Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The New Babylon

Flying into New York was like descending into a sea of stars. The city, with its million lights, shone brightly in the darkness. It was like a brighter, more ostentatious mirror of the sky that watched over it. It was the biggest, and expectedly, the brightest city that we had seen so far. The airport was abuzz with the flurry of people, more than any other airport we’d passed through. From the moment you set foot in New York, you feel the vibrancy of the city that never sleeps. It was up and about, alive and kicking, and you could sense it in the air.

One of the things you will notice about New York is the smell. It’s a pungent city smell, as though the city had been working under the sun for days. It is the smell of a living city, a hard-working city. A city that moves fast and furious and has no time for dolling itself up. It is what it is. The smells of New York range from a sewer aroma that wafts in slow wisps through the sewer caps to the thick bouquet of horse manure infused with the flavor of digested grass. There is also the indescribable smell of heating, a smoky, dry smell that flows through buildings. New York is a heavily sensual city, with the beauty of old pre-war buildings side by side with lush treescapes, statues, and bright lights. New York overpowers the senses on all fronts, from smell to sight to sound, which is composed of blaring horns (the first American city where I’ve heard horns honking), the hum of engines, the clopping of horse hooves, and the rush of people making their way through the concrete landscape. The sound of the people is the most powerful sound in New York. People talk in New York. Loudly. People talk from their cars, telling pedestrians and slow-paced drivers to move. People talk on their phones while walking, almost as though to themselves, Bluetooth hands-free units tucked into their ears. People talk to each other, either in boisterous elation or in loud threats. The air of New York is awash with the sound of a million people walking. It is staggering.

If America is a melting pot, New York is its center, where all cultures are stirred. There are restaurants of every conceivable cuisine, and people talk in different languages throughout the city. Places like Little Italy sit beside Chinatown. Tourists and natives alike talk in different languages freely, adding to the rich sound that makes the city alive. The sirens of police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances punctuate the city’s symphony almost as though it were orchestrated. New York is the noisiest city we’ve visited so far. This is the new Babylon. Skyscrapers mimic the tower of Babel, reaching for the heavens and blotting out the sun. New York is a triumph of man, with many of its buildings etched with the wear and tear of time. New York’s crevices, its guts, are textured with use and refuse. The city has character. Actually, it has more than that… New York has attitude.

I’m not quite sure what to make of New York just yet. On one hand, I love that it's an undeniably beautiful city that’s full of pride and swagger. On the other, I’m not sure about its pace, which is hurried, and its sound, which is loud. New York definitely isn’t chillax. But New York is a powerful city that has endured great tragedy. It’s proud and has every right to be. That appeals to me greatly. It is also the center of great learning and creativity, with museums like the Museum of Modern Art or the Guggenheim, as well as the host to the headquarters of two of the greatest comic book companies in America, DC and Marvel. I love that it has nooks and crannies that are worn and dark and foreboding. There are stories here.

If there’s anything about New York that has struck me, it’s that my imagination for stories has been roused, and for that I’m grateful. The city is a bit too fast for me, but perhaps I should just let myself be swept by it. Maybe, and I look forward to this, I will find more tales in the tide.