Monday, April 23, 2012

What the City Knows

When my kids were small and would visit their cousins in Jamaica and Antigua, and my son or daughter would start to boast about some aspect of living in New York, I would take them aside, and I would whisper, Do not be the obnoxious cousin from New York. Ah, it's true. New Yorkers can be obnoxious about their city. They know there is no other place like it on the planet, that it is a hard place to call home but if you give in to its charms, it will make you its own, and you'll love the city even if you scrap with it forever.

New Yorker Colson Whitehead, author of The Colossus of New York, conveys something of the complicated relationship New Yorkers, born or arrived, have with the city.

“You say you know these streets pretty well?" he writes. "The city knows you better than any living person because it has seen you when you are alone. It saw you steeling yourself for the job interview, slowly walking home after the late date, tripping over nonexistent impediments on the sidewalk. It saw you wince when the single frigid drop fell from the air-conditioner twelve stories up and zapped you. It saw the bewilderment on your face as you stepped out of the stolen matinee, incredulous that there was still daylight after such a long movie. It saw you half-running up the street after you got the keys to your first apartment. It saw all that. Remembers too."

It is a strange comfort, all these years later, to look down at the corner of a particular stretch of sidewalk and see my initials carved into the concrete, small and neat against the curb. The squares of concrete had been freshly poured when I passed by on the day after I graduated college, and I used a twig to draw the letters and inscribe the date, and there they remain, proof of my history etched into the very stone. I know what the city remembers. 


  1. I'm an outsider and a small town boy. And as many times as I've visited NY, I couldn't wrap my brain around it. But I can tell you this, although it has a reputation as being tough, I've never met nicer people in all my life. It's all about how you approach someone. I do it with a smile!
    Your Friend, m.

  2. Love this Angella. As much as I love Chicago, there is still a part of my heart that skips a beat when traveling to, thinking about, reading or watching ANYTHING having to do with NYC. I specially love living vicariously thru your evocative writing...

  3. You might want to read Open City by Teju Cole, a walking philosophical meander through the city through the eyes of a recent immigrant...beautiful writing. I think it was a National Book award finalist. Hello from Pam, a quiet reader of your blog via friend Radish.

  4. "New York, New York, city so nice, they named it twice"

    I love this town, I remember moving here from Paris, age 9, in awe. Nearly 30 years later, I am still in love, and sometimes hate with this town. No other town can make me feel so alive! No other.

  5. This is how I feel about London, even though I only spent a few years living there..... important years, of course.

  6. I can't even imagine. It would be a complete redefinition of what living is for me.
    And yet, I can understand its charms, its magnificent offerings.
    I love having this window into The City. Is there really any other?

  7. What a wonderful Colson Whitehead quote, thanks so much for sharing it.

    I lived in New York for two little months back in 1989, and I still miss it. When I see Manhattan streets in a movie or on tv, it makes me feel slightly homesick.

    Every city I've ever been to had, for me, a different feel. New York felt like static electricity snapping against my skin.

  8. What a beautiful love letter to the city. xo

  9. I've only visited twice, but I think in some ways it reminded me of Montreal, by birth city, my favourite and so I love it on top of loving it.

    I hope your mom is better?

    I have been off line again.. busy sewing and hanging out a bit with my husband who had a break from travel, (our 24rd anniversary was yesterday), etc.

    I am so thrilled for your daughter, your baby.

    (and I started to read that poem and have to wait. too teary already:). I wish I had sisters. Do you ever wonder how your life would be if you had this gift? I am so blessed to see my four daughters as close as close as can be and so hope they carry this forward forever. Such gift. Such anchored belonging . I am honoured and grateful for my blog sisters. Like you.
    very much so.. xoxoxo )

  10. It's true -- there is no place like it. And I must admit that although intellectually I understand it's not for everyone, deep inside I'm always surprised when I hear people say things like, "Oh, I could never live there." Really? REALLY?!

    I could never have NOT lived there.