18 August 2011

A Helluva Town, Part 2

[Here’s the second part of my coverage of oddities, curiosities, and idiosyncrasies in the town so nice they named it twice. In this section, you’ll find some New York City sights you can actually go see, some small and endearing, others large and majestic. I start again, though, with another factoid about the city, one about which I imagine some readers may have wondered.]

Let’s get to one of the most curious facts about The City. (If you live here or anywhere nearby, New York is just “The City.” To many, that means specifically Manhattan, and some New Yorkers from the other four boroughs speak of going “to the city” when they mean Manhattan.) I’m thinking of the city’s world-renowned nickname, The Big Apple. People worldwide recognize the name, but there are lots of stories about where the moniker comes from. Many are apocryphal, and even the fact that the origin’s unknown or uncertain is no longer true. (One false account that was popularly circulated had it that the name referred to an early-19th-century New York City brothel whose madam was named Eve. The girls were “Eve’s Apples.”) There are many interesting details about the nickname, but the basic story is fairly simple. It started to show up in a column by John J. FitzGerald (1872-1952) in the New York Morning Telegraph in the 1920s; his use spread the name around the country. It was at first a term used in horseracing circles—New York was a big racing town in the early and mid-20th century, as Damon Runyon would affirm (consider “Fugue for Tinhorns” from Guys and Dolls: “I got the horse right here”)—particularly among the African-American stable hands. The moniker meant that New York was the center of the racing business, where the crowds were large and knowledgeable and the bettors well-healed and avid. Running in the Big Apple was the horseracing equivalent of playing the Palace!

By the ‘30s, the name had been appropriated by the jazz world, who had the same relationship with New York City as the horseracing world did—it was the best place to have a gig. Heading for the Big Apple was climbing to the top of the jazz pyramid. (In 1937, a song called “The Big Apple,” recorded by Tommy Dorsey among others, became a hit.) From that usage, continuing into the ‘40s and ‘50s, the nickname spread and became permanent. In the 1970s, New York City’s official tourist and marketing bureau began promoting the city as “the Big Apple,” marking it as the semi-official name for the city, and in 1997, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani approved the designation of the southwest corner of 54th Street and Broadway, near where FitzGerald lived his last years, as “Big Apple Corner.” So, the Big Apple we are, and the Big Apple we shall ever be! Now, go buy a T-shirt.

(By the way, the town of Manhattan, Kansas, population 52,000, likes to call itself “The Little Apple.” Minneapolis, Minnesota, has apparently taken to calling itself “The Mini-Apple.” A coupla fellow-travelers, if ya ask me!)

If nothing else, the Big Apple is a city of tall buildings. To be sure, there are some small structures—the Village is still a low-rise neighborhood—and some of them have histories or other noteworthy aspects, but New York City is famous for its skyscrapers. From the Woolworth Building (opened 1913; 57 stories at 792 feet) to the Chrysler (1930; 77 stories at 925 feet) and the Empire State Buildings (1931; 102 stories at 1,250 feet) to the ill-fated World Trade Center towers (1973; 110 stories at 1,368/1,362 feet), there are many world-renowned highrises in the city. One of the city’s most beloved buildings, however, isn’t even considered especially tall by today’s standards. Across from the south end of Madison Square, on a triangle of land formed by the intersection of Broadway, 5th Avenue, and East 23rd Street, with East 22nd Street forming the southern, flat end, stands the Flatiron Building, for a few years one of the tallest buildings in the city. It was one of the first skyscrapers and the first in New York City north of 14th Street. Completed in 1902, the beaux-arts Flatiron stands only 22 stories and 285 feet tall. (The top floor, built as artists’ studios, was added after the building was completed.) Originally named the Fuller Building after its builder, George A. Fuller (“the father of the skyscraper,” 1851-1900), the nickname “Flatiron” stuck because of the unique shape: it comes to a 25-degree point at the northern end (because Broadway crosses 5th Avenue at 23rd Street at a diagonal as it runs from the Upper West Side to the Lower East Side) and unquestionably resembles the household appliance for which it was nicknamed: a flatiron. The location of the building was a particularly windy spot, in part because of the building itself, blowing women's long skirts enough to show a little ankle occasionally. Girl-watchers gathered to catch a glimpse and were often shooed away by the traffic cops in the intersection, hence, supposedly, the origin of the phrase, "23 skidoo!"—the phrase the cops would shout to warn away the gawkers. True or not, it's an amusing anecdote.

