I have just returned from three weeks in Harlem, New York. Now I am aware that a city will be very inviting and alluring...when you are just visiting. People welcome you with curious, approving glances. Old ladies offer you directions with no prompting. A grocer gives you an extra orange. And such was the case with New York. People were gracious (except for the sister in the thrift store around the corner, my girl was not budging off of her funky-I'll-kick-your-ass attitude). I felt really comfortable walking the streets viewing Harlem through my camera lens. It helped immensely to be house sitting in a 5-story brownstone with a housekeeper around the corner from the Apollo Theater. What, pray tell, was not to like? I fully embraced the seduction.
People have often asked me if I would ever live in New York and I have always respond, "Yes, with $1,000,000 a year, a loft in Soho and a driver." Ok, so I have modified my requirements somewhat. I could be happy in a good space with a lot of light and an elevator in Brooklyn, the subway is tolerable and the $1,000,000 a year? Well, I'd be happy with a great project to work on, enough money to live on and to travel when I want to and save a bit. Universe, are you listening?!
The disgruntling aspects of living in Harlem were evident. The politics of gentrification is a contentious subject but for all the white people moving into black people's most sacred and historically significant district, there remains plenty of soul in Harlem. There were funny things about Harlem that only black people would get. For instance, I think there is more shea butter in Harlem than there is in the whole of West Africa. Seriously! I sweat there's not a shea butter bean left in Africa. On every corner, in every little shop and CVS there is shea butter, plastic container in $3, $5 and $10 size. Then there's the shea butter lotions, creams blended with coco butter, soap, hair creams. There is absolutely no excuse for any black person to be ashy in Harlem.
If you smell funky it's likely that you simply want to because right next to the shea butter is row after row of fragrant oils. Coconut, Rain, China Musk, Egyptian Queen, Moroccan Rose, Dark Kiss, Beautiful, Juicy Couture, Jadore, Vanilla, Cool Water, Honey Rain, Curve, Baby Powder and this is not even the tip of the ice berg. There's simple no excuse to smell bad in Harlem and you can pick up a pack of incense for your house while you're at it.
There is also no excuse for anyone to have a raggedy head of hair. There are more hair supply shops and businesses and salons along 125th Street it would take you months, if not years, to visit each one. "Hey, lady, lady. Braids, braids?" sing the African sisters offering their card as you exit the subway. They sit on the streets outside of their shops. Straight, natural, locked, woven, pressed, braided, poofed, twisted, bald, an array of wigs. Take your pick. However you choose to adorn your hair, your vain pleasure can be satisfied along 125th Street.
I can't wait for my next visit.