PHOTO GALLERY: A New York summer in 2019
Story and photos: Sanjana Rajagopal
This past March, reality cracked cleanly into two halves: life before the Coronavirus pandemic, and life after. Confined to our homes, we sat doom-scrolling for hours on end for an entire spring, while the flowers waited patiently, not knowing that this year, we wouldn’t be coming to see them bloom. In April, we came up with optimistic theories: maybe the summer heat would help drive away the virus, and things would go back to normal. But when the calendar slipped ahead to May, and then June, and then July, we soon realized that the summer of 2020 would not be like the others.
As the last dregs of the ‘lost’ summer of 2020 dissolve into the fold of memory, I find myself wandering back to the summer of 2019—a golden-bright moment in my mind. I had just finished the emotionally and academically grueling first year of graduate school, was renting a room in the Bronx and had just received a job offer from Oxford University Press. Before I officially started at OUP, I spent an entire week waking up at 7 a.m. each morning, to explore the city. I ventured out on my own, armed only with my Nikon and Spotify playlists.
Over the course of that week, I wandered through parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn I had never visited before. I covered the entire Manhattan Bridge by foot in torrential rain. I rode the F train to Smith-Ninth Streets, simply to see the view. I talked to a photographer who frequented Prospect Park. I ran my hands along the fresh pages of fiction releases at “Books Are Magic.” I watched neon lights dance against the white floors of The Hole.
Next door, I heard a jazz band play for a crowd of not-yet-jaded New Yorkers at Saxon and Parole. A mural of Blondie greeted me on a street corner. I found the tears of all the men who have wronged me bottled into an exquisite perfume at a store that sells good shit for bad bitches. I spent part of an afternoon examining the petrified remains of hearts and insects in a skull-and-bones store on Broadway. I found birds and butterflies spreading their wings for me on La Guardia Place. I saw blood red roses rising up above brick buildings, with their stems braided into the wooden pillars of a trellis. I sprinted over the Gowanus Canal, chasing the sunset. I annoyed a man in a red shirt sitting on the bench in front of the famous flower mosaic at 28th Street on the 6 line: I listened to “Him & I” on repeat on Halsey Street. I was enveloped by a mist that went on for miles at Domino Park. I saunter through a cinema theatre that was converted into a giant Rite Aid. I watched a massive storm cloud gather over the skyline from the WNYC Transmitter Park. I marveled at the lights of the Chrysler Building under a heavy gray-blue fog.
Much has changed since that summer. The Rite-Aid on Greenpoint is going to be shut down. I no longer listen to “Him & I” as often. I don’t get annoyed seeing people (unless they aren’t wearing masks) and, most notably, I no longer live in New York City.
Like many other twenty-something year olds, I moved back in with my parents as soon as the Corona panic began to set in. I know I’ll go back someday—even so, looking back on this photo collection makes me nostalgic. We can’t pretend that injustice, heartbreak, and pain didn’t complicate things pre-March—but I hope that one day we can return to a new kind of normalcy that is vibrant, fresh, and wonderful.