Saturday, August 16, 2008

How Could Anyone NOT Love New York?

"What a wonderful thing, to be conscious! I wonder what the people in New Jersey do."
Woody Allen "No Kaddish for Weinstein" 1975
"These little town blues, are melting away
I'll make a brand new start of it - in old New York
Frank Sinatra (born New Jersey) "New York, New York"

I have a friend who truly believes there is no culture in America. He's not otherwise an unintelligent man, but there's nothing on earth that will convince him otherwise. He lives in a small city in Europe which I am sure thinks is the center of civilization.

I've given up arguing with him, as there's no point. But every workday I wake up in an apartment within walking distance of the Guggenheim. Andy Warhol had his town house not far from here. I walk past the Serendipity Café where Warhol sold his drawings in the sixties. And then over the Fifty Ninth Street Bridge of "Feeling Groovy" Simon and Garfunkel fame. Crosby, Stills and Nash played in Central Park last month. And tonight there's a revival of "Hair" in Central Park. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's works are featuring at the Museum of Modern Art this month ...

New York, home of Woody Allen, Bob Dylan, Tennessee Williams, Edgar Allan Poe, George Washington, Paul Newman, Jacqueline Onassis,Humphrey Bogart, Lauran Bacall, Robert De Niro, Jane Fonda, Art Garfunkel, Whoopi Goldberg, Stanley Kubrick, Carly Simon, Robert Strassburg, Lou Reed, Al Pacino, Eugene O'Neill, Bob Dylan, Neil Simon, Chris Rock, Meryl Streep, Andy Warhol, Denzel Washington, Frank Sinatra, Peter Carey and John Lennon.

But it's not the sheer number of cultural events, or the hundreds of famous citizens that New York can call its own, that I love about New York. It's the people, the buzz of the place, and the fact that any time, day or night that I can emerge from my comfortable cocoon that is our apartment, onto a street full of activity and life.

There's a history to the place, not the far-away history of old Europe with is gray cobblestones and medieval churches, but the history of my own culture. John Lennon, pop art, Dylan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Blondie, Michelle Shocked and CBGBs. Al Pacino in "Dog Day Afternoon". Peter Cary and his recent novel, "Theft". Woody Allen's "Manhattan".

Yes we live in tiny apartments, but the city is our playground. The boundaries of our lives are not merely the office and "home". The city of New York is our home. Our apartments are where we eat, sleep and recover from the hectic life in our playground.

And it's not all ghosts of the past haunts of Dylan, Bogart and Warhol. It isn't just the feeling of what WAS here - that awe-inspiring feeling that you get when walking in Shakespeare's footsteps down Southwark Street in London, or visiting Stonehenge, the Colosseum or Carthage. New York is about NOW.

It's not about ruins, although our gap-toothed skyline has its own. It's been only seven years since we lost out Twin Towers - the city sprang back into action, within days. It is about the vibrancy that is the city, the humor, the people, the diversity, the wealth and the run-down subways. The contradictions that that exist everywhere but are blatant in New York; not hidden under the carpet as if things of shame.

We are what we are. We don't have heaps of friends, we don't have dinner parties and picnics and drinks after work. We don't have "friends". But we do talk to the person sitting next to us on the bus. We chat to the doorman, the janitor, the people on the subway platform, other patrons after a movie, our fellow customers at Bloomingdales and bodegas. There's a democracy of strangers which is human contact nevertheless.

New Yorkers speak up. They don't avert their eyes like people on a London tube; they confront. We have our "New York moments".

The last one I had was on Thursday, on a bus going up Third Avenue. A very elderly black man got on the bus round Sixtieth Street. He sat down on one of the few remaining seats. For the next ten stops he gave up his seat ten times - for a pregnant woman, elderly ladies, a very fat forty year old, a boy on crutches ... anyone slightly not quite up to standing. Eventually he sat down next to me, only to give his seat up yet again, to a man with a cane. "I'm getting off soon", said a woman two seats away, "You take my seat". No sooner had she stood up than a young woman slipped into her seat and the elderly black man remained standing. "It's OK", he said. "No it isn't", said the woman who was about to get off. She spoke to the seat-taker. "This man has give his seat ten times. Stand up and give him that seat!" The young person hesitated, glued to her IPod. "Give him the seat!" chorused about six nearby passengers!" And eventually she did.

Reluctantly the elderly man sat down, and there were tears in his eyes. "I get sad when people are kind", he explained. "But you deserve it," a man opposite called out. The elderly man was wearing an Akubra hat. "I like your hat", I said to lighten things up and to distract him from his tears. "It's Australian", he told me, "like Crocodile's". "Where did you get it?" I asked. "In New York of course", he answered. "You can get everything here. I love this city".

So do I.

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