I sit in a half-empty room, with packed boxes piled up in one corner, and small batches of dust unearthed in spots unreached over the past few months. It is my best friend Beyza’s room, who has also been my roommate for the last two and a half months, for she is out and her room is prettier than mine. My room faces the alleyway in the back, where air conditioners grumble with steady drips of water, a sour smell rises from the trash cans down below on hot and humid days, and half of the view that consists of the backside of the building behind us is blocked by the newspapers I’ve put up in place of curtains. Her room faces the street, 146th street, where our neighbors frequently gather in large groups, the presence of their music and mouth-watering barbecues felt as if they were in the apartment. Tonight, as a dark blanket slowly falls over Harlem, slow rancheras crawl in through the window, filling me with a feeling of romance and peace. (For the sake of full disclosure, I have to admit that I of course did not know they were called rancheros. It took a half hour of me describing to my Mexican boyfriend on the phone what I heard as traditional-sounding and romantic opera-like trumpety songs sung by men, humming something perhaps remotely similar — but probably not for I truly cannot sing — to what I was hearing, lots of googling terms like “traditional latin american music”, and him suggesting a few artists for me to look up and see if they sound similar. But hey, this is how you learn, no?)
As I get ready to end my summer off in New York to return to my “real life”, and Beyza prepares to move to a new apartment in Brooklyn, she asks me whether I’ll miss Harlem. I tell her I’ll miss it, but not so much living in Harlem, for I don’t think we’ve been able to mingle with locals in the short time we’ve been here, other than our outings at Shrine, where we’ve probably had the most fun all summer. Though the culture is so alive and felt so substantially, with lives lived out on the streets, I doubt we’ve become a part of it despite walking amongst it daily. It might have been our fault for not being more assertive or less timid, or it might just be that we haven’t had the right opportunity. In any case, there is a spirit and liveliness to Harlem that is missing in places I’ve lived so far, a kind of communal spirit that I would love to be a part of some day, somewhere.