Cavernous, yet cluttered


Since honesty is my best policy, it is only fair to say that my imaginings of "New York life" are a quite predictably pastiche of Audrey Hepburn classic elegance and Sex and the City goings-on (without the awfully brash and over-emotional digressions which too often made me scrunch my nose up at that show). Reality has a way of disabusing one of the silly bits thrown in by imagination, but for someone strong in vision, reality only strengthens the joy of finding a resonance between life-as-imagined and life-as-experienced.

Anyway, I'm not very good at relaxing, and since my new position doesn't begin until next week and I have been acquainting myself with this behemoth of a city. It's always a funny thing to get to know somebody new. New York is new to me, it has been at various times (and in its imagined form in my mind), glossy, gritty, mysterious, frightening, unwanted, compelling. Now I am here and the reality of this place is like a silhouetted figure, impossible to know in detail, but just discernible enough to begin to grasp the form.

What really goes on here? People bustle and cars fume and buildings are adorned in scaffolding. People alternately wilt in the humidity and frost over with conditioned air. I imagine that much goes on behind doors, windows, facades; people are muttering to themselves or their secreted technological gadgets. They disappear into shops, cafes, galleries, cold steel buildings. They re-emerge, no one blinking or wide-eyed , almost everyone striding with determination.

The women are alternately thin, dumpy, elegant, eccentric, unnoticable, arresting. They wear shoes that must be uncomfortable, some are powdered and matte, others shine, gleam, or drip. Some wear horrendous colors, some beautiful fabrics. Some walk as if they want people to watch, others as if they wish they could disappear.
The men are amusing, some hold their power in a tight grasp and swing it alongside their pricey suits and gleaming loafers. Others hold power gracefully, stepping off bikes, careening around in rickshaws, sidestepping tourists. Some seem defeated, others glitter with hostility.
Visitors march and peer and consult. They linger on avenues and careen about corners.

The city breaks and shards and swarms, an endless sea of faces and fabric, clammy palms and sweat-dampened backs.

I have amused myself amidst this sea, primarily by walking, secondarily by finding the bookstores (Crawford and Doyle's is up by my apartment and immediately impressed me by having copies of Borges' Labyrinths and A.S. Byatt's The Virgin in the Garden), obtaining memberships to museums, pacing the park paths, ignoring sore feet, disinterestedly shopping, and retreating to the NY Public Library to read in the cool luxury. I have not enjoyed the expense of food, the frequent posturing, the teeth-gritted smiles of sales-people, take-out, the gulf between the world I love and the world I feel I ought to love.


[De Chirico: Mystery and Melancholy of a Street]

I don't like feeling as though "it is time" to put away my books and my thoughts and my loosely-scribbled ideas. I want to hold onto these, to read my books in my apartment, to look out the window over the head of the occasional passer-by, to adore the architecture of the older buildings and feel repulsed by the cold steel and glass. I enjoy the Beaux-Arts, the life of the quiet, self-examining, sometime-interacting person. I enjoy conversation, preferably in dark, quiet, comfortable places, perhaps over a glass or mug. I enjoy the few trees perking up and through the coldly decorated stone. I enjoy thinking about the fact that so many of those trees are gingkos, surviving still today, amidst these new monstrous creatures puffing smoke and bellowing with all their hideous strength.

So when I choose to sprawl out on my bed, window open, curtains ruffling with the mercurial weather, or curl up in my desk chair, AC on full blast and dressing gown sashed firmly, I want to feel alright about that, and not as if something were being missed, or I were moving too slowly. The fact is, I am not good at relaxing my mind, but I see no problem with the still body, exhausted from striding through noise and smell and dirt, settling in with a book, and turning from silly, glossed-up expectations.