The Empire State of Mind
I’ve been harvesting this thought for a some time now, pondering over why this city is so endearing to most people…to me, given that it has never technically been my home. So I did some quote-searching online and found a couple that succinctly expressed it, but one in particular stood out:
There is something in the New York air that makes sleep useless – Simone De Beauvoir
Simple. That’s why it really is the city that never sleeps, why most people are either succeeding or striving, all types of people – artists, musicians, models, investment bankers – and people like me who were just break-ing for a bit in the city, yet woke up no later at 8:00am everyday just because it didn’t make sense to waste time sleeping in New York (Of course now that I am back at work and have to wake up at unearthly hours everyday, I’m having a tough time relating to my own holiday behavior)
But, even if you’re just visiting, the restlessness of the city creeps up on you. If you are not actively trying to make something of yourself, you suddenly want to, just so you can justify your position on those crowded streets. If you’re going to push and shove, it must be for a cause!
What is the romance of New York? It’s not an exotic place; it is certainly not a relaxing place. But it is a lot of other things rolled into one. As Meyer Berger said, every one reads his own meaning into New York, and so I have mine.
Let me warn you, if you’re looking for a light read, this might get slightly philosophical. I may be over intellectualizing this but I feel the need to articulate to myself, my own reasons for selecting this place. I need that connection between sense and sensibility for this one.
The whole objective of my break was to consolidate my 25 years in some way, make sense of events, experiences, just sit still with them for a bit. But more than that, to reinforce and never forget that there is so so so much more to do, to achieve, places to visit, people to meet, to succeed.
And if you really want to experience aspiration anywhere, it is this City. On the faces of people on the road, walking as if there is no tomorrow, in the lights that seem like if they shut down for few minutes, the universe might as well shut itself down, the yellow cabs that almost add to the illumination at night, the Statue that stands tall and upright, Times Square that is a little microcosm of the city really.
New York, at all points seems as if it is in business everyday, the business of life. Representing truly, what one wise man once said: The business of life is to be, to do, to be without, and to depart. You can’t really speak of the City without using a lot of verbs, to be, to do, to be without and to depart seems just right for the place.
Addressing the being and doing part, the whole world is in the city…literally (On day one, I bumped into three people I hadn’t met in years randomly). The mini-countries in Chinatown, Little Italy, little India-s spurting here and there; the immigrants, it seems, moved there and promptly plopped their countries alongside as well, and the city said “the more, the merrier” and adopted them as natural extensions of itself.
The theatre, art, glamour, commerce, fashion, the Hollywood and even the Bollywood, whatever you want to do or be, you have it. Just know how to get there, the map is important in the city.
Which bring me to the walking, one of the most delightful aspects of my trip. It isn’t called the Walking City for nothing. For one, try hailing a cab in NY. I walked on one hand, out of sheer pleasure and joy of being a traveler, and on the other hand because of my sheer disability to acquire a cab for myself. There is too much competition, a line of people competing with you to catch one, and apparently the city disqualifies me for this game altogether because even if I manage to get one, I can’t keep one…somehow I never go to a place the cab driver would like to take me to, but the next person after me is always a perfect match. And let’s hope this is limited to cabs in NY only.
So back to the walking, this is when I overdid it and injured my Plantar Fascia (somewhere in the feet, my latest biological discovery). Apart from the obvious delights of the walking tours, you come across bakeries that promise “Happiness Unlimited” in the chocolate muffins. What a lovely idea I thought, why wouldn’t one go in to buy some happiness in the form of a chocolate muffin!
They don’t say this city is all business for nothing. Now look at this picture alongside, in which the man is “shopping” for a wife. This is what his front and back read, “ Hi Friends, looking for a wealthy lady to be my wife. My name is Robert. Single, Never Married, No children. Call me…”
It transforms you a little too. In one of my first cab rides (the ONLY one) the Italian cab driver, when asked to take me to Chinatown, insisted that he must take me home instead, and I, in fact had a conversation about whose home he should take me, mine or his, till I reached my destination. This is what the city does to you. I do not typically chat with cab drivers, I don’t even receive telephone calls from numbers that don’t seem familiar. But here I was sitting in a cab, flirting with the cabbie, who feigned heartbreak as he dropped me off (thankfully) at Chinatown.
The city also brought my Sociology classes back to me. You are the place that you are in, you are the society, you are the environment. In New York then, you are a lot of things at once. One time, at Madison Square Garden, I decided to stop and people watch. If I stayed there long enough, I’m pretty sure I would have caught the frequencies of the thoughts of all those diverse people frantically going somewhere: happy, sad, distressed, frustrated, exhilarated, success, failure.
It reminds you of all your life’s experiences at once. Somehow, I think the physical representation of grids; the right angled cross of avenues and numbered streets did this for me. I think the cross represents the cross between expectation and disappointment, excitement and gloom, hope and despair all rolled into one. You take 5th Ave and 75 street and maybe buy some happiness at the big Apple store, you walk 42nd, and you’re bound to stumble upon excitement at Times Square, walk through Central Park, and you may experience contentment, take the financial district and you experience the despair a little, or stop earlier at WTC and some more gloom. There are days when the tall buildings may seem like they’re all falling on you at once and other days when you feel like you are a part of them stretching unto the sky, into the universe gleefully, touching the stars and all that.
There is something so tangible about the fact that such is life, c’est la vie, be it, live it. The disappointments, the frustrations, the insecurities, all are a part of it, and sometimes do come up on one street and that is fate. But there are times, when all you need to do is walk away, the next street is right there, holding in itself a completely different set of options and experiences, always running parallel tempting you to choose it as an option. You can decide what to do, to be, to live without and to depart from. Life is always an option that way, I thought. Happiness is the consequence of personal effort and that effort is to get off that street and take the next one. Because it is right there, in front of you, just a block to your right or left, depending upon what you’re looking for.
Do check this video out, if you haven’t already, my post might make more sense: