I’ve been in New York for 4 months now. I’m not going to write a standard travel blog describing what indie coffee shops I sat in pondering the world, or how many celebrities I may or may not have been a mile away from. But I will try to give you an accurate description of what this city really is at it’s heart and core.
Well, it’s everything you ever imagined. The fashionistas scuttling through the streets complete with Starbucks accessories, the roadside exhaust fumes and smoke that tangles its way into your stride, the dizzying perpetuity of Times Square, the bums and Hip Hop heads riding the Subway and the altogether universal opinion of the daily commuters that this city, is in fact, the only one that really matters.
I’ve experienced a great deal living and working here so far and done all the clichéd rounds: the rowdy American Saturday brunch, wondered the Met gallery pretending I really know appreciation, seen Jay-Z perform in Brooklyn and of course re-enacted scenes from Home Alone 2 in Central Park.
But the most valuable experience has been to find out what New York: the ‘concrete jungle where dreams are made of’ is really all about. This is something you probably would not get as a tourist with a mere short snapshot view.
I’ve been to New York several times before, always just for a few days, and in that short period one would be mesmerized by the glittering pleasureland that makes up Manhattan. But I think whilst living here for an extended period of time, you progress beyond that first phase. I’ve found that once you become unfazed and overwhelmed by the speed, flashing lights and dominating sense of it’s own importance, you begin to scratch the surface of what this city is really all about. I’ve found that beneath the glitzy and glamorous veneer, there is an undertow of strugglers. A beautiful struggle. It is the city that promises to nurture the dreams of those that commit to work hard enough; that epitomizes what it means to pursue the American dream and ostensibly what it means to be an American. People are always moving, not that it really matters where, but as long as they are moving there is the perception of progress.
There is almost a feeling that New Yorkers are a movement, a body of people that mutually hold the same set of beliefs, values and attitudes. That no personality is too outrageous, no dress is too flamboyant, no conversation is too taboo and no dollar is not worth chasing. The basic tenet that rings across the 5 boroughs that ‘if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere’ essentially holds people to their place in this society. I believe it is this same belief that empowers the Harlem street hustler to look for something better for himself, as does the Wall Street banker attempting to establish his nuclear family.
…And of course, this is where it is all possible. It is this city that gave birth to the template ‘rags to riches’ tale, where the struggling diner waitress can become a platinum selling artist, the street sweeper could be the next Broadway star, and the poor ghetto boy can graduate college. In this respect, I think it would be not improper to label New York City a cosmopolitan and developed ‘ghetto’ in itself, where those who are wealthy and poor, together seek a lifestyle better, circumstances more comfortable, and a life with more overall purpose and direction. I would also add that New Yorkers do it with a great deal of zest and humour, in a manner I would say foreign to that found on British shores. The famous American friendliness, jolliness and charm holds true to day to day life especially with the plethora of holidays, parades and the overall pomp and pageantry of the land. Everyone knows life could be better but they take the present for what it is and decide to laugh through it together. After all, this is where the world comes full circle- all the joy and heartbreak of a lifetime can be experienced on the 12 avenues of Manhattan whilst all the same devastation and hope can be lost and found. A daily grind for some; a pleasureland for others. That is the Beautiful Struggle.