20 January 2012

Here is New York.

A dear friend was in town visiting last weekend, and his eyes lit up as we walked by an independent bookstore in my neighborhood. While he spent the next hour poring over everything from philosophy to cookbooks and stationery, I found myself wandering into the New York section. Remembering a book that's been on my wish list for ages, I scoured the shelves until I found it.

20/366: Here is New York.

While physically a book, Here is New York is more accurately an essay that E.B. White wrote one sweltering summer in 1949, as he strolled through this fair little city. It is seventy five hundred words of inspiration, longing, and majesty, and every one of those words made me swell in a frenzy of underlining. If you have ever gazed at this site in silence –


...or have felt something, anything upon watching this AmEx spot -

...then you should read it. I don't even know which bits to share with you since I've underlined half the book, but here's a shot at a few.
And the fan takes over again, and the heat and the relaxed air and the memory of so many good little diners in so many good little illegal places, with the theme of love, the sound of ventilation, the brief medicinal illusion of gin.

By comparison with other less hectic days, the city is uncomfortable and inconvenient; but New Yorkers temperamentally do not crave comfort and convenience – if they did they would live elsewhere.
One of my favorite things about Here is New York is that despite there being some things that date it, like elevated trains on 3rd Avenue or mentions of "in baskets" at work (heh!), it still feels like he is writing it today.
Police now ride in radio prowl cars instead of gumshoeing around the block swinging their sticks. A ride in the subway costs ten cents, and the seats are apt to be dark green instead of straw yellow. Men go to saloons to gaze at televised events instead of to think long thoughts. It is all very disconcerting.

The glib barker on the sight-seeing bus tells his passengers that this is the "street of lost souls," but the Bowery does not think of itself as lost; it meets its peculiar problem in its own way – plenty of gin mills, plenty of flophouses, plenty of indifference, and always, at the end of the line, Bellevue.
But the best part – the very part that made me almost throw the book up into the air and do a dance as it made its way down, was this. I love it so much that I am putting it on the Internet again so that as many people as possible happen upon it.
There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born there, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size, its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter—the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these trembling cities the greatest is the last—the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness, natives give it solidity and continuity, but the settlers give it passion. And whether it is a farmer arriving from a small town in Mississippi to escape the indignity of being observed by her neighbors, or a boy arriving from the Corn Belt with a manuscript in his suitcase and a pain in his heart, it makes no difference: each embraces New York with the intense excitement of first love, each absorbs New York with the fresh eyes of an adventurer, each generates heat and light to dwarf the Consolidated Edison Company.
This post is for Nicole. ♥
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