New York is a Village
There are two primary faces of a city, any city. One is the groundswell of humanity that operates at street level, largely invisible to just about everyone but each other; the other is the export community, the ones who tend to live off the ground and create the city’s perceptible, visible heartbeat.
In New York, that visible identity is recognisable right around the world. It’s in the songs we sing, the buildings we lionise, the artwork we print and reprint that most of us afford only as cards, the clothes whose KMart imitation we clamour to wear on our backs, the restaurants and culture whose imitation defines us.
But all this depends on the folk on the ground, to build the city, to keep it running, to drive the wheels.
Since I got here, to Brooklyn three days and nights ago, one particular thought has surfaced over and again – 9/11 would have left most people in this city without a single clue about why someone might want to do this ‘to them’. They are good people. They are universally good people. They go about their business making the most of what they have. Some will rise from street level, their natural talents lifting them off the ground and into finer digs.
For most, New York is, and will remain, a village.
I didn’t have a photo for today’s blog, so I snapped the building across the road, right outside my window, on my way home from grabbing dinner down on Fulton Street.
I know, it looks very Addams Family. I had that thought too. In fact it’s the World Headquarters Building of the Independent Order of Mechanics. Up the road on the opposite corner we have a grand old building called Elim, which I can only presume to be Jewish. Across the road from that is the Gospel Centre. Down the street in the opposite direction we have two beautiful copper doors overhung with the star and sickle moon of Islam.
New York is a village.
Exhausted as I was when I woke this morning, I dragged myself out onto the street and into the subway, making my way once again to Book Expo America downtown (downtown, uptown – it’s Manhattan). OMG I am in Manhattan. I was so tired it was all I could do to sit in one place and see what came to me. I piled my leaflets and bookmarks and other bumf onto the tables around me, on the theory you never who might sit down. And I waited. And who came along was Dianne Hart. Or perhaps she spells her name Diane Heart. Either way, her upcoming book will have her French maiden name in between, so her old friends from school know it’s her.
Dian/ne’s is a survivor’s tale. Smashed into a tiny pocket of air when the mountain that was her home in San Diego fell down, she broke around 20 bones in her upper torso and survived to tell a tale that cost 10 of her neighbours their lives.
Needless to say, it changed her life and she’s giving that change everything she’s got. Enthused by our resting hour, I took a breath and got to it, taking to the morass of book booths at the expo, wondering where to start. And don’t you love serendipity? Nothing to lose, I decided to slip around to the tables in the big publishers’ dens, flat circles of varying sizes where important people sit and have conversations, and I slipped my bumf onto them as I wandered by. It was fun. And then for the heck of it I got chatting to Charles, whom I asked, just for a lark, if anyone from editorial was around. No, he said and as he glanced around he spotted Eric. He called him over. Introduced us. Eric invited me to sit at one of the important tables and, well, it’s good practice having the conversation.
Twenty minutes later, after we’d chatted about Eric’s trip to Australia and his upcoming walk on the Appalacian Trail – which he is determined to complete on the last day of his 67th year, having started it in 1967 – we shared pilgrim tales. And finally I asked him what he did.
Ha ha. He owns the company. I have an appointment with Margot from one of his imprints tomorrow at 11.30. And that’s where tonight’s tale must end. There is so much to tell about this city, snapshots and short movie reels playing endlessly to my soundbite mind.
In the end, it’s the exhaustion that wins out over the telling.