Thursday, 25 June 2015

In the City: Three Easy Pieces

The Solitude

“On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy.”
– E. B. White, ‘Here is New York’ (1949)

Thus begins the most quoted poetic homage (and even prophetic given the events of 9/11) to a city. Along with Street Haunting and The London Scene (collection of 6 essays) by Virginia Woolf, it is possibly the best piece of writing on the experience of a big city.

To read 'Here is New York':,%20Here%20Is%20New%20York.pdf
The Streetwalker
               "I’m becoming
the street.
           Who are you in love with
     Straight against the light I cross."
    –Frank O’Hara, ‘Walking to Work’

Almost 80% of the journeys in midtown and downtown Manhattan are made on foot. People mostly walk for practical purposes like getting to work, going to the grocery store, picking up children from school and so on. They also walk to purposes of pleasure like to the movie hall, weekend brunch or the picnic in the park. And in this time and age, for the most important purpose of all–to maintain an active lifestyle (that means walking over 10,000 steps a day). 

For most people a saunter brings to mind a walk in the park among the bounties of nature, but here’s a different, an original perspective:

"Even trees understand me! Good heavens, I lie under them too, don’t I? I’m just like a pile of leaves.

However, I have never clogged myself with the praises of pastoral life, nor with nostalgia for an innocent past of perverted acts in pastures. No, one never leave the confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes–I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not regret life. It is more important to affirm the least sincere; the clouds get enough attention as it is and even they continue to pass.”
 Frank O’Hara, ‘Meditations In An Emergency’

The Sunsets
And people continue to notice the passing clouds, and the resulting sunsets more often. Not just because they are instagramming the shit out of it. I think it is because of the nature of light projection in the city. The tall buildings have often been likened to canyons but made of glass and metal. These reflective surfaces throw the light around in ways that change with the trajectory of the sun across the sky. Sample this: at 7:30 PM the light from the setting sun falls on the west face of the building on the easternmost part of the street, bounces and strikes the windows of the building on the opposite side and this room (that I am typing in) is bathed in gold. So, it is hardly a surprise that a 6 PM meeting on a certain floor, in a certain building in downtown may get interrupted if the room gets flooded by light from a sky streaked purple, mauve, red and orange.