August 23, 2010


- New York City -

We have a love-hate relationship. I think I'm a bit of a city-girl at heart - having spent my first six years in the suburbs of San Fransisco and the rest a hop-skip-and-a-jump away from NYC.

I love the the thousands of smells- [fish... curry... garlic...] -which meld in the crisp, heaviness of the wind. I love all the black trench coats and knee-high boots (the fur ones make me laugh). I enjoy transforming into an extrovert and bewildering people with a wave and a smile. "Hello, it's crowded here, isn't it?"

I love marble. And shiny glass windows. And enormous vases of flowers. I love exotic, renown, expensive, highly-guarded pieces of art. I love plays and ballets. I love mocha frappachinos. And Free Trade chocolate- and canvas sacks sporting their echo-friendliness. I really like black leather gloves. And hats, too. Even if I never wear them. I love seeing restaurant names in Italian, Turkish, and Spanish... and looking up to see the word "Indus" and immediately being transported half a planet away...

And face it, I love sidewalks. I like the way boots and heals clip-clop along. [I fell in love with the way feet sound on pavement when I watched The Red Balloon (Le Ballon Rouge) and listened to Pascal's feet trip along the Paris cobblestones.]

The city, for me, continues to weave itself into my being in an culmination of countless childhood, now adult, memories.

I see Carnegie Hall- tuxedos, white walls, and the mesmerizing piano which marks a turning point in my life...

I see The Cage, known for its amateur basket ball players... across the street from the hole-in-the-wall Mamoun's -famous for its killer Falafel and Shawarma.

I see The Metropolitan Museum of Art--- where when I was little I saw the Egyptian exhibit one too many times and where on my last visit, loosed for hours, I spent my time staring at enormous oil-on-canvass paintings... Death Of Socrates, Graziella, Cypresses.

I see Flora De Mayo where from my first time in the city we went for dinner and have ever since, always ordering the same things. Always spectacular. Always just right. The older waiters recognizing us and asking where our missing family members are.

I see the Botanical Gardens (conservatory, trains, my baby sister in a blue dress), and Bryant Park (where the plane tree leaves hit my head while eating a chocolate croissant), and Central Park (open fields, kissing couples, The Gates -which made us want to write scathing articles)...

I see my Lady Liberty, blazing against the brilliant sky... I remember being six years old and waiting those long hours on the winding staircase, my grandmother rewarding every few steps of progress by popping Mentos into our mouths.

I see Arthur Avenue where we buy coffee Italian ices, where we have pizza New York style, where we go into the corner deli my great, great, grandmother shopped at every week, and where at the cheese store we buy a slab a foot long of heavenly Ricotta.

I see Rockefeller Center where we went ice skating, my brothers dancing with abandon to the rock music, drawing smiles from the policemen... across the street from Radio City where I have twice seen the Rockettes and St. Patrick's Cathedral where my great uncle is buried under the alter.

The breathless exhilaration which I feel when I hear the thousand feet echoing on the marbled floor of Grand Central Station, or when I walk on the damp streets down Madison Avenue and stop to buy outrageously expensive (and positively to die-for) tiny pieces of dark chocolate is almost (though not quite) as dear to me as the bubbling of springs and the musty smell of old books in sumptuous libraries, or the spring breezes which play with white skirts and the pages of books and fast cools peppermint tea.

In my heart there have always been two loves which rage: one which longs for the solitude of the sea side and the quiet of deserted fields, and the other which has fallen for Modernity, which reacts against the romanticism of the pastoral, and finds in the city both a unique form of community as well as a singular sense of solitude.

There is a peculiar watching-and-being-watched aspect to the city. A certain autonomy. Yet a certain annihilation of self.

You can lead a crowd- you can also disappear in it.

They say sunglasses hide your identity. But they also reveal other people's. I think I like my dark shades not so much because then people can't "see" me so much as then I can watch other people unreservedly. I can notice all those things which are so easily missed in intermittent, polite attention.

There are plenty of people to watch in the city. Where else can you find so many cultures reacting, retaining, and creating? I am always fascinated by the thousands of souls- thousands of stories- hopes, dreams, and heartaches which are passing me by. What makes a man do that to his hair? What does that color and cut of coat say about the girl pouring over a self-acclaimed best-seller while paying precious little attention to her steaming knish? They are telling me about themselves - if only I would look long enough to understand.

In this is heart-beat of the city: the flash of the lights, the turn of the heel, the wish of scarves, the long black coats, the exotic hair, the puffs of steam, the blare of horns, and the last refrain of a violinist.

Perhaps it is the the very speed of exchange of the city which both draws me to it... and leaves me so very disoriented.

I always leave the city exhilarated... and then... asking questions like, "Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?"

In the search for identity there is a constant crisis.

The city is like a web page where everything, and every person is an add. If you want to, you can click on them and learn where they shop, where they live, and everything they've ever thought.

But is knowing everything you can know about someone the same as actually knowing them?

In this image-conscious culture I find myself looking for a mirror and finding the world staring back at me.

The city makes me feel defeated. Is it because I realize how small I am? My own insignificance? Or my own potential and lack of initiative? ...My own vulnerability?...

Could I become a protesting, tee-totaling liberal who goes to writing workshops and cafes to read poetry, who decorates her house with strange ceramic shapes (which look vaguely like something familiar), who wears earrings made from refurbished tin and bracelets which support craftsmen in Indonesia? YIKES.

..."Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned?"...

Or is it simply a sadness? There they are. Just a hand's reach away. What words could I use to draw them to Him who is the way?

..."They will know you by your fruits"...

I feel my own fruit being crushed under the masses of passing people. All they can see is my long black coat (which looks just like theirs) and my cute heels (which sound just like theirs) and I find when they have passed me and are (and now truly are) gone... that if they saw anything- learned anything- took anything away... it was my smile.

Can a smile preach the name of Christ?

Truly, I have no idea. But I tend to think that when a stranger smiles at a stranger they learn more about each other than the gods they serve.

And so I am sad. And disoriented. And I love the city. And I weep over it, too.

- - - - - - - - - -

I am a member
of a family of strangers
who by common consent
remain silent

I am a participant
in a communal conspiracy
to ask questions
but never give answers

I have sworn
by the clothes I wear
to be silent
in the face of materialism

I have joined my hands
with deniers
though when they prayed
I did not bow my head

Can I stand to be silent
as they fall around me?
Can I continue to live as they die?
Having lived with the dieing
I find myself asking,
is their life somehow tied to mine?

- 2/15/10 - 7/20/10

1 comment:

  1. I simply loved the beginning of this post. What a marvelous snapshot of the city. And I am wondering too if you are my younger sister in disguise...