City life is millions of people being lonesome together.
~ Henry David Thoreau
After a whirlwind weekend in New York City, I am grateful to be back to the quietude of the Hudson River Valley. Although I was raised in a city, my tolerance for the human madness of big cities has diminished over time. I find myself exhausted after 4 days in Manhattan; the level of energy required to keep up with the pace of city life is not something I am accustomed to anymore. I feel like if I stop for two seconds on the street to catch my breath or regain my bearings, I might be swept away by the masses, carried along in the unstoppable current of humanity. I’ll admit I’m a little on edge when in the city. Call me a country girl. I don’t mind.
I did, however, greatly enjoy the diversions of the Big Apple. Ben flew up from New Mexico on Thursday morning, and we met in Grand Central when my train arrived from Cold Spring. Ben had never been to NYC before, so it was exciting to show him around a bit. We checked our luggage in at our hotel on Madison and 31st, grabbed some breakfast, then straight out on the 7 train to the US Open. We had grounds passes for the day session on Thursday, and we picked up night session tickets for Arthur Ashe to see Roger Federer play before he retires. That made for a LONG day of tennis (about 12 hours) in the sun. We managed to avoid both sunburn and heat stroke, and saw some great tennis. Probably the best match was between Verdasco and Ramos, both Spaniards, on one of the outer courts. It is amazing to watch pro players courtside. There was one really obnoxious “fan” behind us, who kept yelling at/for Verdasco between points. “Yeah, baby! WE make the points! Way to hustle, baby! Do it for Eddie!” No kidding. At one point he started yelling things in Spanish without fully understanding their meaning. For example, after Verdasco won a point, he’d yell “Así así, Fernandito!” (For those of you who don’t speak Spanish, this actually means, “So-so, little Fernando!”) Hmm. Hilarious.
Friday we spent at the Met, perusing their mind-blowing collection of art antiquities. I was amazed at how much I remembered from my art history courses, and reveled in the opportunity to physically examine the items I had previously studied in photographs. We made it only through Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Egyptian, Oceanic and modern art in 3.5 hours. After that long, one is likely to go cross-eyed, and it becomes more difficult to look at art properly. So we left. There’s always next time for Islamic, Asian, American, European…
Friday night we had night session tickets again in the big stadium to watch Andy Roddick, who will retire after the Open. Another late night. Saturday we went to Lower Manhattan to see Lady Liberty and ride the ferry. It was stiflingly hot that day, and the humidity was pretty unbearable. Being on the water helped a bit. That night we stayed with one of my students from Maine, Kasia, and her husband in Brooklyn. They fed us a home-cooked meal and took us on a walking tour of the area with their little beagle Cleo. Out in the “burbs” there is a little more space, and even a few green patches for dogs. Still, it was hard for me to fathom living in such a concrete jungle, and our own dogs would not be able to handle the noise, crowds, and cramped spaces of the city.
Another delight of big cities is the FOOD. We definitely ate our way through NYC. We ate falafel street food, bagels galore, vegan (dairy-free) deliciousness, and Katz’s Delicatessen (“Jew food”). We were pretty much always full. In fact, I had to go for a run yesterday to feel a little less overfed. Ben flew home on Sunday, and I caught the afternoon train back to Cold Spring.
Today I have finally decompressed from my city visit. As entertaining as cities can be, I also find them both awe-inspiring and profoundly depressing. They are amazing in
their sheer magnitude and as a testament to human industry. What was once a natural landscape has been thoroughly paved over and transformed into man-made canyons of concrete, steel and glass, stretching to the horizon in any direction. Trees, dwarfed by the surrounding skyscrapers, eek out a meager existence through small holes in the pavement carved out to allow for their growth. Sunlight takes on an eerie, almost ethereal quality as it refracts off of buildings and descends upon the street from a thousand angles. People bustle about like insects, talking on phones, reading magazines, absorbed in music via headphones, or otherwise engaged in personal activities to disconnect them from their chaotic surroundings. Millions of people, all ignoring one another in some strange dance of self-preservation and mutual disregard. I suppose if one were to let all that in, to absorb all that human complexity and frailty and confusion, one would simply implode. I get it. But from the outside it seems so odd, so foreign, so very sad. Edward Hopper always comes to mind when I’m in big cities, and the loneliness he was so adept at conveying. Alone in a sea of humanity…
Today I am off for the next urban stop: Philadelphia. Never been there, and excited to see my former roommate, Jodi. I’ll take the back roads to avoid the traffic nightmares of NYC, and to see what sort of interesting detour I can find in the “country” of NY and PA.
Until next time!