March 18, 2023

BERNSTEIN | You should love Ithaca

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I’m not a hateful person. I make that a point of pride; I try my best to be easy going with the people who irk me, I’m not too picky of an eater and I don’t often complain about the songs I may find annoying. But there’s one thing that absolutely shakes me to my core and burns me down to my wits’ end. It leaves a rotten, dirty taste in my mouth and I have to wash my ears with soap every time I hear about it. There’s nothing I hate like when Cornellians don’t love Ithaca.

I know, I know. There’s hypocrisy in complaining about complaining. But before I’m labeled a hypocrite in the Facebook comments, allow me to take the soapbox. If I, as an old wise senior, may leave any parting message to you youngins, you children who will roam this city after I’m gone, let it be this: love this place. Appreciate it and everything it has to offer.

For starters, appreciate  the weather (I’m looking at you West Coasters). The worst part of the winter is not the lake effect snow, or the biting cold or the sun setting at 4:30 pm (although I admit that’s a tough one to beat) — it’s the complaining. 

What I love about Ithaca’s winters — what I love about all of Ithaca’s seasons, for that matter — is their intensity. Here, more so than any place I’ve ever been, the seasons feel strong and lifelike. The winters, yes, they’re cold and dark and brutal. But when a sheet of snow covers these streets, all of a sudden you forget any world where it wasn’t there. You can’t imagine life without it. It feels permanent, but not in a bad way. It’s ever-present. It’s pristine, powerful and placid. 

The other seasons are the same. When spring blooms and you see the pink redbud trees lining the streets and feel the sun on the back of your neck for the first time in months, the memories of winter disappear. The smells of flowers or rain are almost tangible; you can practically feel them brush against your nose. Any other season is immediately forgotten.

Summer in Ithaca is characterized by the rush of the gorges, the thick greenery that swallows the hills and of course, easier parking. If you are so lucky as to visit Ithaca in the summertime, or God willing stay here for a summer, you’ll find the weeping willows hanging over your barbecue to be your friend for life.

The fall just tastes distinct. “No more the fragrant blooms of spring”, writes the late Ithacan poet Gene Endres, in his poem In the Fall I Dreamed of Apples; instead he reminds us to taste sharp air and blue sky. For a few months, apples and pumpkins are the staple crops of the Finger Lakes and the foliage lasts forever.

I won’t pretend like I don’t get the frustrations of winter. But Ithaca is doing its best! The beautiful bitter winters go hand in hand with the aromatic springs, the peaceful summers and the heavenly falls.

Ithaca, however, has much more to offer than the weather.

For one thing, this city is pretty damn fun. Some of my favorite experiences are entirely void of Cornell: dancing at the Ithaca Night Bazaar down where the farmers market is and exploring the various Commons festivals — be them apple-based or chili-based or anything else. The downtown bars are fun with different crowds from your Level-B usuals, the restaurants outside of collegetown are delicious and fresh and the parks (there are plenty more than just Stewart) are begging to be played in. The vintage shopping and antiquing scene in this city is incredible and fun, the murals and local art scene are beautiful and the State Theater regularly has outstanding performances.

Local Ithacans are among the kindest people one can meet. I’ve made a darts coach out of a friendly regular at the Westy, I’ve been invited to holiday celebrations at the Tibetan monastery and I’ve had wonderful interactions just walking around the streets of Southside or Northside. 

I remember one sunny summer afternoon, walking down 1st Street near Gimme! Coffee and Cascadilla Creek. I saw kids excitedly digging through a trash can, and at first I was worried; then I saw them pull out balls and games and even a pogo stick, and I saw the cardboard sign on the can that read “Neighborhood Toys and Activities! Return in 1 day. Enjoy!” There’s a beautiful and welcoming sense of community in Ithaca, and it lies just under the nose of most Cornellians. Hiding in plain sight.

The countless activities to do in this city and the kindness of its residents I hope aren’t anything new for most readers. Nevertheless, after almost four years on campus, I find that many of my peers haven’t branched out. I still hear people call our town “Shithaca” or rag on Ithacans and call them weird townies or other names.

Frankly, I can’t stand it. I think it comes from an elitist closed-mindedness that persists in the brains of too many Cornellians. There are a lot of people who come here for school but wouldn’t ever consider living in a place like this; they’d gladly step over Ithacans on their way to a post-grad urban paradise.

It’s easy to open your mind and explore outside the bubble that is Cornell. Ithaca will welcome you should you choose to explore. You’ll find kind-hearted people, wondrous adventures and mysteries that you never would have factored into your “Colleges: Pros and Cons” list as a senior in high school. Plus, maybe it’ll help you think about the weather differently — that’s always a positive.

Daniel Bernstein (he/him) is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Feel the Bern runs alternate Thursdays this semester.