guitarist of Twisted Sister), Blake Lively, Fran Lebowitz and Woody Allen all in one book talking about their shared passion for New York City.
Then, in most cases, I reached people via the traditional route. I contacted publicists and then set up interviews. I have worked as a celebrity reporter for years, so that helped. Also, sometimes, I reached out to friends of friends of friends who had famous connections. I was floored and humbled by how many people helped me.
Did you give any parameters or limitations, or could everyone wax poetic for pages on any old topic?
The only restriction was that the locales had to be open and accessible to the public. It was key that anyone could experience these places. In fact, I’m really thrilled that so many of the activities are free or inexpensive.
Was there anyone you didn't get? Anyone you wanted to include but couldn't access, or who declined?
There were so many people who I really wanted to feature, but for whatever reason, they weren't available. I say that for every person who is in the book, there's perhaps 10 or so who couldn't be in it. For example, Martin Scorsese was making a movie and wasn’t free to answer the question. But how I would love to have included him.
What would you say were the three most beloved spots, pastimes or places?
Many people picked Central Park so I decided I had to devote an entire chapter to that space. It’s one of the most beloved spots in New York City. Judy Collins, Kenneth Cole, John Leguizamo and many others talked about the Metropolitan Museum of Art and some of their favorite places in the museum. Another beloved pastime was idling or cycling along the Hudson River Park. I love that each section of the pathway has a very distinct character. Going north, you pass the marina and clusters of sailboats. The New Jersey landscape gets more and more bucolic. At around 135th Street, I like stopping at Fairway, stocking up on all kinds of salads and having a picnic at the water's edge. It’s transporting.
You mentioned this book was spawned by a 2003 article you wrote for National Geographic Traveler. Was there a 'tipping point' some time in the past eight years? Did something happen or click to turn this into a book?
I always liked reporting and writing for magazines and websites, but felt the pull to write a book. It’s often hard to delve deep into a subject with a magazine piece, especially when word counts are diminishing and features are getting shorter. But since I had never written a book before, it was hard to get an agent on board. And even once I signed with one, it still took some time before the My City, My New York book deal was made.
It’s interesting. I was at a point where my agent convinced me that I had to let go of this unsold project for the time being and focus on another book because it just didn’t look hopeful that it would sell. I resisted because I didn’t want to let my baby go. Curiously, a very short time after I finally became excited about another book project, I got my book deal for My City, My New York. What’s that old adage, if you love something, set it free and if it’s yours it will come back to you.
What about you? What is your favorite:
• Garden/Park: Central Park. No matter how often I’ve visited, I always find something new to love there.
• Restaurant: It’s a tossup between Fred’s at Barneys (for the salads), Jackson Hole (for the salads, although most people love their giant burgers) and the Four Seasons restaurant (it’s a New York classic and I love the décor, especially the planetarium-sized ceiling).
• Bar: The bar at Cafe Ronda on the Upper West Side. The bartenders are lovely and genuine and the cava is top notch. (Oh, and don’t miss the shepherd salad - a mountain of red and yellow tomatoes, feta cheese, olives and cucumbers in a very light vinaigrette. Delicious!
• Cultural Activity: Seeing plays and musicals. Live theater is my Prozac. I’m such a theater geek!
• Shopping Destination: Dare I say it, but I love Housing Works. Since the profits from the stores go to those in need, I feel as if I’m helping, even in a small way.
• Building or Landmark: I don’t know if this counts, but I have such affection for the Angel of the Waters sculpture at Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. There’s something so serene and peaceful about her and that spot amid the boats and ornate tile and arcade. It’s such a special place.
Now that your curiosity is piqued, pick up a copy for this must-have book!
Thank you, Jeryl!