Jessai Flores

Orange is my new favorite color. 

Not the neon orange of a giant puffer jacket, definitely not the toxic orange of a bad spray tan, not even the pastel orange of a delicately-blended eyeshadow look. 

It’s the orange of the New Haven Green at 4:09 pm as the sun descends toward the western horizon, painting the tops of City Hall, the Chase building and United Church on the Green in the warmest hue I could dream up. It’s this glowing orange that greets us as we walk up to the Christmas tree in front of New Haven’s Holiday Village. 

Over a dozen greenhouse-like structures, the village’s “houses,” line the Green’s criss-crossing paths, inviting New Haveners in to peruse ceramics, candles, fur-lined shawls, jewelry and hot cider donuts. As we browse, local musicians take to the stage, and the mellifluous pairing of voice and guitar flows through the frigid air.

Our first “house” belongs to JinSu’s ceramics. JinSu welcomes us with a bright smile, and as we appreciate her striking, red-glazed dishes and lovingly hand-molded spoons, she asks us whether we’re students and then what our majors are. When she was in school, she was an art history major who’d considered anthropology at first. Today, she only sells her work once a year at the Holiday Village. She doesn’t create with the purpose to profit; she enjoys challenging herself through her art and finding beauty in her mistakes.

When we compliment her spoons, she describes why she is drawn to crafting them. Spoons, to her, represent one’s ability to scoop their own blessings. To take, with gratitude, what life has to offer. She also describes their form as representative of safety; many of her spoons rest inside small cave-like ceramics from which she draws a metaphor for creating a comforting space where you can truly be yourself. 

We talk with JinSu about our lives at college, our families. One of my friends even FaceTimes her brother to introduce him to Jinsu — they’re both Leo signs. We meet her two daughters, one considering culinary school in Switzerland. We learn about her brother, an artist like her and the creator of a new form of physical exercise that combines pilates, yoga and dance.

We leave JinSu’s Holiday Village house half an hour later with a few pairs of ceramic earrings for our mothers and friends and the widest smiles on our faces. Despite the freezing cold darkness that envelops us out on the Green’s path now that the sun has long since disappeared, we feel warm with the giddiness that only exists after forming a beautiful new connection. 

We step into a few more houses, admiring golden embroidered swirls on scarves and raised textures on pottery. We arrive back at where we started our night, pausing under the Christmas tree’s bright glow against the ink-black sky.

As we walk back toward campus with our bags swinging at our sides, we see a food truck on the corner of Elm and College. Under its awning hangs a multicolored garland spelling out “RAMEN.” I turn to the group, eyes wide with excitement. I stop by to ask when they’re open; I’d never seen a food truck on this street and assumed it’d be a sort of limited-time, pop-up truck. A couple greets us with kind smiles, answering my question by saying that they’ve been open for only three days. Instead of eating in a dining hall, we order bowls, feeling good about all the beautiful things coming across our path this evening. Unexpected, exhilarating. 

The music fades into the background as we walk down Elm. The smell of fresh ramen hangs around us. We’re giddy, light. 

This evening is a state of flow. There’s no pressure on and no expectations for this evening. We’re gliding through the core of a city none of us are from but have come, over the past year and a half, to call home. And although there’s great beauty in the orange of the setting sun, the curve of a ceramic spoon and the scent of a food truck, what grants us our flow most of all are the people we journey with. 

I used to have a very difficult time calling New Haven home. The four-letter word would get caught in the back of my throat, shoved back by homesickness and loneliness. I feel neither on this evening. Instead, “home” twinkles in bright string lights in my brain, making me so lightheaded I can barely keep from floating. 

Even without the sun, I find that perfect orange in the crinkle of my friends’ eyes when they smile, in their laughs, in the stories we bounce back and forth as our journey finds a new segment back on campus. We find that perfect orange as we continue to explore what makes this place home.