The building became a New York City Landmark in 1966 and a National Historic Landmark in 1989. The area from 23rd Street south, bordered by Chelsea on the west, Greenwich Village on the south and west and the East Village and Gramercy Park on the east—a region that includes my apartment building—has now become known as the Flatiron District after about 1985 when the district shifted from mostly commercial to heavily residential. The neighborhood includes Union Square which, contrary to some popular theories, wasn’t named for the labor unions that used to surround it—the last Tammany Hall, which now houses the New York Film Academy and the Union Square Theatre, is on Union Square East and 17th Street—nor the Federal Union, despite the presence of an equestrian statue of George Washington at the south end of the park and a standing statue of Abraham Lincoln near the north end, but the “union” of Broadway and Bowery Road (now 4th Avenue/Park Avenue South), two important city thoroughfares. (Union Square today, the site of occasional concerts and many political rallies for various causes, is the location four days a week of the city’s largest and most popular Greenmarket farmers’ market where I can get farm-fresh produce and other seasonal, locally grown products in the country’s biggest city more easily than I could when I lived in small-town Oneonta in the upstate dairy-farm region. Just about now, I’ll be getting the best corn, peaches, and Jersey beefsteak tomatoes anyone can find anywhere! Eat your hearts out, people!)

The intersection of Broadway/Union Square West and East 14th Street, at the southwest corner of the square, used to be known as “Dead Man’s Curve” at the turn of the 19th Century—not because of accidents between motor vehicles or between cars and people, or even horses and people, but because of frequent fatal encounters between pedestrians and the cable cars plying along Broadway as they swerved around the corner of the square. The spot today is its own little park—a large garden really—with a small statue of Mahatma Gandhi installed there in 1986.

While other famous buildings have distinctive silhouettes when seen from a distance, the Flatiron is immediately recognizable at ground level. It has become one of the most iconic sights in New York City and appears in films and on TV as a frequent symbol of the city. The building appears, for instance, in the opening montage of city images for The Late Show With David Letterman. Today the Flatiron houses offices of several publishing firms, but in 2009, an Italian real estate company bought the building and plans to convert it into a luxury hotel when all the current leases expire—no earlier than 2019.

There are many objects that have become visual symbols of New York City over the years, like some of the buildings I named above, or Times Square, the Guggenheim Museum, the statue of Atlas at Rockefeller Center, Washington Square Arch, the Statue of Liberty, or the Brooklyn Bridge—some more familiar to New Yorkers and others to out-of-towners. One that may be more-often recognized by those who live here was originally a symbol of an international exhibition, the 1964 New York World’s Fair. The Unisphere, located in what is now Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, the site of both the ’39 and the ’64 World’s Fairs, is a 12-story-high, stainless steel representation of the Earth intended to commemorate the beginning of the age of space exploration. (The theme of the fair was “Peace Through Understanding” and the Unisphere was dedicated to "Man's Achievements on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe." Three stainless steel rings circle the Unisphere, commonly believed to represent the orbits of Yuri Gagarin (1934-68), the first man in space (1961); John Glenn (b. 1921), the first American to orbit the Earth (1962); and Telstar, the first active communications satellite (1962). In truth, the original design included rings for all the satellites in orbit at the time of the fair but that wasn’t practical so the symbolic number of three was chosen for aesthetic reasons.

Designed by landscape architect Gilmore D. Clarke (1892-1982), the Unisphere was donated by the U. S. Steel Corporation. The world's largest globe, with a diameter of 120 feet, it stands 140 feet tall and weighs 350 tons; its base, an upside-down tripod, adds another 100 tons. The Unisphere’s built on the foundation of the Perisphere, half of the Trylon and Perisphere, the iconic symbol of the ’39 World’s Fair, which the Unisphere replaced. The Unisphere, like the Flatiron Building, has become so recognizable as a New York landmark that it figures in many films, TV shows, and videos. It is especially dramatic when floodlit at night. The ledge surrounding the Unisphere is a popular spot for skateboarders. It was officially landmarked in 1995.

