This is a tale of two New Yorks. And I don’t mean two sides of the same city, like comparing the Upper East Side to Brownsville, Brooklyn or The Bronx housing projects to McMansions in Dyker Heights. I mean New York City and NY State. Most folks don’t realize that these two are as different as wood-fired and gas-oven cooked pizza. My fathers’ analysis of the relationship between the city and the state is as follows: “We look at people from Upstate kinda like they’re from Canada, and they look at us kinda like we’re from Mars.”
Small towns, apple orchards, turkey farms, the Adirondack and Catskills mountains, conservative politics, wineries, and West Point Academy are what define the great State of New York. Whereas New York City is dominated by finance, media, skyscrapers, Broadway theater, immigrants, fashion, rock and roll, gay rights, the United Nations, Times Square and the most densely populated city in the nation. 8.5 million packed into 700 square miles, give or take.
And yes, it can be a little frustrating to have the entire cultural identity of a massive state subverted by a tiny, rowdy, larger-than-life diva at the foot of the place, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole lotta state pride for all the other New Yorkers out there. From Buffalo to Montauk, we NYC Citizens love New York State. (And this isn’t just because I’m dating a gorgeous native of the magnificent town of Elmira!)
With a population of about 31,000, one might drive past Elmira with barely a second glance, presuming it’s just another charming small town in our U.S. of A. But I had the delight of visiting Elmira four months ago, as the summer leaves were shifting into their glorious autumn reds, golds and browns. During our stay, I enjoyed a tour of the fantastic Bully Hill Vineyards in Hammondsport, NY. The bottles were adorned with original hand-painted artwork by local painters and the winery hosted delicious tastings!
Elmira’s biggest claim to fame is that it’s where Mark Twain built his retirement home, an octagonal study on a hill which he used to peer out and ponder over during his winter years. I felt the writer in me blossoming as I visited his grave! NBC News Anchor Brian Williams grew up in Elmira where he was (allegedly) something of a wild child, as did Tommy Hilfiger who started his clothing company in town, originally called The People’s Place.
After a few full days up in Elmeezy (As my dear Danielle likes to call it.) I realized something about our neighbor to the north. You don’t need to be stacked and packed a thousand to a block to have a city or a town with culture, fine dining and bright ideas. I found it in delightful Elmira, New York with something that New York City can’t offer: A little bit of peace, quiet, and some space to breath at the end of the day.
By Gideon Levy