It’s more than a city. In many ways, it’s The City, at least in this time and place. It’s spun up in so many stories that it’s difficult to know where the legend ends, and the mundane world begins. That’s a thin barrier between. And certain things have been leading me to think that perhaps there is no barrier at all, there, between what is, and what people have seen or said to be true about the place.
I had so many impressions of The City before I got there. It was in the O. Henry , the All-of-a-Kind Family, countless books I read as a child; it was the magical world of Auntie Mame, and so many old movies that the black, white, gray, and sepia of the concrete seem inevitable; the explosion of neon signage from a bodega is startling as a tiger.
Except for Times Square, home of color and lights and people, the 24-hour parade of glare and sweat, slow walkers and fast talkers. The streets are choked with people, oversized buses, construction equipment, yellow cabs, and the black SUVs and towncars that are the upscale statement of those who want to be noticed not taking a yellow cab. This is the New York of TV and movies, the morning and late night shows. Loud and intense and glaring and purposeful and explosive as a pinball machine with the glass off.
You may have noticed the conspicuous absence of story and tea last week: I was learning to navigate New York City with my teen son, Atticus. I did some research, prowling about MOMA and the American Museum of Natural History. We took a ferry to see the Lady in the Harbor. I fell obsessively in love with an old train station, too. Fascination is wonderful food for an artist.
We were also experiencing tales of a different sort: we saw a flurry of shows in the theater district. HAMILTON on Broadway! Astonishing thing. It exceeded our expectations. Yes, even despite the hype. Really a remarkable piece of work, with important things to say about our country and government and those folks involved in the founding. Things about pride, and determination, and love, and loss. Things about being human.
Our New York minute: we saw Neil Gaiman walking past; he was attending the same Hamilton performance. We refrained from saying hi, because we didn’t want to get the man mobbed. He’s got a BABY at home … if he’s getting a creative night out, good for him! It’s okay, life is big, and @neilhimself will get another chance to meet us sometime.
A friend laughingly commented on my “brush with fame.” My husband said, “Not really, Nancy gets to see Atticus nearly every day!” This is true. Although not for long, as he prepares to leave for college and his own adventures. The City was our last grand exploration together before he departs. And my life will be changing, hugely, also. So we took in The City, as much as we could. And it’s possible, perhaps inevitable, that standing on that threshold together defined our experience of New York.
Obligatory “what else we did,” to remind myself as much as anything:
We saw four other plays, each a living breathing piece of art. They resonated with us for different reasons; we saw our lives on the stage. Theater is a magic mirror that way.
We visited the East Side with friends and experienced a nosh fest and incredible banana pudding. We practiced transport via subway and train: relatively simple if you’ve done it even once, weirdly complex if the system is new to you. Wandered through graveyards, churches, memorials. Looked at the trees and fountains and memories where the World Trade Center buildings used to stand.
We had fantastic crepes, and really good pizza. We walked until my tendons felt like iron bars. Explored the world of the Stage Door, and met Interesting People from places near and far. New York City has a plethora of bookstores, and art supplies can be found where you least expect them. So I suppose it’s no surprise to find theater and art and music and books in evidence throughout the city, as part of the everyday lives of people participating in the experience. Powerful stuff, and had this blog post not already run so long, I’d be talking about the importance of cross-pollination in creative work. Maybe we’ll do that next time.
Suffice it to say that I’m back: worn, as you’d expect from seeing a legend in the flesh. Disillusioned and re-enchanted. Full of renewed purpose. Creativity crackling from the ends of my fingertips. And I have a very different sense now of this city that makes up so much of the landscape of American art and letters and film and drama. The City. It feels real. It feels, in some small part, mine. And I suppose mine is now yet another story of The City. It’s built of them, after all.