I'm staying near Central Park, up 7th about a click from Times Square. How to get to Carnegie Hall? Cross the road.
I wouldn't say that so far "I <3 NY", more along the lines of, "I am expecting something unobtainable from NY, but hope to modulate my jaded cynic's heart with the mythic aspects of its historic and artistic resonances", but that won't fit on tee-shirt let alone a baseball cap.
But no matter, a tourist can only look with awe upon the stream of locals storming up (or down, which is which?) the 5th avenue sidewalk, Starbucks grande in one hand, NYT in the other, JamesEarlJonesing into a bluetooth headset about some immensely significant divergent event in the world's history (snippets like: "We were going to transition to the ... Get Jonathon to move the 4 o'clock and revert..." It might as well be, "Pull the troops from Baghad, do it NOW! And a lite soy decaf latte to go"), and step out of their way. A tourist looks, thinks he understands but when he tries to feel the New Yorkness of this... But one can expect nothing but failure, it is too big an order to fill, to expect to grasp New York. Too big a meal to eat! The Paul Auster mysteriousness, the Goodfella gruffness, the richness and poverty (I got, "Hey big fella, sumfin for da homeless," from someone twice my size and better dressed with it. Fuggedabartit.), the steaming hot and blustering cold, the scope and scale, the ever-present past and the looming present - beep-beep, waddayadooin?
My colleague took me around in her car yesterday - Little Italy, the Village. She lives in Connecticut now, but was excited to be in Manhattan, perhaps more excited than I was. She had lived somewhere near, had studied at the NYU campus by Washington Square (currently being dug up for some reason) and was marveling at everything like it was her first time to go back since then. (It wasn't, not by along shot.) My find-a-parking-spot tour of Downtown was more a journey into her memories than a sightseeing trip for me. Never-mind, it was good to watch her react to the ambiance of her recollections. To me one Ethiopian restaurant is pretty much most other Ethiopian restaurants. The narrow streets of apartments are just narrow streets, but the cast iron fire-escapes and sliding ladders were cool to me. Movie resonances of course. She didn't even see their symmetry and the touches of filigree anymore... We were experiencing a different town. She was looking again at what she knew, as a local, as a New Yorker. I was trying to know what I was seeing for the first time, experiencing it as an outsider, a tourist.
Umberto's restaurant where she planned to take me either for dinner or to see the mafia bullet holes in the wall, was boarded up. But this set-back didn't dampen her buzz - "This town!" she kept saying. "That town," I agreed.
After a genuine rye whiskey and a blood blister - seat, move, top-lift-off, finger, pinch, OW! - at the Blue Note jazz club, getting accent lessons ("Noo YAAWk" - too Brooklyn - "New Yohk" - better!) and later meeting Roy the midget Napolitan waiter (photo to follow) at Alfonso's then later sampling a cannoli ("You nevuh hat a cannOOOOli!?") at Fiore's, I was dropped at 42nd street by BB King's blues bar.
It all becomes a tick-box of mini-experiences (except for the blood-blister: that was not on anyone's agenda).
Today, I'm just rugging up against the biting wind, a light snow flurrying, as the real people go from somewhere decisive to somewhere crucial, the survival of life on the planet is at stake, and I know that I am as transient and influential a visitor here as one of those flakes which dissolve by the steaming vents. There is an emotion akin to envy, something about not being immersed in the city completely, viscerally as only a New Yorker can be, that I feel. I am not my colleague.
Hell, thanks to the TV/movie brain-washing I had as a kid, things are just more REAL here. Real as the things that she didn't need to notice were for her yesterday, they seem real (I can see them, touch them, photograph them) yet unreal to me today (I can't get beneath them, can't know them so well I don't need to be aware of them). At the same time as I let the patterns of architecture and art stimulate the brain behind my retina or the diodes in my camera, I feel like I am watching a movie of myself. I am aware of a dozen movies, a thousand actors whose steps I retrace.
I am envious, because these people live here, because in the real New York, this neutron star at the heart of mythic America*, in the actual avatar of itself, they exist.
And being a non-American, in their view, and by the vicarious TV/movie ignorance of reality which denies my world, in mine, I don't, even to my New York tourist self.
The position is not as invidious as it sounds. It's no big deal if this city is important and the rest of the world is just... not. At least it's no big deal if you're a New Yorker. And if I reject that opinion, again, it's no big deal, hey, because I am not a New Yorker. Wotchagunnadoabardit?
I stand in awe of all this delusional reality and it real antithesis, the actual town. In all it's King Kong on the Empire State fantasy, if you can make it here, you can make it...
I don't take it for granted. It's New York and it's something else.
Plus it's bloody cold.
* Hollywood makes movies about New York, not the other way around.
ps. my computer is not recognising my camera's SD card, so you are all spared my atrocious photography for the moment.
The Big Idea: Maurice Broaddus - April has been light on Big Idea posts because I’m on tour (don’t worry, May’s gonna be packed), but let’s make sure we don’t get through this last week of...
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