One of New York City’s least-well-known holdings is probably one of the world’s most famous bears. I’m not talking about Smokey or Yogi, but Winnie-the-Pooh, the leader of A. A. Milne’s little band of animal characters, beloved of children (and not a few adults) everywhere. Few people know that the original toys, including Winnie, Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga, and Tigger, all reside at the Children’s Center in the New York Public Library’s main building at 42nd Street and 5th Avenue in Manhattan. (Roo, the baby kangaroo, was lost many years before the toys found a home at NYPL. They used to live at the Donnell Library on 53rd Street, which housed the largest NYPL children’s collection, but that building has been demolished so the dolls moved in 2008.) You can buy replicas of Pooh, but the ones in the glass case are Christopher Robin Milne’s actual childhood playthings, starting when his father bought the bear for his first birthday in 1921. (The stuffed bear’s original name was Edward Bear; Christopher, 1920-96, changed it to Winnie-the-Pooh later.) The rest of the stuffed animals came later during the ‘20s. (The first Pooh book was published in 1926.) In 1956, the year A. A. Milne (b. 1882) died, the original toys were put on display at E. P. Dutton, Milne’s U.S. publishers, and though they made several visits back to England for promotional events over the years, they remained at the publishers until they were donated to NYPL in 1987. They’re a little ragged now, obviously well-loved and much-handled—the family dog was apparently also drawn to the dolls—but thousands of children visit them weekly in the library, which is open to all during its regular operating hours.

The library itself is a wonder, of course, with the famous lions, Patience and Fortitude, guarding the expansive, block-long front entrance plaza. It is the largest research library in the world that is open to the public without special arrangements or restrictions. In fact, the entire New York Public Library system, which covers Manhattan, Staten Island, and the Bronx (Queens and Brooklyn each have their own library systems), is terrific, despite draw-downs due to budget cuts over recent years. My own branch, the Jefferson Market Library at 10th Street and 6th Avenue in Greenwich Village, is one of my favorite buildings. (I think it’s one of Woody Allen’s favorites, too. He featured it in Hanna and Her Sisters.) Originally a courthouse erected (with an adjacent prison which now is the site of the library's garden) during the years 1875-1877, the building was converted into the Jefferson Market Library in the early 1960s and opened for use in 1967. The red-brick building, a New York City landmark, has a wonderful clock tower that’s visible (and audible) all over the Village and lower Chelsea and houses the New York Collection of old and interesting books on the history of New York City. (Jefferson Market Courthouse was the site in 1906 of Harry K. Thaw’s trial for the murder of architect Stanford White, known as the Girl in the Red Velvet Swing case because the motive had been White’s affair with Thaw’s wife, the actress Evelyn Nesbit. The late Ellen Stewart, founder of La MaMa E.T.C. in the East Village, was incarcerated in the women's jail early in her New York days, and it is the setting for scenes in Melvin Van Peebles's 1971 musical play, Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death.)

There are wonderful library facilities, both for their architecture and for their holdings, all over the city, but one particularly curious branch is the Terence Cardinal Cooke-Cathedral Library, located down a flight of stairs, just outside the turnstile entrance to the No. 6 IRT train on the northwest corner of Lexington Avenue and 50th Street, halfway down the entrance steps. There is no street-level sign announcing its existence and the NYPL webpage for the branch just states that it’s on “the lower level.” The NYPL website describes the library as “one of the more compact branches” in the system, though at 2,100 square feet, the Cooke library is only the second-smallest in the NYPL system--the 700-square-foot Macombs Bridge Library in Harlem is the smallest of all 90 branches. Closed on Saturdays and Sundays, the Cooke branch is a full-service library, however, substituting laptop computers for desktops because of space but offering all the services of larger branches to both local residents and regular subway commuters (plus a little traveler and tourist assistance to confused drop-ins).

Perhaps a more well-known sight in Manhattan stands outside the front entrance to the Port Authority Bus Terminal (42nd Street and 8th Avenue). An eight-foot bronze statue of Jackie Gleason in his Honeymooner's bus driver's uniform, his lunchbox in his hand, looks out over the passers-by. Commissioned by the cable network TV Land, the Kramden statue is only one of three public statues I can think of that depict an actor in a role he made world-famous like that. The others are the statue of Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and one of Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards throwing her beret in the air in downtown Minneapolis. (There’s a famous statue of 19th-century actor Edwin Booth, elder brother of John Wilkes, as Hamlet in Gramercy Park—but Booth hardly made that role famous; rather, his portrayal of the Prince of Denmark made Booth famous. He was the first American-born actor to achieve an international reputation—and he essentially invented the character of Hamlet the way we think of him today: the melancholy, morose, black-clad brooder.)

