“Psychologists [warn] that Chinese tourists shaken by thieves and dashed expectations [are] at risk for Paris Syndrome, a condition in which foreigners suffer depression, anxiety, feelings of persecution and even hallucinations when their rosy images of Champagne, majestic architecture and Monet are upended by the stresses of a city whose natives are also known for being among the unhappiest people on the planet.”
— “Chinese Tourists Find a Movable Feast Best Left Behind”, The New York Times, Sept. 20, 2014
I’m seeing bearded men on skateboards everywhere I go. And they’re chasing me. Cackling as vegan pastry crumbs drop from their beards onto the cobblestone streets, they pursue me. With pitchforks made of pickled okra and faces that are in fact macaron ice cream sandwiches, they taunt me, leaving trails of homemade sauerkraut juice in their path. I know it’s all in my head, but this is who I’ve become, my dreams of Brooklyn dashed by the reality that not everyone here has a handlebar mustache and an ironic tattoo on their forearm.
I have the Brooklyn Syndrome.
And I fear that it — along with these gluten-free bacon-glazed doughnuts — is eating me alive.
I came here looking for knit caps in the summertime, people playing the ukulele on the street, and tiny bottles of homemade beet ketchup that taste of sweat and stubble. Instead, I realized that some of the factories are actual factories and not just backdrops for Instagram posts. I realized that some of the homeless people are actually poor and not just trust-fund kids who prefer to live on the street wearing clothes they paid someone hundreds of dollars to distress. I realized that some of the people on the subway are going to work, at actual jobs, that pay them in legal tender currency, and they’re not just traveling to a food fair, or taking part in a modern art exhibition titled, “People on Train, With Organic Coffee.”
My vision of this entire borough — of my entire trip — has been dashed, my rented room now revealing itself to actually lack a toilet and not merely be making a statement about toilets and how they are so utterly un-hip. I am sad beyond the level at which a bowl of turnip ramen can cheer me. I am crushed beyond the point at which a poorly-bottled jug of horseradish soda can lift my spirits.
They’re after me. The men on unicycles. The jugglers. The raviolettos, or whatever it is the people who make kale-stuffed ravioli call themselves. I see flannel everywhere I turn. I feel messenger bags beating me over the head, pushing me into piles of self-published literary journals. The stress is overwhelming. Not even a hot mountain stone massage performed by a 23-year-old whose parents funded his trip to gather the massage stones from Everest itself can relax me.
There’s a cloud shaped like a celery root samosa hanging over me. It rains down kombucha and forms puddles of kvass. There is homemade yogurt washing over me, as beekeepers and their bees circle around, the bees wearing beards of their own, riding scooters, dressed in scarves, drawing henna on the Queen Bee as she licks her honey lavender Popsicle.
I’m imagining it, I know. But it feels so real. I came here on a raft that called itself a water taxi and I am leaving in a taxi that runs on fuel, not zucchini bread. I thought I would love you, Brooklyn. I thought I would swim in your iced mocha lattes and fish in your hipster-filled rivers, but instead I return home knowing the truth. That Brooklyn is just a place, and my dreams were only dreams, and I should have gone to Paris instead.
Au Revoir, beards and skateboards.