By Juha Himanen
I got a hammock as a present for Memorial Day. It’s now proudly and attractively hanging on a balcony right on First Avenue. I can hardly believe that I can come home from the office, kick off my shoes, and have a Budweiser on a hammock that faces the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
When I was a university student in Finland, we had several things listed as symbols of ‘La Dolce Vita,’ life with some extra special pleasures that average man is usually unable to achieve. Lying on a hammock right in your own backyard (or balcony for that matter) was at the top of this list. Other things included skiing in the Rockies with the jet set crowd, driving a convertible along a sandy beach, and relaxing by a pool while sipping a funny drink garnished with an umbrella. During my professional years I’ve found it fairly easy to try out the other items on the list, but adding a hammock into the mix has been a tough one. Now I finally feel as if I’ve reached the top; my own hammock right in the heart of New York.
Since my plan to make a hammock part of my routines turned out so well in the end, I started paying extra attention to a few other Manhattan secrets. When I was at the Hudson this summer, having dinner at the Boat Basin cafeteria, admiring the sunset over the river and listening to a blues band on the lawn of the Riverside Tennis Association, I could hardly believe that I live in one of the biggest urban areas of the world. New Yorkers are masters of taking advantage of their limited living space–and in imaginative ways. Did you know that there’s a place ten minutes from Columbus Circle where you can spot 200 species of birds during the spring, more than almost anywhere else in the Northeast (and more than you can ever spot anywhere near Southern Finland)? It’s called Rumble in Central Park. Forget its somewhat dodgy reputation for a while, and take a minute to listen to the variety of bird songs as you smell the linden. And in ten minutes, if you wish, you can be at the Metropolitan Opera.
Back to the hammock and the ‘Dolce Vita.’ When I was having my initial First Avenue hammock experience over Memorial Day weekend, I realized another great thing about living in the US: while in Finland there’s only one Midsummer Festival (or Juhannus as it’s called over there), here I can have three of them. Memorial Day and The Fourth of July in the US are exactly what Juhannus is in Finland: opportunities to escape the busy city life, eat unhealthily, and get hammered if you so wish. And if you are as lucky as I am, you can actually celebrate them all while ‘hammocked’ in the city, where half the population seems to have escaped to the Hamptons and you have twice as much space to yourself than during a regular weekend.
Finally, a thought hit me while relaxing in the hammock, on my First Avenue balcony, during midday on a Midsummer Saturday: “Don’t listen to your Sunday school teacher!” The sun was really bright that day and I was wearing my sunglasses. Suddenly I noticed that one of the lenses was almost falling off. I had just made myself so comfortable that I had no wish to get up and start finding a small screwdriver–something I probably would’ve never found anyway. So I quickly checked my fingernails. Yes, my fingernails. Those that every grownup throughout my childhood was asking me to keep short. And, indeed, the thumb of my right hand had a nice, almost a quarter-inch long, untouched, pristine nail. I fixed the screw problem in a second with a little help from that very nail – while lying on the hammock on First Avenue, mind you – and had the wisdom of the day ready to go: ‘Never cut your fingernails; you never know when they might come in handy!’