THOUSANDS of dreams have been realized in New York. As for author Carissa Villacorta, the Big Apple not only held the key to her dreams but also to her identity.

Dwelling on the erratic lifestyle of a New Yorker is Surreality (UST Publishing House, 2006), composed of 14 essays written by Villacorta who contributes for the US broadsheet Philippine News. Recognized by the Philippine New York Junior Chamber of Commerce for her outstanding achievement in contemporary literature, Villacorta narrates her life-changing, four year sojourn in New York through her collection.

Villacorta kicks off each essay with a teaser, called “Roller Coaster Ride,” which tells of her random musings about New York. Making this part more vivid is the use of photographs featuring images of Times Square, subway stations, and the author’s immediate family.

In the first essay, “How New York and Fashion Happened to an Unsuspecting Dreamer,” Villacorta tells how she took the giant leap from being a management trainee in Manila to a student in Manhattan’s renowned Fashion Institute of Technology. She herself expresses amazement at this sudden career shift: “Everything happened overnight. That trip was life-changing… I will never forget it because it lit the fire of my new beginning.”

In “New York and Hugh,” Villacorta pictures New York as “the city of wakeful dreaming, fortunate accidents, random meetings and sudden engagements.” Villacorta shares her fleeting glimpses of famous personalities such as Hugh Grant and Ethan Hawke, which she regards as her “New York moments.”

Meanwhile, Villacorta deals with the beauty of simplicity and practicality amid the grandeur of the city in “In a Moment.” Experiencing the surreal is a matter of perspective: “It’s being a walking philosopher, walking with a friend, and walking away with a new outlook.”

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Ramblings

Despite her love for New York, she says that acquaintances have more impact than travelling. In “1,000 People to Meet Before you Die,” Villacorta compares the striking similarity between people and places and how both reveal a world unknown to many. “Strangers are friends that you are yet to know,” and that even if “places don’t have souls,” one can see it vicariously through other people’s experiences.

Finally, in “The Largest Roller Coaster in the World,” Villacorta talks about her life’s unrelenting fluctuations in New York. This is manifested when she left fashion design for creative writing and how she relocated many times just to find a perfect apartment. She writes, “I’ve always called it an emotional rollercoaster. Just don’t stay at the bottom too long, and try to enjoy the heights as long as you can.”

The book brims with youthful idealism as it tackles universal themes such as love, sexuality and excitement. The author’s wisdom shines through without bordering preaching. Moreover, Villacorta engages readers. She asks for instance: “Where does the business transaction end and the friendship begin? How do you decide for whom you’d do things for free and freely, and for whom your expertise would pay?”

A highly compelling book, Surreality garnered praises from Filipino writers here and abroad, such as Michiko Yamamoto, Vincent Nebrida, Raymond Lee, and Ditsi Carolino. Although it is somehow lacking in Filipino flavor, its universal approach never fails to transport readers to the city that never sleeps, a constant reminder that dreams transcend the boundaries of the mind.

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A dreamer's doodle pad

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