Out on the Razzle in America

United Kingdom
Freelance writer, literary graduate and minor lad. In America for pleasure, not business. I've never been before, so I thought I should. Should I have done it all at once? Can it all be done at once? Only one way to find out...

Saturday, 8 August 2009

New York - All that and more

New York is a very difficult city to write about. The fact is, so much has already been written, and, to my surprise, so much of it is true. It is exactly the way you would imagine: the size, the noise, the dirt, the constant, pulsing vivacity throughout its streets, as the valve-like crossroads release another stream of yellow cabs and pimped-out Escalades, and another, and another. I wanted to dismiss the city, to say it doesn't match London, and that, like our capital, it is bloated. It is one of the greatest cities in the world, but the similarities don't go far beyond that. Perhaps I'm still in holiday mode, and the pollution and grit in my contacts has made them rose-tinted, but I really like New York. I wouldn't say no to a job here.
I dislike many things about America, or at least complain about them. I don't like the myth of effortless multi-culturalism, the effects of uber-capitalism, the aggressive pace of places that never sleep, or the fact that almost every snack here involves sausages or meat-patties of some sort. But, I have visited Time Square, at night and at day, and I get it, I absolutely get it. There are many things that I don't get of course. I don't get the star-spangled banners slathered across the entire nation, or the fact that everything must be bigger, or the culture of fear that pervades so many places. There is a lot about being 'American' that is annoying. But in any city of this size, there will be people that contradict sweeping generalisations; I went out in Brooklyn a couple of nights ago and played pool against a pair of locals while drinking a local ale. The ale was good, one of the locals was a computer programmer, and we didn't get knifed by them after they lost. In one swoop, three myths were felled: about American beer, the ignorance of the locals (he knew who Erasmus was), and about the roughness of Brooklyn. All of this, in one bar, in one borough.
You can get a similar cultural rollercoaster in Central Park. Wandering south from the Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir and its counter-clockwise only jogging path, through The Ramble and its wooded nooks to the baseball fields and carriage rides beyond, you are just as likely to find nubile frisbee minxs as tourists, sweating joggers as ancient, hand-holding couples, or Tai Chi students practising in the shade of the trees as a lone, grey-bearded man, cross legged atop a boulder, slowly playing Spanish guitar. All this in a man-made environment, a converted wasteland on an island otherwise coated in sprawling neighbourhoods, four-lane asphalt and towers that touch the sky.
In a place belching out fumes like Hades' arsehole, with streets swathed in the steam rising from sewers and corners coated with sweaty stalls shifting bun after bun of dubious by-product, you would think that it couldn't be glamorous, but it is. The exciting places are just those dubious zones: meatpacking districts, fish-packing districts, ethnic neighbourhoods, edgy places. What makes New York exciting is that, Manhattan aside, the city is so uncontrollable. You couldn't change anything about it if you wanted to. All you can do is turn up, and take pictures.


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