You may not consider statues of Gleason or Booth as art, but they are part of the public-art landscape of New York City, arguably one of the most diverse and extensive in the country if not the world. Even New York’s subway system, the largest in the world and the only one to operate 24/7 for 365 days a year, has art. Along with the musical performers, there are works of visual art in the stations as well. There are small, almost inconspicuous pieces by nearly anonymous artists around the system, and some large pieces by significant American artists, too. There are mosaics on the walls of many recently renovated stations like the performing arts images at Lincoln Center on the 7th Avenue IRT (Artemis, Acrobats, Divas and Dancers by Nancy Spero, 2004) and the Alice in Wonderland figures at 50th Street on the same route (Alice: The Way Out by Liliana Porter, 1994). Then there’s the Jacob Lawrence glass mosaic (New York in Transit, 2001), his last commission before his death, and the Roy Lichtenstein panels (Times Square Mural, 1994) in the Times Square station at 7th Avenue and 42nd Street; the Maya Lin clock sculpture (Eclipsed Time, 1994) on the ceiling of Penn Station; the Sam Gilliam sculpture (Jamaica Center Station Riders, Blue, 1991) at Jamaica Center/Parsons-Archer in Queens; and the Romare Bearden stained-glass triptych (City of Light, 1993) at Westchester Square/East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx. I’ve already written an article for ROT (27 April 2011) on the imaginative bronze sculpture installation by Tom Otterness, Life Underground (2000), all over the 8th Avenue/14th Street station, and across town on the L line at Union Square/14th Street, artist Mary Miss created Framing Union Square (1998), stand-alone panels made out of the original architectural elements, including six "14" eagles, that had been elements of the 1904 station, salvaged from the renovation of the station complex, one of the largest and once the most confusing in the system. Additionally there are red frames in the station walls at 115 locations highlighting a fragment of the station's initial construction such as old mosaics, rivets, steelwork, and wiring. At the Coney Island/Stillwell Avenue station on the BMT line in Brooklyn, famed theater director Robert Wilson, also a sculptor, has My Coney Island Baby (2004), a glass-brick wall featuring silk-screened images of the characters and entertainments of the historic Coney Island amusement parks. At Herald Square, located along the platforms of the BMT Broadway line at the 34th Street station on the BMT and IND lines, is REACH New York, An Urban Musical Instrument (1996) by Christopher Janney. This piece consists of a rack of sensors hanging along the length of each platform. Waving your hand in front of a sensor creates a corresponding sound from the rack—on the opposite platforms where passengers can respond by using the instrument. In addition to these and other visual art works are some occasional examples of different kinds of art—if you look out for them—like the Burma Shave-like poem, Commuter's Lament, or A Close Shave (1991) by Norman B. Colp, mounted on the ceiling of the corridor that connects the 7th Avenue subway station at Times Square with the 8th Avenue station and the P. A. Bus Terminal. The verse—"Overslept / So tired / If late / Get fired. / Why bother? / Why the pain? / Just go home / Do it again"—is partly hidden among the ceiling beams until you actually come upon each line (and you’re looking up).

Not all the art in subway stations is sanctioned. Keith Haring (1958-90) became famous as a graffiti artist by chalking his dancing stick figures on the black panels of unused advertising spaces in stations all over Manhattan. Occasionally, the guerrilla art in the subways is more complex and difficult than that. In the fall of 2010, for instance, a group of 103 international street artists, many of them well-known in the world of street art, created or installed works in an abandoned subway tunnel, the exact location of which was kept closely guarded (because what they were doing was illegal). Almost no one aside from the artists saw the installation, known as the Underbelly Project, and it closed the night it opened. One New York Times reporter was invited, on the condition that he not reveal any details that would locate the exhibit, to tour the improvised underground gallery. (A London Sunday Times Magazine writer was also invited.) The artists were identified only by their street-art monikers. Two artists, known only as Workhouse and PAC, organized the show after Workhouse had been shown the space by an urban spelunker. Because the only way to enter the unfinished station was to jump off the platform of a functioning one and run along the tracks, the artists had to be careful about how often and when they accessed the space, so they restricted contributors to only one four-hour visit and they had to bring all the necessary materials with them—there would be no running out for resupply: if an artist ran out, improvisation was the only remedy. Lighting was provided by battery-powered camp lanterns, which had to be dowsed if MTA workers were detected on nearby tracks. In November 2010, police arrested 20 people for trying to get into the guerrilla gallery after its existence had been revealed. While neither the originators of the exhibit nor the police specified the location of the clandestine art site, accounts pointed to an abandoned 1930s station built above the Broadway IND stop on the G line, near South 4th Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Though the exhibit has been abandoned by the artists, New York Transit officials said they had no plans to dismantle it (principally for budget reasons, I gather), but vandals and souvenir-seekers had begun to take away or destroy the art, not to mention the dampness and other environmental forces below ground.

