NYC Through the Eyes of My Grandpa

Last year I wrote a piece about navigating grief through photography. This summer, I’m turning the page as best as I can. 

Papik (Armenian for “Grandpa”) flew in from Yerevan, Armenia to firstly, go to my brother’s wedding in California and secondly, to see me live my adult life in New York City.

A little about me and Papik; I grew up with him and Tatik (Armenian for “Grandma”). They lived in my childhood home just down the hall from my bedroom. I’d spend a lot of nights in their room talking about how elementary school was going, showing them new clothes I got from the mall, and doing Armenian dances until my feet were red. I did it because I loved them. I did it because they loved me. They were always there for me. Right down the hall. A memory I hold dearly. 

But that was then. That was 2005. And now, at 25, there is a lot to be jaded about. I’m sure I’m no different than all of you in the continual “New York is dead” discourse that permeates your social media timelines. Whether it’s mass inequality, a rampant housing crisis, or…. There is a lot to be upset about. And that’s just in NYC. 

When I picked up Papik at JFK airport, we were all smiles. We had one of those cinematic hugs that directors plead for, that makes passerby smile with glee. You don’t know us and you probably don’t speak our language but a hug and smile surpasses all language barriers. 

Papik; Fujifilm 200 color negative

This was the first time I saw Papik since Tatik’s funeral in 2020. Since the pandemic began. Since our lives undoubtedly changed forever. 

I gave Papik the quintessential NYC tourist experience. Whether it was from big-tier NYC activities from visiting the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty, to small-scale pleasantries like riding the subway or New York style pizza. We did all we could in the time we had. 

Empire State; Fujifilm 200 color negative

However, I wanted to allow myself patience in how I saw Papik. I wanted to– just for a second– shed the all-consuming trepidation that is living in America. I wanted to experience NYC through him, an 82 year old who visited for the first time. 

I wanted to remember what it was like when I first came to New York City, before I memorized my bodega worker’s name and which subway line would take me to manhattan; before I knew about all the issues that plagued the city, before I knew what I wanted to do with my life. 

Soho: Fujifilm 200 color negative

Admittedly, it was tough. The Uvalde massacre occurred on Tuesday, just four days after Papik arrived. Right as I began to feel like I got my childhood back for a second, there were children a few thousand miles away who lost theirs. 

The disillusionment in this country is never ending. But there is one thing I do believe: always retain a child-like curiosity. Fresh eyes are what offer new perspectives, what gives beauty to the mundane, what makes life worth living. If we can create an idyllic mindset, we’ll have strength to fight for things that matter. And we can find resiliancy in people who are older than us.

Fujifilm 200 color negative

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Anna Russian
Anna Russianhttp://www.annarussian.com
Anna Russian is a writer, artist, and musician. She graduated from Bard College in 2019 with a B.A. in literature and is currently based in Brooklyn, New York.
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