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 Jezebel.com 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.