Another asset of the MTA in New York City is the New York Transit Museum in downtown Brooklyn. Like the subway itself, the museum is underground! Located in a historic 1936 IND subway station in Brooklyn Heights, it features 19 restored subway cars and other exhibits. (The Transit Museum also operates an annex in Grand Central Terminal.) But that’s just one of the unusual museums in the city. Along with our many world-class art collections, New York City has several . . . shall we say “idiosyncratic” museums. In that last category is a new museum that’s still in the planning stages: the Museum of Mathematics (the subject of a recent ROT post on 31 July); to be known as MoMath, its address will be 11 E. 26th Street when it opens in 2012. Nearby, ironically, is the Museum of Sex—which, while it’s just what you think, is a serious, not to say scholarly, endeavor. (Not for the kids, however, unless you’re especially progressive in your child-rearing.) Located at 233 Fifth Avenue, near 27th Strreet (a few blocks north of Madison Square), MoSex is the brainchild of NYC businessman Daniel Gluck and self-styled artist Alison Maddex. Described as "a sacred place to study" by Maddex and as "high brow" by Gluck, the museum opened in 2002.

At another museum, the Queens Museum of Art in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park (where the Unisphere is), is one of the neatest sights in New York City: the Panorama of the City of New York. (QMA occupies the former New York City Pavilion of both the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs.) Billed as the world's largest scale model, the Panorama covers 9,335 square feet and recreates in miniature 895,000 New York City buildings—every building constructed in all five boroughs before 1992, built to a scale of one inch to 100 feet. Updated in 2005, it took 100 craftsmen more than three years to construct, timing the completion for the opening of the 1964 fair. (Originally, visitors viewed the Panorama from small cars running on tracks above the model, simulating a helicopter tour.) The model, conceived by New York City master builder Robert Moses (1888-1981), is filled with little details, like the miniature Roosevelt Island tram going across the East River just north of the Queensboro Bridge (recently renamed in honor of former mayor Ed Koch). There are also tiny airplanes at LaGuardia Airport that take off and land on wires!

Returning to the subject of sex—well, sort of—how many cities can boast a famous Naked Cowboy? I’m tempted to say, ‘Only in New York.’ Robert John Burck (b. 1970), AKA: The Naked Cowboy, is actually from Cincinnati and first started his busking routine in Venice Beach, California, in 1997, but he’s a New Yorker now! He came here in 1999 and started hanging out in Times Square, all year ‘round in snow and rain and bright sunshine, dressed only in a white cowboy hat, white cowboy boots, and tighty-whitey briefs—with a guitar slung strategically in front to cover not his near-nakedness, but to perpetuate the illusion of nudity. (Okay, so he’s not actually naked. You gonna sue?) Burck’s trademarked his “stage” name—he’s sued over infringements of his trademark—which he has it inscribed on his briefs across his glutes. He’s even franchised his gig—for $5,000 a year! (You can buy Naked Cowboy merch on his website.) Burck’s principal occupation is pursuing world-wide fame, toward which end he will appear at weddings—as of 2008, he can even perform your marriage in New York State—and has made appearances in commercials; in music videos; in Austin, Nashville, in his hometown of Cincy, and at Mardi Gras in New Orleans. He’s such a fixture that tour-bus guides point him out and he claims to make as much as $1,000 in tips a day. Burck’s recorded country albums (including an upcoming X-rated one) and, just to mix things up, ran for mayor of New York City in 2009 (that’s the race when Bloomberg won his third term), announcing in July 2009: "No one knows how to do more with less than yours truly.” He withdrew in September, but last October, he announced his candidacy for President of the United States as a Tea Partier. For his presidential declaration, Burck cut his shoulder-length dark blond hair and wore a suit for the press conference. According to his own bio, the New York State tourist bureau had declared him "more recognizable than The Statue of Liberty" and he had by 2007 “officially became the most photographed person in the world.” Who knows? Could be true.

