New York and the character of cities...

I spent a long weekend in New York City recently. There are few places in the world that I've heard as much about as that place, and yet I'd never been.

It was great to get my mind out of Stockholm and give it a break from mentally adjusting to this new place, new job, and everything else that's been new. We hit the pavement in New York, in warm muggy air, and did as much as you can do in three days there. From cocktails and crabcakes uptown to flea market surveying, Ellis Island to the Moma, Ground Zero to Central Park to Meatpacking to Brooklyn...

As we flew home, I was asked what I thought about the city, and how I would describe it. I didn't know if I could really be qualified to speak on NYC, when so many have before, with more qualifications and eloquence. But I love to figure out the character of cities, so I gave my best and initial reaction.

"It's a beast," I said. "It's just indescribably massive. Heaving. Usually completely on sensory overload. And it's confident... I mean, it is so many different things, and each of those things are unapologetic, and so self assured... they are there and thriving and if you aren't interested, millions of other people are."

All those different faces of the city, from the shiny financial district to the incomparable hipness of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, gave me that feeling. And while the city was, as I told another friend, less "shiny" than I had anticipated, it wasn't for lack of glamour or impressiveness. It was just that it felt more real. More raw.

In the book Eat Pray Love, the characters aim to describe various cities with one word. London is given "Stuffy," Rome is given "Sex." And New York is given "Ambition." I can see where that comes from, of course. I've heard so often, "if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere." But I have a hard time only getting to use one word to describe things. I don't know that Ambition felt like the overarching thing to me there. Heaving, confident, unapologetic and raw could take that spot, but I don't want to pick one.

When I saw the Eat Pray Love movie last year, in Lund, I'd forgotten that there was a Swedish character in the story. They ask her what one word describes Stockholm. She says, "Are you kidding me? Conformity."

I felt a little forlorn when I heard that. I looked around and wondered what the dozens of Swedes around me thought of that. The thing was that it wasn't the first time I'd heard that about Stockholm, and it wasn't like it was completely surprising. When I read the book years ago I probably forgot about it immediately, since I hadn't any reason to think much about the city before. But then hearing it when I was hoping to move to Stockholm, and already living in Sweden, I felt a bit protective... while also a bit wary.

In living here, and hearing from people who grew up here and their own assessments, I know what that character was speaking to.

But Stockholm is more than one word too. And conformity wouldn't be the word for the city anyway, in my humble opinion. And it's not unapologetic or raw or any of those words I used to describe New York either.

What it is, from my perspective, is still evolving. And I will say that no matter what it is, I was happy and content to return to it after my trip to New York City.


Popular Posts