Saturday, 30 October 2010
I am just back from a week's vacation in New York.
This was my first visit; I've been to lots of other bits of the US (24 states plus DC, I think) but never to the Big Wahoonie itself. (Hat-tip to Sir Terry.)
One of those debates which gets kicked around is which city can claim to be the most cosmopolitan or global, with New York and London usually being the two candidates for the title.
Now, we had a great time, and clearly NY has all sorts of wow! and glitz factors. But after a few days I still found myself thinking "Naah, I prefer London," and then I wondered why.
I felt there was something both empty and ephemeral about New York, in comparison to London. London has been there for 2000 years or so, and has been about being and making history, as well as making money. NY has only been in existence for 400 years, and the making and spending of money is basically all it has done.
This seemed a bit trite and harsh, so I thought a bit more.
For one thing, there is the curious American habit of separating their political centres from their commercial ones. Most of the political symbology and mythologising about America's purpose and contribution to the world - they would say "freedom" and they're not far wrong, although both ourselves and the French would have the right to snort a bit at that - is concentrated in DC, and magnificently done it is too.
But it leaves the "normal" places like NY, Chicago and so on sort of standing as symbols of nothing but themselves.
Thinking about it a bit more, though, this isn't such a bad thing. NY's status as a place where people have been able to come from all over the world and make something of themselves is no bad thing to symbolise (although,, of course, it was a lot easier to do that if you weren't black or Chinese, until fairly recently). And if you go back to the 70s, it looked then as if NY might not even survive, given the riots, chaos and general deindustrialisation that was going on. So simply standing as a monument to itself is no bad thing.
The further thought occurs that it's actually given to very few cities to stand as symbols of anything more than places where lots of people happen to live and work. London is one of the few.