Since ROT is supposed to be a theater blog, I’ll end with a little theater fact. New York City, of course, is the theater capital of the United States and, arguably, the world. (Almost every actor and company wants to play here; nearly every playwright wants the cachet of having his work produced here. Further, we see more of the world’s great theater, from London to Johannesburg to Tokyo, than any other single city I can think of.) Many of New York’s theaters and performance spaces have gained international renown and have colorful histories that are fun to learn. I want to consider one historic theater that’s more out of the way than most you might think of: the BAM Harvey. Located on Fulton Street in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn, near its now-parent institution, the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Lafayette Street, the Harvey is the last of Brooklyn’s legit playhouses. BAM, as it’s universally known, began in 1861, the oldest performing arts center in the U.S., and opened in its current location, in a huge beaux-arts building, now called the Peter Jay Sharp Building, that houses the Howard Gilman Opera House and other BAM facilities, in 1908. The impresario Harvey Lichtenstein (whose brother was the artist Roy Lichtenstein, 1923-97) was named president of the organization in 1967 and remained until 1999. During Lichtenstein’s tenure, BAM became the site of many international performances by the famous and the not-so-famous from around the world, including Ingmar Bergman’s Royal Dramatic Theatre of Sweden, Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal, Philip Glass, and the Moscow Art Theater, as well as companies from around the U.S. and North America. The stunning Next Wave Festival, which presents two seasons a year of music, dance, opera, and theater from all over the globe, began in 1983 (two years after being introduced as a series).

The Harvey, renamed for Lichtenstein (b. 1929) in 1999, was opened as the Majestic Theatre in 1904 (with a staging of The Wizard of Oz), one of the many legit theaters outside Manhattan—Brooklyn had quite a number then—where shows played before moving to Broadway, after playing there, or were revived in star-led productions. Along with its classics, musicals, and contemporary plays, the Majestic soon began presenting vaudeville revues to which was eventually added the novelty of the age, moving pictures. In the 1930s, the WPA theater program presented many productions there. In 1942, the Majestic was converted into a movie theater until it was closed in 1968 and essentially abandoned to deteriorate. In 1987, BAM purchased the 874-seat Majestic as the venue for Peter Brook’s 9-hour adaptation of the Indian epic The Mahabharata. According to Brook’s wishes, the theater was renovated and cleaned up, but left intentionally distressed, a “modern ruin,” in reflection of the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, the home theater of the Centre International de Créations Théâtrales, Brook’s Paris-based company. After The Mahabharata played there during the 1987 Next Wave Festival, the theater remained in its deliberately ruined state, winning the Architectural Theater Award in 1988. With its crumbling columns and water-stained ceilings, the distressed interior of the Harvey, as it’s now known, lends a unique element to every performance on its circular stage, resembling an old Greco-Roman amphitheater as reconceived during the Renaissance and then left to go to seed.

[When I’ve been working outside New York City, I often get the same question from colleagues, students, and parents: Isn’t New York a dangerous place to live. (This was especially common in the bad ol’ ‘70s.) Of course, there’s crime in New York City, but I’ve always maintained that its reputation as a hazardous place is unearned; the impression outsiders get is probably because of the spotlight that’s always on New York and the fact that as the country’s largest metropolis, there’s more of pretty much everything here than anywhere else. There aren’t actually more crimes committed in New York City per capita than in, say, San Francisco, or even Springfield, Illinois—but because there are dozens of times more people here than there, it seems as if you’re more likely to be a victim here. In fact, FBI statistic show that the Big Apple is the safest big city in the U.S. by a large margin. I’ve lived in New York for over 35 years and I’ve been out and about at all hours of the day and night, in all parts of the city, on foot and on the subway—and I’ve not only never been the victim of a crime, I’ve never even witnessed one. Bad ol’ New York is a myth.

[The other common question I get when I’m away from home is whether I miss New York. Of course, I do, and I always explain that I mostly miss my own surroundings, like my apartment and my kitchen—just like anyone else away from home. But I also explain that when I’m in another town for any time, I do miss some specific New York amenities: I miss the great selection of theater fare and restaurants, of course, and the museums and I miss the special resources I rely on like the New York Public Library, especially the Library for the Performing Arts. Most of all, I think, I miss the neighborhood restaurants of nearly every kind of cuisine that are all in walking distance and which almost all deliver or do carry-out when I don’t feel like cooking for myself. No other city I’ve ever visited offers that convenience and I sometimes wonder how I’d ever live without it!

[New York City’s unquestionably a curious place. It’s part of the imaginary landscape of many people who don’t live here and perhaps haven’t even ever visited. It’s the setting of countless TV shows and movies and not a few plays—and has been for decades, even centuries now. Vilified by some and beloved by others, New York City has a symbolic existence quite outside the quotidian life of its eight million residents and two million daily visitors. One statistic I’ve never been able to verify is whether, as I believe, there have been more songs written about New York (not even counting “The Big Apple”) than about any other city in the world. I wonder if anybody knows?]

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