It all looks so small from up here, the buildings that scrape the sky in which I now fly that just earlier towered over my head. It all looks so quiet, the seemingly silenced streets and avenues that just earlier screamed with horns, sirens, and the whispered accents of people from lands foreign to me. It all looks so still, the hustle and bustle, frenetic pace of everyday New Yorkers, seemingly paused from the window I look out from.
New York City is, an enigma. A city of inexplicably disorienting coexistent contrasts of reality. Whatever concept you have of it prior to visiting is quickly and almost systematically broken down by the visited experience. A place seemingly offended at the thought of being categorized as any one thing over another, insistent upon asking those who visit to reevaluate and debate their own preconceived notions of what New York City is and then forcing you to continue doing so over and over.
New York City is both BIG and small, a place where complex towering structures of concrete, glass, and steel almost audibly, incessantly scream, “Look at me!” exist alongside intimate cafés where life seems simple and people speak with hushed tones amidst dim lighting usually reserved for a bedroom. The giant outwardly facing structures betrayed by their tight interior spaces, forcing people into quarters so close that you’re forced to accept a level of immediacy with strangers that would normally be reserved only for the closest of acquaintances. It is a city where sidewalk bounded buildings give way to dirt trails in parks so expansive that they seemingly melt away the concrete jungle that envelops them.
New York City is gritty and refined. A place where high end fashion is balanced by the grit of its inhabitants. Where the nuance and subtlety of fashion and design is negated by the unambiguous attitudes and straightforward demeanor of New Yorkers. A people whose attitude seems to be shaped by the place they live, but unbound by the possibilities it offers and unwilling to be defined by the observations of outsiders. A city whose most critically acclaimed play in recent memory juxtaposes refined choreography and a flawlessly designed set with a cast so diverse that it flips a silent bird to our founders who betrayed their words with their deeds and a script that bombastically proclaims, “I’m not throwing away my shot!”
New York City is rich and poor. A place where the intoxication of wealth on Wall Street is sobered by the abject poverty of a couple living in sleeping bags on a stoop not even a block from the steps of the New York Stock Exchange. It forces upon you a critical examination of the world in which we live and the inequity of outcomes our society produces. It exists as a glaring example of the everyday struggle between those who have and those who have not. The clearest representation of the most imbalanced of today’s struggles between those who control the levers of power, who possess unimaginable amounts of money on 5th Avenue and those who struggle with much smaller, but more primal issues of survival, like keeping food on the table and a leaky roof over a family’s heads in the Marcy projects.
New York City is old and a new. A clash of not just old money and new wealth, but also one of classic architecture and contemporary design. A city where a single photo can capture a church built in the 1700s by the settlers of a repressive empire and a brand new 1776ft tall glass tower whose nickname is Freedom that rose from the ashes of the Twin Towers and whose very existence reaffirms the city’s commitment to liberty and to never back down. A place so diverse in its aesthetic that no matter where you go to you can capture the starkest of contrasts between conflicting styles. An almost incoherent conglomeration of contrasts, a place where cobblestone streets surround glass skyscrapers that somehow, inexplicably, combine and work perfectly together.
New York City is light and dark. It is a city of both, the blinding lights of Times Square and the dimly lit streets of Brooklyn. Move one block east or west off of a main thoroughfare and the shine of the city fades to a dull glow of an intimate restaurant of serene park. Descend an escalator from the lights of Broadway and you enter an underworld of grungy subway walkways whose illumination is swallowed by the tunnels the subway disappears into. Ride the subway and you’ll observe a city composed of every hue and race of humanity, converging from every country, speaking every language around the world forming one mass of energy that seemingly burns without end.
New York City is bold and aggressive, shy and mysterious all at once. Aggressive in the way it beckons you to come hither and mysterious in the way it refuses to be defined. Bold much in the way a woman wears a revealing dress to draw your attention and shy in the way she refuses to reveal herself. She desires your attention, not your understanding, more comfortable with being a fantasy than a reality, a concept of your imagination rather than a defined object. The city thrives on the ambiguity of being undefined, only threatened by the thought of someone discovering its true meaning. It revels in the chase, but refuses to ever actually be caught, preferring to be something different to everyone than the same thing to anyone.
The sheer volume of the anonymity that is the blood which pulses through the veins of New York City could allow me to write endlessly about the different disorienting contrasts the city throws at you simultaneously, but alas I have not that much time. As I look down, out of the window of this rapidly ascending plane, New York City looks small, quiet, and still – yet I know that it is anything but that – and in that betrayal of my perception, New York City’s heart continues to beat, it is alive and content, for it is still, undefined.