Monday, August 23, 2010

City Soul

There’s something about New York that still feels like a dream to me. Not a fuzzy, warm romantic fantasy, all hazy at the edges and softly swaying to Frank Sinatra music… But a weird, disorienting, unreal yet happy existence that can’t possibly be true. There is nothing about this life that my soul can grasp, that my whiplashed mind can wrap itself around. Occasionally I’ll be walking through the streets, plodding along between tall concrete buildings that look like nothing I’ve ever existed with before, and it’s like my mind has to separate in two—one half gripping the other by the shoulders, shaking firmly as it says, “This is real. This is REAL. This is New York, and you live here.”

I don’t know what to say about New York that hasn’t been said before. Any attempt at originality would be a regurgitation of songs and literature, stories and poetry and slogans I’ve ingested over the years about this myth of a city in which I now reside. I have nothing new to add to a dialogue about this strange and weird and wonderful and unreal metropolis that I now call my home. It is what everyone says it is. Everything you have heard of New York City, every whisper, every anecdote, every limerick and lyric… everything is true. And yet somehow, it’s still a mystery, still a complex Rubik’s cube of experience and transportation and love. This city has a soul that is infinitely explorable.

The things I’ve learned are small—seemingly insignificant when faced with the task of conquering this mountain of a city. But they serve as touchstones, little pieces that make this Xanadu world seem real… Never forgetting one’s umbrella, walking with purpose and economy, knowing when to flash a warm smile at the man behind the counter at the corner market and when to set your face like flint when the woman behind a table on the street calls out to sell a handbag… These are things, however small, that make up a life in New York.

However cold and unwelcoming the city may seem, my experience has proved just the opposite. Beside every crass construction worker cat-calling and sneering as you walk to work, there is a sweet old Italian man who shouts, “Good morning!” as he leans from his second-story window. There is the sweet woman at the flea market who wants to know your name and tucks an extra pair of vintage earrings in your bag because they looked “just divine” on you. Amidst all the awkward shuffling and purposeful avoiding of eye contact on the commuter train, there are the moments you lock eyes with the person across from you when something funny or weird or awful happens and you smile together.

This is what I know New York to be. It’s not that the city is cold, she’s just not easily won over. And I can respect that.


Lisa said...

I want to go to there!

Anton Seim said...

I'm going to D.C. for the Colbert/Stewart rally. Thinking about taking a train into the city for the day. could come to D.C.!