New York, then and now

Knitting in my neighbor’s yard.

I smiled a bit when reading Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitters Almanac this weekend. Writing about her apprehension about moving to the United States in 1937, she wrote:

“My idea of this country had been gathered from her traveling citizens, from the movies, and from ‘Babbit.’…I was convinced that we should have to live in a shabby brownstone walkup with four families to share the facilities; that we should spend our summers panting on the front steps, or walking along something called a boardwalk eating popcorn and cotton candy, and our vacations in a landscape strongly resembling the Jersey Flats. I knew we could never aspire to Cadillacs, to estates on Long Island, and the cool Adirondacks in the summer.”

I smiled because anyone who has read kids’ books from a certain era (like the All-of-a-Kind Family series, and yes, click through to read the cute review of it), or were forced into watching too much early Woody Allen (Radio Days, anyone?) has a similar view of New York. I moved to New York in 1996, 59 years after Elizabeth Zimmermann came to the U.S., and even I thought of New York like that. But the funny thing is that it sort of still is. Despite all the carping about gentrification of the city, people here still sit on their front steps, multi-families still share apartments, we still go to the boardwalk, and Adam and I even go to the Jersey Shore every summer. (Though I think EZ meant the Jersey in the UK.) And by and large, I think that’s great. Elizabeth Zimmermann saw it as something to dread, saying that she saw the Statue of Liberty with “apprehensive gloom,” before launching into that description above, but I think it’s something to savor, and something to love about New York.

For every person like EZ, who sees stoop-sitting in the heat as some kind of urban misery, there’s someone who loves it. I don’t always; sometimes I just am dying to go on vacation. But actually, I often do love it–I love going to Coney Island, I love going to the Shore, I love eating bodega popsicles, I love eating outside for dinner, I love picnics in Central Park, I love walking around in the hot evenings, and I love how the city seems to belong to me. There’s a stillness in the heat that always seems filled with hope, for me and every other New York immigrant who comes to the city with their own dreams and images of what it will be live here.

There is nothing like New York in the summer, and for all of the heat and madness, I love summer in the city.

Posted in personal, Printed Matter, Uncategorized at June 16th, 2008. Trackback URI: trackback

7 Responses to “New York, then and now”

  1. June 17th, 2008 at 7:56 am #Mintyfresh

    I’m with you on the urban love. Not that it’s not good to get away occasionally, I can’t fathom living in any other kind of environment.

  2. June 17th, 2008 at 9:22 pm #Portnoy

    What I liked most about All-of-a-Kind Family, as a boy reading my older sister’s books, was what it didn’t include. Think of Harriet the Spy, for example. You know that crazy girl Janie, who is pictured holding some test tubes with a wild expression on her face? She says: “There’s this terrible thing that will happen to us girls when we get a little older,” and goes on to explain what the terrible thing is and how she is developing a cure.

    When I read that, I thought: This girl is obviously nuts; nothing like that could actually be true. But, I later found out to my horror, it was. And the sequel to H the S (The Long Secret) is entirely concerned with this particular event. I finished it and thought: Wait a minute, what was that book about? Then there was Leap Before You Look and a bunch of others whose titles I’ve mercifully forgotten, all of which are centered around this same deeply mysterious (to a 9-year-old boy) subject. That’s what happens when you read your sister’s books. But AOAKF has none of that; it’s all about dresses and clocks and sandwiches and falling in love (which only becomes deeply mysterious when you get to be a grown-up).

    Another thing about Harriet the Spy: At a few point she mentions “the mayor’s house,” i.e. Gracie Mansion. I grew up in a small town and had been to our mayor’s house (his wife was my kindergarten teacher), so I expected NYC to be just like our little village. Then there was Sport, who had to buy the groceries and stuff because his father was always “not feeling well.” I didn’t figure out what that meant until much later. So I guess it’s no surprise that I missed the lesbian in All-of-a-Kind Family.

  3. June 18th, 2008 at 8:48 pm #Accuweather

    If you enjoy hot summers, I can understand why you got the hell out of San Francisco.

  4. June 19th, 2008 at 9:45 am #Grace

    I love all that about NYC! It’s totally part of the charm and for me it’s the appeal. Summers in NYC mean lots of outdoor socializing. When I was living in FL, the hot months stretched out for so long and it wasn’t really possible to hang out outside for a substantial block of time. Everywhere had central AC so summers were spent inside in the dark cool living rooms, cars, malls and movie theaters. It’s like southern hibernation.

  5. June 19th, 2008 at 6:44 pm #michele

    great photo! i’ve never been to NYC but i think i would love all the people and bustle.

  6. July 3rd, 2008 at 3:04 pm #Psyched 2 Knit

    I used to live in Boston and I have a sister in NYC who I visit every summer, and what I love about the summer in the city, especially the weekends is that so many people LEAVE. Sometimes you feel like you have the city all to yourself. Enjoy!!!

  7. July 8th, 2008 at 9:34 pm #Wizard of Speed and Time

    And by the way, what’s up with having Monday at the far left on your calendar? Yeah, I know it’s more logical, but we’re all so used to doing it the wrong way that when I looked at the 8 lit up, I thought: Wait a minute, today’s Monday?