I grew up twenty minutes on the other side of the Hudson; trips under and over the river were frequent. It was a child’s fairyland, and an adolescent’s getaway. In my twenties, it became my home. Now it is my puzzle.
Did I say puzzle? Over the last twenty years, it’s become a place I visit, usually for a couple of days at a time. As with any place one has lived and returned to, it is at once familiar and perplexing. My sense of pacing, as I walk the streets – something I’m always very sensitive to – is just a bit off, where it was once flawless.
Oddly enough, the people look the same to me — but the surfaces have changed frequently and drastically over the years.
Yet one might say that the surfaces of New York are more important than they are elsewhere. Or rather, the way the surfaces change is one of the city’s consistencies. Virtually every surface you encounter is artificial. In some cases this changeability is awkward and embarrassing, like an old man who dresses in the latest fashions to impress a young date. The result is neither fashionable nor deserving of respect.
But more often than not, the changes are just what they are – nothing more nor less than an facade that people are working around the clock to improve — or at least change. The rhythms of those changes don’t necessarily satisfy anyone – one must accept them at their own pace, rather than expecting them to follow a natural sense of propriety.
A lot of these thoughts struck me on a recent visit to the new Alice Tully Hall. It never occurred to me, visiting as a child, and later practically living there as a grad student (in addition to my studies, I was working nights at the Met), that Lincoln Center was a collection of very new buildings – I didn’t have a context extensive enough to assign them a sense of age, though I knew exactly when they were built. Yet now, as the buildings are looking unmistakably old, I can see that they were pretty spanking new when I was a frequent inhabitant.
Always nice to see you, New York – though more and more confounding with each passing year.