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Entries in new york city (69)

Friday
Jan052007

Just for one day

On my way in to work today, I saw two men stooping to help a woman collect the contents of her spilled knapsack. One of the men, big and burly and be-sweatshirted, said the following: "You know what they say about 2007? That it's going to be the year of perfection. Everything's going to be alright." On the train, a woman was reading a paper; on the cover: 'WEEK OF HEROES'. Stories of the city's heroes have even made it to The Guardian. It's what every New Yorker should do, says the man reluctant to be called hero. "Good things happen when you do good."

It should be more common here. I once helped an older man navigate a sloping ice-covered curb by offering him my hand, and he took it with joy on the verge of tears, as if never in his life had he heard of something so wonderful as someone offering a hand to a stranger.

Thursday
Dec072006

Three lovely things: Peanuts, Walking, and Winning

One.
I have loved "Peanuts" from a very young age. I much preferred Schulz's relatively quiet strip to the spastic noise of Looney Toons and Disney, and my parents often found me in time for dinner hiding under the piano with my nose in a Peanuts book. I cried the day Charles Schulz died, because he was the creator of some of my best childhood friends. In case you hadn't yet come across it in the stores, The Complete Peanuts is Fantagraphics' complete collection of 50 years of the Schulz strip in 25 books. To get all 25 (they're up to the sixth collection, 1961-1962 at the moment) would cost a hefty chunk of change, but I'm very tempted, if only to revisit old childhood friends.

There's a review of the collection over at The High Hat.

Two.
Will Self walks really, really far. (via Critical Mass) Part of me thinks he might be incredibly pretentious for doing this. But that doesn't stop me from wishing I could do the same. Just walk the whole way.

I have a hometown friend who came to visit New York a few years ago to do some research work. All of my childhood friends (excluding the Peanuts kids) have developed interesting adulthood quirks, and as I hadn't seen him since high school, I was curious to see what his was. I was highly amused when I found out: He refused to take public transportation. Was it a hygiene thing? No. "I have two good legs, what's wrong with using them?" He started this while living in London, and stuck to it in every city he has lived in or visited. So on the day I met up with him, we walked everywhere. From 55th & 8th to 26th & 6th, then onward to 10th & 5th. In the pouring rain. Uphill both ways. No, it was really raining. My white wool stockings were never the same.

Until I took that walk with him, I don't think I ever realized how close everything is in this city. Really. I have come to rely far too much on public transportation. When the weather is nice, I should remember that I, too, have two good legs. I don't think I will try to make it to JFK on foot for my next flight, but 40 blocks shouldn't be out of the question if the sun is shining and I have the time to kill. As long as it doesn't make me pretentious.

Three.
I won again. This must be my week.

Tuesday
Oct242006

Where I was from

A post on Pittsburgh by Dutch over at Sweet Juniper got me thinking about where I come from, and about city pride. I've lived in New York City for nearly seven years now, and I still don't think of myself as a New Yorker. I don't think I ever will. I could give you pretty good directions to Frederick Douglass Boulevard from Grant's Tomb, or tell you which train would be best to take to get to Coney Island, and even tell you where to go to get an expensive, but delicious mojito (the Maritime Hotel). But I've never felt connected to this city in the same way I've felt connected to other places I've lived. And I've never been able to subscribe to the idea that New York is the greatest place on earth. Woody Allen would not like to meet me.

During our recent trip to Croatia, we struck up a conversation with the woman who worked at the poolside bar in our hotel. We told her where we were from (whenever asked, my husband and I always state first where we were born, and then only secondly where we live), and upon hearing "New York" she said "Oh! The most beautiful city on earth." And I very nearly choked on my (delicious local Croatian) wine. Here we were, not a stone's throw from the old town of Rovinj, which I had just discovered was quite possibly the most beautiful town on earth, and here she was, praising the skyscrapers and the glitz we had been fleeing from. We agreed that it was an exciting place, but her use of the word "beauty" struck me as so funny.

I've always associated beauty with old, and old with either nature or cobblestones. I'd much rather sit on the edge of lush forest, smelling the dirt on my hands, overturning rocks to find pill bugs, than to be sat on a park bench listening to the hum of humanity just beyond the thin line of trees. I'd rather wobble as I walked, and feel dizzy at the loss of direction than feel like I was getting nowhere across the smooth pavement, counting down the monotonous streets: 17th, 16th, 15th... But to some, and sometimes to me, the sun as it hits the Chrysler Building is a wonderful thing. I'll choke up on hearing Gershwin in the opening credits of "Manhattan," and even the lone saxophonist on the corner of Broadway and 84th st can bring a tear to my eye. And there are many reasons I love this city: the convenience of 24-hour delis, taxi cabs, near perfect public transportation, my favorite West Village bookshop, the excitement of never knowing what's around the next corner. But beautiful? This city of sidewalk stains and gutter stench? Solitude and greed? Perhaps I'm not looking hard enough myself.

In this sense beauty is relative. Where I come from, however, is not.

The day I had to give up my thick plastic Ohio's driver's license for the wobbly New York equivalent was one of the saddest days of my life. I watched as the woman behind the desk at the DMV stapled my old license to my name change application, shoved it into an envelope, and I belatedly, chokingly said goodbye to the Heart Of It All.

Southwestern Ohio. I wouldn't have chosen another place on earth in which to grow up. My formative years were spent in the most idyllic place: nature was my backyard, my inspiration, the university town in my front yard was my lesson, my opportunity. When I think about starting a family, I often find myself on the verge of tears knowing that my child might not have the Keaton-esque family upbringing that I had. The backyard, the large kitchen, the ability to play outside in the street until dusk.

It's at those times that I think of returning. Of setting down roots in some small Ohio town, finding the perfect 1920s farmhouse for a (lengthy and stressful) conversion into a family home. A neighborhood where I can buy sweet corn from local farmers, walk home from work, sign my kid up for soccer teams, and still attend a lecture by Mikhail Gorbachev (for this, small university towns exist).

But then I have to remind myself that it wasn't just Ohio that was idyllic, it was Ohio in the early, idealistic 1980s. Every time I go back, I notice the roads get wider, the bicycles fewer. The central town square which was once dominated by a bright sea-green lead-painted watertower under which we used to run and skip over rough bricks is now a blandly-manicured park. The strip malls and subdivisions stretch longer along roads that were once lined with rows of corn and soybeans, where we used to dig for arrowheads with dad. The Ohio I grew up in no longer exists.

Is it too late to find that place back in time? That beautiful place, both old and full of nature? I think it's impossible to go back in time, but not impossible to replicate it. I haven't explored this country enough to know where to look. And perhaps it's the forgotten places, the ones teased by movie stars, somebody else's punchline if you will, that may provide the most promise.

Or, perhaps, maybe I'll just have to remember that a place is made by the people in it, and we'll just have to fill our home with the joy I remember growing up surrounded by, and the location, place names, city or country, will all fade into insignificance.

Tuesday
Oct172006

Luck

Tonight on the train, two older gentlemen were discussing an old New York Times Magazine article on the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
"Wasn't that the guy you saw in Houston?"
“Nah, it was a different guru."
"What did you find on the ground there?"
"A $100 bill."
"Didn't you take that as some sort of sign?"
And I couldn't help but think what sort of sign it must have been for the poor guy who lost $100...

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