or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, May 08, 2009

Big City

Jim and I have been in New York for two days now, and my initial impression of it, which is heretical and which has been tempered, a little, by the sheer magnificent scale of the place, is that it is essentially Toronto writ very large and rather dirty. (Another heretical opinion is that London is more wonderful than New York.) Tonight we were walking home from the theatre, surrounded by a throng of people, really one throng among many, and I was reminded of Thomas Carlyle's cruel and no doubt accurate description of the verbose Thomas Babington Macaulay: “Macaulay is well for a while, but one wouldn't live under Niagara.”* Being in New York is rather like being in a Niagara of people. It doesn't stop. It is thrilling, in its way, but how do people live in it day in and day out?

What are the two things everyone knows about New Yorkers? Why, that they walk very quickly and that they are extremely rude. Neither of these things is in the least bit true: how do such lies get started? Are they promulgated by people from small towns who all know one another and can't understand why people don't saunter along and greet everyone they pass, preferably by name? We walk at least as quickly as New Yorkers, and faster than some (who admittedly might be tourists).The people with whom we have had contact--shop clerks, pedestrians, restaurant and hotel staff--have all been unfailingly polite. (Well, one waiter was perhaps a little brusque--I prefer to think of him as efficient--and the usher in the theatre tonight was extremely direct, but I suspect she'd been doing her job for at least forty years, possibly more, so I'm willing to forgive her that. But the usher at last night's show who called Jim "darlin'"? The ticket-office staff who were happy to discuss not only the show at their theatre but also any other shows they might happened to have seen? The pretty young woman in the black spangled sweater who seated us at the restaurant tonight? The businessmen who apologized for bumping into us on the sidewalk? Couldn't have been nicer.) It should also probably be obvious that, since we walked home from two different theatres in the last two nights (We saw "Avenue Q" last night, "33 Variations" tonight) and lived to tell the tale, the streets of New York--at least the streets that we've been walking--are safer than you might have been led to believe by the more sensationalist media.

I don't have anything to add that's on topic. I saw an amusingly misspelled and badly corrected sign, but I don't have a photograph of it, and I'm typing this on a tiny computer with an irritatingly wee keyboard that keeps doing things I don't want it to, so let's call it a night.

* Carlyle got as good as he gave: notoriously ill-tempered and married to the similarly peevish Jane Welsh, he led Samuel Butler to note that "it was very good of God to let Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle marry one another and so let only two people be miserable instead of four."


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