New York, New York

It’s election day in America and I’m about to go spend the day at MoMA. People seem a little anxious; here on the east coast they’ve just been through Sandy and New York City is only just beginning to get back to normal. Last night it was very loud on the Lower East Side when I woke up in the middle of the night, but it was kind of soothing since my first couple of nights were so quiet. Even though I’ve never been here before I knew it was unnatural.

I’ve had an amazing few days in New York. I might write about Georgia and the conference later, but ‘I’m in a New York state of mind’ right now. On Sunday I went along with the woman I’m staying with (who is awesome) to help clean up an artist’s studio in Brooklyn that had been flooded. It was devastating. She works with wood so there was a lot of warping, and mould. The water was brown and stinky so we had to wash and dry out everything. She’d been working on it for a couple of days and by the end of Sunday the studio was beginning to look like a studio again, with the help of many people. Her equipment was ruined, though. So sad. She wasn’t the only one in the building, either. Or, of course, in the suburb.

Anyway, I was glad I was able to do something, since I arrived just after the superstorm. I started my tourism proper yesterday by:

1. eating a cream cheese bagel where Harry met Sally
2. walking from LES to Times Square and buying MAC lipsticks (thanks to my friend Kate Middleton, who has made me determined to be a ‘lipstick-wearing person’)
3. ate at a Seinfeld-style diner and overheard many post-Sandy catch-up conversations
4. did an aerial yoga class
5. caught the subway, a bus and a yellow cab
6. saw Argo at the gorgeous Village East Cinema
7. went to The Strand bookstore (amazing)
8. celeb-spotted Jeff Daniels in dark glasses

Being in New York is not really like the abstract, piecemeal idea I had of New York. Yes, I relate almost everything to something in the cultural memory bank, but I never had a grasp on the grandeur of the place; actually being among those tall buildings. Also, the city belies stereotypes (so far) just as Paris did for me, in that the people seem very friendly: saying hello, smiling, talking, having a joke. I would say that the stereotype about New Yorkers always being in a rush, however, would be true. I don’t understand why there aren’t more traffic accidents! But it’s like a game you have to learn. As soon as you understand the logic of when to cross the road and how to react to a bike zooming past you, you can just fit right in.

Gerard and I were discussing the city the other night on the phone (he was here for a few weeks in 2010) and we agreed that there’s something surreal about it. When you’re in Manhattan it feels as though you’re apart from the world, almost like the island were floating a little above. Gerard said it’s a bit like one giant movie set, and I’d agree. The feeling doesn’t seem to be simply related to seeing the streets in films, but then maybe it is. Who knows how that accumulation of pop culture might affect your reactions? The film Metropolis was one of the first to enter my head when I arrived coming over the Williamsburg bridge. Then I’ve had flashes of Woody Allen (of course), the Nolan Batman films, Ghostbusters (especially with all the military vehicles in the street due to the relief efforts), King Kong and more. 

So on my list still is art deco (including the Empire State Building), seeing this David Hyde Pierce-directed play featuring Sigourney Weaver (and as my sister suggested, I should combing this activity with a trip to Dana Barrett’s apartment building in Ghostbusters), lots of art, and maybe some comedy…

13 thoughts on “New York, New York

  1. Hello Angela, it’s fascinating to read this – it made me wonder if I would relate quite differently to New York because I don’t have those pop culture references you mention. I don’t watch commercial TV and I mainly watch European film. So except for the Woody Allen movies, my NY ‘memory’ is all those B&W movies that were shown as repeats on TV late at night in the 1970s and 80s, and of course they were all filmed on sets, not in the real world. I’ve been trying to dredge my memory for books I’ve read that are set in New York, but I seem to have read more lit from the South than anywhere else, except for Don LeLillo.
    Have fun, and when you get time, tell us more about it!

    • Hi Lisa, you probably would react quite differently to the city, but then so would anyone, I think. It’s one of those cities that changes as soon as you walk five blocks. But (now I’m home) I can definitely say that my film consciousness was very strong. I’d constantly turn a corner and recognise a street or a building (even if it wasn’t that exact one, but was something similar to what I’d seen in a film). I still wonder if you’d have that feeling, though, of Manhattan being a little surreal, like a set.

  2. Ooooh Angela, you’ve got me all excited. I’m spending just over a month in New York from the middle of December to the middle of January. I’m hoping to read some Auster before I leave.
    Hope you enjoy the rest of your trip :)

  3. Would like to see Grand Central station, both for Elizabeth Smart (who I haven’t read) and The Untouchables!! You’re both right, there are so many film references in there. Probably music too. I feel like I know so many bits and bobs of the US through both.
    Glad to hear all is going well. Good on you for getting your hands dirty too :D

    • Thanks Genevieve. I walked into Grand Central briefly! Was on my way to the Waldorf Astoria, where I pretended to be Marilyn for a few hours…

  4. I’ve never been to New York, but I’ve long been fascinated by the dark, dirty, gritty, seamy New York that I suspect has been substantially cleaned up now. I’m thinking primarily The French Connection, Taxi Driver and Midnight Cowboy. I also grew up watching Hill Street Blues. Even though it was probably set somewhere like Philadelphia (it’s never explicitly stated), for years I thought that was New York, too. NYPD Blue was just too ‘clean’ by comparison, and I later found out that much of it was shot on movie lots in Hollywood!

    • I just thought of a few more of my NY cultural attachment worth tossing into the mix: Welcome Back Kotter when I was very young i.e. poor, hip, long-haired-flared Brooklyn, Saturday Night Fever (much the same but with disco lights and spandex), the Godfather films (NYC, New Jersey and Long Island in the 40s and 50s), Sondheim’s Company (middle-class apartment-dwelling bed-hoppers twenty years before Seinfeld) and, finally, the hippie apostles gambolling around a deserted Manhattan in Godspell.

      Oh, and West Side Story. Now I have to put the brakes on before this list gets right out of hand….!!!! (sorry)

    • Taxi Driver and Midnight Cowboy are two of my favourite films, Glen. And you’re right that New York has been cleaned up but the ghosts of grit are still there, the steamy subway grates, the crazies, the neon.

      And re your lists, I could go on forever, too, about some of the strange cultural refs that popped up: in one subway station, the film clip for Michael Jackson’s Bad. In Chinatown, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the HBO film Gia, featuring Angelina Jolie. On one street in lower midtown, the scene from the Hours where Clarissa goes to buy flowers (and it was a be-autiful morning). Each night I went back to my accomm. and watched Seinfeld! It was this weird compulsion, to round out the experience. And there were so many things I suddenly understood, that I didn’t even realise had gone over my head before.

      But overall, it’s just a damn great city. So easy to work out how to get around, and easy to walk all over with a relatively good level of fitness. It’s both a united city and lots of little villages, quite different from one another. I loved it.

      • Haha, yes!
        I went back just now to re-watch the scene in Fame where all the kids dance in the middle of 46th Street.

  5. Pingback: Top 7 Journeys | There she goes

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