Yesterday I did something I hadn't done since the world came to a halt with the advent of Covid.
I commuted an uncommutable distance from our little seaside falling-down cottage 100 miles to Manhattan. I drove most of the way--70 miles to Stamford. Then I took the Metro-North commuter train into the city.
Of course I thought of Sondheim's words from West Side Story. "I like the island Manhattan. Smoke in your pipe and put that in."
Lyrics don't get much better than that. And I'll give an assist to Manhattan--which inspired so many great words through the centuries. Even the word "Gotham," which most people know only through Batman and its never-ending sequels, was inspired by Manhattan. Gotham was coined by Washington Irving in 1807--a derisive term for New York.
The sky was a Meditteranean blue yesterday, and the temperature was very nearly Spring-like. The city looked like the city of dreams. Good dreams, not just nightmares.
For as long as I've been sullying this sullied planet, people have been proclaiming--with relish--New York's demise.
After World War II, Robert Moses tried to criss-cross Manhattan with highways--believing that the future of white America was suburbia. He was willing to leave the poor and the dark behind in his decrepit-by-design public housing.
The drugs and crime of the seventies, and the precipitous rise in arson led people to believe New York was a city feeding on itself, like some medieval creature dreamt up by Hieronymous Bosch. Johnny Carson mocked the city every night during his monologues. Even native New Yorker Henny Youngman did:
"Pardon me, do you know the way to Central Park?"
"OK, I'll mug you here."
Crack and urban decay in the eighties. Even worse, investment bankers in the nineties and Russian oligarchs in the 21st Century.
Now, we're told by the radical right that the city is once again dead. trump called it a ghost town. And nightly sensational biased reporting tells the world that once again New York is off its rails.
Of course, my report on the city is anecdotal. And based on six hours running through midtown on a beautiful spring day. But, damn, I'd be shocked if there's anyplace anywhere on god's not-so-green earth that has more energy, more pace, more direction than New York.
For literally a millennia, people in the west have regarded the millennium between the fall of Rome in the west (around 476AD) to around 1500 as "The Dark Ages." It was a convenient moniker for a thousand years and fit with the narrative of the efflorescence of thought, life, art and humanity during the Renaissance. Today, most serious historians reject that the dark ages were really dark. The idea of darkness suited someone's narrative.
There's a battle going on around the world.
The anti-enlightenment, anti-science, federalist radical right is declaring everything good and liberal dead.
They're claiming facts are dead. Science doesn't matter. And even Democracy is a relic. They prefer putin-esque authoritarianism.
It's a battle, really, that's been going on for thousands of years. Between science and fear.
It's playing out, also, in what you hear about New York.
Of course, the city has problems. Of course, there is crime. Probably a rise in crime. But these are tumultuous times and New York has ten-million people living asscheek to asscheek. Eventually someone's going to snap and plug someone else.
But to paraphrase John Reed on an early visit to the Soviet Union, "I have seen the future, and it works."
I have seen New York, and it works.