New York

It’s dense with people.  It’s dense with energy.  And it’s dense with a strange, seductive creative impulse – a spirit which seems to imbue the very concrete and bricks of the physical place itself.  It’s the most amazing place.

I’m talking, of course, about New York City.

Strangely, I had never been.  What a regret.

But better late than never.  Late last year Thorsten Overgaard, a professional photographer from Denmark whose work I admire, announced that he would be doing a photo seminar in New York in March.  I figured if I signed up it would force me to make that visit I had put off too long.

So I did, and it did.

It’s funny.  Even for those of us who have never seen it, New York City is such an integral part of the consciousness of most Americans.  It holds such an important place in our culture.  But if you’re like me, never having been, you have this kind of amorphous vision of the place.

Like any good tourist, I bought a guide book to the city.  Cheesy as it sounds, that was actually an excellent entree into what’s what.  I bought a map of Manhattan and began studying that – almost like memorizing a track map before showing up at a new racetrack.  I was delighted to find that the city is eminently approachable.  All you need is a good pair of walking shoes.

Their reputation for brusqueness notwithstanding, I found New Yorkers to be nothing but warm and friendly.  They make their city a place in which you want to stay.

And the city itself – it has everything save the space to shoot a rifle or run a motorcycle at speed.  Almost anything else you can imagine is right there at your fingertips.  It’s an adult playground.

It’s a serious place.  The energy that pervades it derives, I suspect, from the limits of the real estate itself.  Twenty three square miles ain’t a lot.  Which accounts for the rising-into-the-sky impetus of the city.  And the sheer density of people.

As you might expect in a place of such rarified ground, it’s an expensive place.  Everything costs.  But what struck me is that it’s also probably the most intensely capitalistic place on earth.  Want to open a [fill in the blank] shop?  Fine.  Just know that there are probably six others of those already within a 5-minute walk.  Mediocrity is rewarded with a quick exit.  And success depends upon continual reinvention.  And because of that what’s left, what’s there at any point in time, has the sheen of robust substance.

It’s a very cool place.

Mostly, mostly I was amazed at the energy, the creative impulse that lives there.  You sense it everywhere, lying just beneath the surface.  You see it in the velocity of movement, in the pace of life.  You see it in the diversity of everything, in the rich multiplicity of possibility. That’s the thing, I think, that gets under your skin.  That’s the viral contagion that makes you want to go back.  That makes you never want to leave.

You can’t really begin to take the measure of a place in four days, of course.  All you can do is get a taste.  But I’ll be back.  Most definitely.

new york at dawn

new york at dawn

world trade center

world trade center

9/11 was an awful day for everyone, of course.  But when you wander along where it actually happened – lower Manhattan is not that large – it gains a visceral charge.  This is the now-being-constructed One World Trade Center, built upon the ruins, the hole, that once was the old World Trade Center.

hotel chelsea

hotel chelsea

I stayed at the Hotel Chelsea, a building erected in 1883.  Mark Twain, O Henry, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Eugene O’Neill, Thomas Wolfe, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Patti Smith, William Burroughs, Arthur Miller, Leonard Cohen and William de Kooning are among the luminaries who have stayed there over the years.  Dylan Thomas died there.  Sid Vicious stabbed his girlfriend to death there.  Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001:  A Space Odyssey while living there.  And Jack Kerouac wrote On The Road while staying there.

The hallways are filled with art and photography.

new york subway

new york subway

New York is probably the only major city in the world where one can easily get by without a car.  Despite being obviously older than most, their mass transit system does exactly what such a system should – quickly and efficiently whisking people wherever they want to go.  Any time of day or night.  Anywhere in the city.  For not much money.

DC’s Metro system should take a few cues.

central park

central park

It was a miracle.  Carving out a huge chunk of some the most valuable real estate on earth and setting it aside simply as a recreational pleasure for its inhabitants.  And yet that’s exactly what happened.  Central Park, in its own way, is every bit as amazing as the city in which it resides.

More images from my visit can be seen in New York City, 2010


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