New York Part 1: Pre Readers Studio (a.k.a Pre Majorly Life Changing Experience!)
On April 18 this year I flew from Sydney to New York City, specifically to attend the Readers Studio – the biggest tarot conference in the world. Long haul flights are not my favourite thing to do, but the promise of adventures that await at the other end keep me booking those flights.
For some reason, the 14 hour journey from Sydney to Los Angeles didn’t seem too bad. I particularly enjoyed the announcement from the pilot as we landed, “The time is 6:30am on April the 18th…again!” Ah, the strangeness of timezones. In LA, I waited in line at Customs, doing my best to present as neat, tidy and ‘together’ after being flung through the air for 12,000km.
When I was finally called to the counter, I handed over my passport and customs form and got fingerprinted electronically. The customs official asked me what was the reason for my trip. “I’m here for a conference”. “What type of conference?” “A tarot readers’ conference”. “Oh.” She went silent as she typed away, occasionally sneaking me a side-glance. “So,” she ventured, “are you a…psychic?” “Yes, I’m a psychic tarot reader”. She nodded, handed over my passport and said “Welcome to America, have a beautiful day.”
The 5 ½ hour trip to New York seemed like nothing in comparison to the long haul, and then I was introduced to the subway system. My first subway mistake saw me getting off at the wrong 23rd Street Station (the first of many such mistakes made during my time in NYC!). I wandered around the quiet, darkened streets for a while, noticed the Chrysler Building glittering in the distance so that I knew that I was in the right city, but with my travel sim card not working yet in my phone, I had no Google map to help me find my way. My travel-weary mind vaguely considered that Manhattan felt so different to how I had imagined it, and then I thought “This place has got the vibe of a Hal Hartley movie.” (Did anyone else get highly affected by Hal Hartley movies in the 90s? Trust is my favourite of his films.) Then I was like, Oh, look! A sign with a map on it! Where am I? Oh. I’m on Long Island (Hal Hartley territory). Hmmm. Back to the subway I go.
Finally I got off at the right station, though I still had a 20 minute walk ahead of me as there was track work on the local lines. At last I arrived my hotel, The Carlton Arms, 28 hours after leaving my home in Sydney. There was a sleeping cat curled up on the front desk, who looked just like my late cat Starr. I asked the man who worked there where I could find vegetarian food and he asked me if I like Indian food. Oh yeah. And soon I was to discover that I was a 3 minute walk from Little India, and specifically, minutes away from about five vegetarian Indian restaurants. Oh, New York!
The Carlton Arms is a great hotel to stay in, eccentric, comfortable and cheap. All the rooms have murals painted by different artists. Indeed, every wall in the entire building is covered in a mural.
The next day I hopped on a train to Wappinger Falls in upstate New York to stay at CoSM (Chapel of Sacred Mirrors) for the night.
I have been a fan of Alex and Allyson Grey’s art for a long time, and it was rather special to stay in their beautiful guesthouse where the walls were covered in their original artworks.
I ate yummy food at their cafe, bought beautiful things from their gift shop and walked around the large property where there were many sculptures and plenty of fresh air. It was a welcome change to walk in nature after being holed up in a plane for so long.
The next day I was on the train back to the big smoke, with plans for art galleries and shopping. It was late afternoon by the time I got back, and it was raining so I went to the nearest Indian restaurant for my favourite – a masala dosa – went back to my hotel room and meditated and then called my partner who was back in Sydney keeping the home fires burning. It was my birthday in Sydney but not in New York yet so I felt a little confused as to when I was supposed to celebrate.
The next day was all sunny and shiny so I decided that day was my birthday. I went on a subway journey to find op shops. The subway and I didn’t work too well and neither did my not-so-thorough-research: one amazing looking op shop I was searching for had closed down (though my subway navigation actually worked well in delivering me to the construction site the op shop had once been). I began walking, deciding that instead of deliberately searching for things I would just see what I came across. Towards the end of the day I stumbled across a second-hand boutique where I found two suitably strange but interesting jump suits. Happy Birthday to me!
The next day was an adventure of a different kind as I met up with a good friend’s sister who is now living in New York with her family. She took me to a cafe where she said they made good coffee (it is very hard to find a cafe with an espresso machine in America!) – she was right – and then we went walking through Central Park, which was in full Spring mode.
She then delivered me to the Metropolitan Museum where I had booked in for a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum’s collection of tarot and playing cards.
This tour was led by renowned Tarot Artist Robert M Place who was full of useful information about the history of tarot. We looked at centuries old wooden tarocchi prints, an old fortune telling book from the 1500s, a playing card print called ‘The Queen of Flowers and much more. Some of what we saw dated back to the 1400s! I felt a little giddy from the ancientness of it all. We weren’t allowed to touch anything (or breathe on anything!) or take photos, but the museum has many of the images on their website.
Robert gave us very informative notes, and I really loved how he demystified the origins of tarot. There can be so much speculation about where the tarot originated, and sometimes the speculation goes in directions that are not backed by solid factual historical research at all.
So to hear him talk about evidence that shows how aspects of the tarot can be seen to have originated out of playing cards felt really good and grounding. Playing cards and tarot cards weren’t always used for divining, but humans are interesting, creative creatures and good at finding ways to weave stories no matter the medium. So before too long, the tarot started being used for divination or fortune telling purposes, not just as a game.
I left the museum inspired and excited and then power-walked through the rain for 45 minutes to the New York Dhamma House of Vipassana meditation as taught by S.N. Goenka. This type of meditation is my daily practice, and it was great to sit for an hour with a small group of fellow meditators before heading back to my hotel.
The following day I went shopping for some new sneakers for my partner (and, it turned out, myself). She had authorised me to contact her at any time of day or night for this purpose! So, at 2am Sydney time I sent her a text to look at her direct messages on Instagram and started to send photo after photo of trainers. She was very excited and at one point exclaimed “Ah, America! There is so much choice!”
After I had chosen the perfect trainers, I started to descend into a slight shopping craze and almost made some unnecessary purchases. I texted her to say there was a Vivienne Westwood sample sale on, and she was like “OMG go there now, SAVE ALL YOUR CASH FOR VIVIENNE!”
So, to Vivienne’s I went, where I had quite a surreal time trying on and buying a few amazing jackets that I otherwise could not have afforded (90% off, people!). Then I waited for an hour in the queue, but it was a really chilled out queue. Everyone seemed to be in the headspace “One must wait patiently in order to acquire affordable Vivienne Westwood clothing”. I bought one jacket for myself, and two jackets as gifts for my partner. Yes, I am the best wifey ever. 🙂
After such a fabulous day of shopping I went to meet up for dinner with two dear friends from Vermont, who just happened to be in New York for the day! They wanted to treat me to a belated birthday dinner, and I walked from my hotel to meet them at Hangawi Restaurant. What a joy I discovered it was, to be walking down a street in a city where I knew no one, to see two faces I love! I skipped over to them, had big hugs and then we went inside and had the yummiest meal ever.
Then it was home to the hotel to pack and prepare for an early start the next day. I was heading from Manhattan to Queens for the Readers Studio, and I did not want to be late!
Other things I noticed during my time in NYC: massive billows of steam coming out of grates in the ground from the subway, but everyone seems to be okay about this so I joined them in their nonchalance.; Psychics had signage on pretty much every second corner – I’ve never seen anything like it!; Peak hour pedestrian traffic in NYC is not for the faint-hearted – so many people going in all the directions all at once!; It’s quite the thing to walk everywhere in NYC – in Sydney I’m like “oh that would take 20 mins to walk there, I’m catching the train/bus/bicycle”. In NYC I quickly became like one of locals and after checking the map I would think, “Wow, that’s only a 35 minute walk away, I’m walking!”
Watch this space for Part 2: The Readers Studio (a.k.a The Life Changing Experience YES)
© Sarah Barry ~ Tarot Readings with Psychic Sarah 2015