Tuesday, September 13, 2005

New York Notes

Far be it from me to make observations about New York City that haven't been made by other people. But I'm going to try to say a few things anyway. Longer posts on 9/11 and Ellis Island to come later.

1. Is it just me or do New Yorkers smoke more than the people of any other city? Maybe it's common still across the East Coast. But they certainly smoke more than people in the West.

2. I saw some great creative jazz while I was there. I have trouble understanding the lack of appeal for improvisational music. I went to the best club in New York for this. It might hold 50 people and was not full either night. Really, it's not even a club, it's just a little space on the Lower East Side. To me, and no doubt I am extending my biases here, it's akin to modern art. Yet, people will pay millions for a Kandinsky or Warhol or Pollock and wouldn't think of spending $15 on a Cecil Taylor album or certainly not a David S. Ware album. To me, both illuminate our fractured modern existence, the rapidity of change in modern life. For me, the music does this in a much more visceral way than painting does, which is why I suppose I prefer one form over the other. But I would think there would be some kind of correlation here. Yet, people will go to MOMA and talk about modern art and then put on their Wynton Marsalis or John Tesh albums when they get home.

3. Going through northern New Jersey between Newark and Manhattan was very interesting. Obviously, a lot of it is a wasteland of chemical plants, industrial ruins, and burned-out ghettos. But I found the spaces between the roads very interesting. There was an awful lot of marsh land with quite a few birds and other green spaces. I have no idea if the plants in the marshes are native species or not, but to say that northern Jersey is nothing but a shithole is to be not looking all that carefully.

4. Why are people so afraid of the subway and going to New York in general? Both times I've been there I've found people quite polite and ready to help you if you're lost. I've never seen or heard of anyone having problems on the subway. It's a great cross-section of life and diversity to ride the subways...which is maybe why the middle-class Midwest white tourists who come to see Cats or Rent don't go down there. Since you know, black people are looking to rob you or something.

5. New York really isn't a great town for history. I think there's more relics of the 18th century in Knoxville than in New York. I suppose that if New York was saving this and that for 200 years, it wouldn't be the dominant city that it is. That said, it would be nice to see a semblance of pre-1900 life and architecture there. You really have to look for it and know where to look to find it.