Saturday, November 03, 2012

NYC streets

When I meet a woman, beyond some superficial evaluation of their physical attractiveness, I generally form my opinions as to their appeal based on the activity one would engage in most with any partner over time: conversation. I think I need less than a minute of conversation to tell whether somebody is my type or not. 

For cities it takes longer, but similarly the most important impression is made by that which I imagine will always be the activity one engages in most in any city - walking its streets.

So after a day in NYC, I haven't taken in any of the nightlife, the museums, the broadway shows, the live music, but some of the food, I have walked a lot of streets.

Could I live in New York? Yes. Do I love New York? Yes. But not as I love Melbourne, the city love of my life, in fact one of the things that impresses me most about New York, and let me be honest - Manhatten the only borrough I have spent time in (and thanks to Hurricane Sandy, the only part I am likely to), is how similar it is to Melbourne.

Firstly New York passes my two-fold test for liveability. 1 - people Jaywalk, New York may well be the birthplace of jaywalking I dunno. 2 - there is rule of law, but not zero tolerence.

In short, if you can jaywalk in front of a cop safely, then I can live there.

Now, walking the streets of NYC is pretty nice, for one thing, people talk like they are on a tv-show, or as John and Damian called it 'TV land' because we are so used to hearing people talk like this on our TVs and not in our lives. But there is another kind of musicality to New York streets again, in three city blocks today I overheard conversations in Italian and then Russian, the equivalent could happen in Melbourne by overhearing greek conversations on Lonsdale and then cutting through tattersal lane and overhearing Cantonese conversations in China town. But I get the feeling that in NYC the odds of it occuring anywhere on manhatten are much higher.

The mix is same but different, I think my friends have pointed out that where you have Asian people mixing it up in Melbourne you have African Americans breaking the white wall in NYC.

NYC is a great place to feel the downside of globalisation as well, because on the whole people in NYC dress pretty much like Melburnians, it is certainly less exciting for fashion than Japan (anywhere) and of course, people in NY aren't dressing like Melburnians, Melburnians are dressing like people in NY. Can NYC pretty much ever be different? Probably not, thought I today. Because if they adopted some new 'national dress of New York' something wild and exotic and totally different, it is just an shipping date away from being what people wear everywhere.

More exciting than being a tourist in New York, must be the experience of being a New York tourist, going to see the comical and strange ways people are attempting to emulate you all over the world. 

But what makes a great city great? It is almost certainly not the tourists. And what makes the locals so great? hard to say, hard to say... immigration for sure, but that can't be all there is to it. Did you know that England has no official language? It was on Qi so it must be true. And I totally understand, France needs an official language of French because French is under threat from English, but English is under threat from nothing, and so the English feel secure that no policy is needed to preserve their language for future generations.

In the same way, I feel New Yorkers must be relieved from the excuse that they don't live in New York, and thus it is easy for them to conclude that they are responsible for having a great time in their own city. But New York is also kind of just a big city, thus everything I love and hate about Melbourne is ampliphied as well. While obviously many people achieve much and create much great shit walking these streets and riding these subways and retiring to their private corners to create, there are many more that only achieve greater mediocrity in a greater city. 

I would have to have a compelling reason to come live here I think, more than my sister had. NYC is just not different enough, I mean it is totally different and yet, what is your complaint about Melbourne? Are there not enough people using laptops in starbucks? Does Swanston St simply not take long enough for you to walk down? Is the live music you don't go out to see in Melbourne too inferior to the live music you wouldn't go to see in New York? Does Federation square lack the touristy cheese that Times Square delivers?

For me, just based on walking the streets, the cuisine is for the grab and go variety of food superior to Melbourne's, but not so to Japan. Dollars go further which is great, and New York is populated by remarkably kind and considerate people, the goodwill is evident in a lot of places, the cops far more approachable than those of my city, I dunno.

Melbourne is special to me because it is mine, but the shit that annoys me about Melbourne - it's hard to understand until you are in New York. Do New Yorkers line up in self-demeaning displays when a Zara store opens? I assume they don't, because New Yorkers don't want to be New Yorkers, they are New Yorkers. The assholes of course are bigger here than they are in Melbourne, which doesn't really have them that much, but there's a slice of 'whinging New Yorker' I have picked up remarkably quickly that is more frequently portrayed as a trait of the british. There are also a lot of phenomenally uncool people the Sartorialist isn't taking pictures of on the streets of this city. 

Just as New York produces more great art, music, athletes etc than Melbourne does, so too does it produce far more mediocrity. I think when you are outside New York looking in, you are exposed to a selection bias of only seeing the best, just as job interviews paint a rosey picture of your future employer that never matches the reality of working for them. Movies and TV do not capture for obvious reasons the many lives of New Yorkers that are just not worth writing home about. Probably the closest is Seinfeld at capturing some aspect of the every day.

Cities are great, they are loaded up with opportunities, but I think we all have fantasies of waltzing into a foreign city, sitting down in some bar or restaurant to fatefully strike up conversation with our 'discoverer' somebody who finds our mundaness fascinating and opens up doors that remained closed to us at home. In the end though, this is just a rescue fantasy like meeting your soulmate, or curing yourself by taking a pill.

For me the unlimited potential of NYC has little appeal, partly because my chosen medium is a solitary one, I work from a studio and publish via the internet, it matters not where I do this. And also because I barely use 3% of Melbourne's potential. I have friends that have more thoroughly exhausted the scenes Melbourne possesses to support them, but I can't justify moving to a city with 100 times the opportunities than the 97 opportunities I haven't even utilised back home.

Or rather I can, firstly one of those opportunities could call me here, like getting offered an editing job at DC or Marvel comics, but that would no doubt be the product of using more of the opportunities of Melbourne. Secondly, I could follow somebody here, I could live in NYC for the right girl easily, I would chase her here, not let her go. It is similar enough to Melbourne to make that decision easy.

You know it's so hard to do anywhere justice when travelling, unfairly we are burdened with a bogus dilemma that we must love and hate a place, when most often, it is true that we do both. Japan is most annoying because you are labelled a 'Japan basher' or a 'Japan lover' and nothing in between is tolerated. My Japanese friends don't understand my ability to criticise so much about Japan and still claim to love that beloved country. But what I truly would bash is fetishising, which is to gloss over the fact that life is hard no matter where you live it.

The fact is that I could probably live anywhere, because I could live with myself. But NYC would be one of the easier cities to do so.

No comments: