Living here, I try not to let myself miss America often because expatriotism likes to haul victims off to cultural bubble pits, smelling like the pizza of their native land. But I think today can suffer my nostalgia. Well, I’ve forgotten which side of the road it is to enter my Kentucky neighborhood, and it’s bothering me.
New York got travel in my blood, I would say intravenously, except it had to have been the coffee. Those two years ago that my travels began, we bused up from Virginia, leaving behind the mountainous September oranges, and arrived seat-sore and city-shy. My only wish was to be as posh as Audrey in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and local as all my artistic college friends, who had transplanted ages ago. Also, absolutely not touristy. (Not certain how well I accomplished that when, for one example, my friend told me that Alfie Boe was playing Valjean in Les Mis and I started crying in the street.)
Dreams do come true.
What’s in New York but dreams? Dreams like restless animals, longing to stretch their legs. I doubted it for a long while when I clung sensitively to small towns and safety. And in those days, if it hadn’t been where all the artists went, I should have argued there was nothing to write about in that vast cement town. But curiously, though the dreamers and makers are all there and still there and still getting there, the creative heart of the city has yet to fail.
…dreams like restless animals, longing to stretch their legs.
I kept my hands in my pockets and my eyes to myself, mostly. But despite the usual blue spectacles of skepticism, my heart swelled as I walked in an ant’s tiny silhouette dance along the rows and heights of spray-painted American-ancient urbanism–that old not-old aura of splintered sidewalk and crumbling edifices and decaying churches. “Oldness” that, rightly, Europeans scoff at…but excuse them, it’s ours. It then became mine.
Long hair knotted up in the brisk winds that played with the city, whooshing by, a cat with a ball. My nose ring sparkled, making me feel just about cool enough to own my space in that urban world. And though it seems so silly a ticket to acceptance, knock not: it worked. A young textiles worker chatted me up about spirituality and loneliness while we rode side-by-side on the subway. In a bagel shop, a theater aspirant with braces chuckled at my accent and asked about my sister, who had played Cinderella in his favorite musical. And on the anniversary of 9-11, a Russian woman with a massive husky in a tee-shirt spoke to me of the weight she continued to feel, an immense sadness that sometimes came and sat on her chest, at the evils of the universe.
If I returned to New York now after sharing space and time with the true ancients and even bigger metropolises of this hemisphere, I’d like to say that my naïve adoration would have worn off. That city will never be mine, except in dreams.
But that’s not the way magic works, is it?
Perhaps that is all the magic that remains in the world: going where others have gone before and dreaming in the ocean of their dreams, failed — futile — fervent though they may be. And in going, there’s always a vague chance: one dream might settle down in your soul and make itself yours.
I leave you with a suggested soundtrack in honor of the city that woke my wanderlust. May the road find you too, fellow passenger…