Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Current Fixations: New York City

One of my current fixations is the city that never sleeps. Despite growing up in Canada, thousands of kilometres away from New York City, parts of that city have ingrained into my psyche. We receive a lot of US television in Canada, and the amount of NYC imagery and culture that comes with it is surprising, and detailed! Should a Canadian kid know how hard it is to get a table at "Sardi's?" How many restaurants can you name from cities where you've never been? Few cities form such a cultural substrate.

Being in the “raised-by-TV” generation, I practically grew up on Sesame Street, not just the show, but somehow on that street itself. The street was clearly representing New York, with its distinctive brownstone buildings, a stop on the subway line and proximity to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I learned at a young age not to eat the pictures at the museum, long before I realized the Met was an actual place.

I knew muppets were puppets with hands up their backsides, so why would their environment be any more tangible? It's this kind of blurring of the real and the fantastic that makes New York magical.

I know NYC neighbourhood names such as Morningside Heights, Tribeca, SoHo and the Bowery, but I couldn't tell you what the neighbourhood I currently live in is supposed to be called. The streets and villages within NYC each have their own stories and culture, and the post-war tract housing of my youth can't compete for the same passions that “Wall Street” “Madison Ave” and “Broadway” do. Those aren't just addresses, they are Ideas. No movie worth watching was filmed in my hometown, and no one ever wrote a song about any of the streets there.

I know that much of the information that I have soaked up is dated and wrong. Sitcoms and movies set in New York are often written by people living in Hollywood. “The Brooklyn Dodgers,” is a phrase that falls from my mouth too readily for a team that hasn't existed since 1957. Tavern on the Green and the Rainbow Room are closed, Sardi's and The Russian Tea Room are well past their prime. The Cotton Club currently on west 125th street has no historical connection to the great jazz club of the past.

New York is simultaneously the present, the past, and the fictional.

In an effort to track the parts of New York that I could actually visit so I don't sound like Frank Sinatra in “On the Town”, I started keeping track with a simple map on Google. Whenever a travel show talks about the best bagels in the lower east side, or a website talks about an art installation at the Museum of Modern Art, I open up the map and drop a pin. I started including major landmarks and interesting stores, so over time the map became more pins than page.

1 comment:

Mr. Sable said...

Let Tripletlads give you a tour, Stay upstate or in Jersey State because it's too expensive to stay on the island. Many, many wonderful things are a short walk from Madison Square Garden, including the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building AND times Square. It's actually a pretty small area, so you're bound to run into something familiar in only a few steps. I know people who've never left Manhattan and were astonished I'd been to Queens and Brooklyn AND New Jersey all in one weekend. It's friendlier and cleaner than it was just five years ago. Any time you spend there will be time well spent (though I hated my first trip there).