Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Leaving New York City Blues

A park bench in a city park is as ubiquitous as a downtown skyscraper in the same city. It happens to be the latitude and longitude of the city containing said objects that sets it apart from ostensibly similar physical features elsewhere on the grid.

Today I am sitting on a park bench in the eastern reaches of Toronto, facing Lake Ontario. The CN Tower is not immediately visible, but were I to walk a few southerly steps it would emerge from behind the trees. The day is a stellar one: I have nothing but sunshine, warmth, and a blank page to keep me company. For the moment, I feel content, but there remains a low grade gnawing that keeps taking my mind back to that other park bench in that other city, facing not a lake, but steel and concrete and brick and glass as far as the eye can see.

There is a different sort of beauty at play in Manhattan, one that begins as awe and not-quite-belief. The latter results from an inundation of people (noise and motion), of architecture (girth and intensity), of choice (consumption and sustenance), and of diversity (so abundant as to be almost unnoticeable). Once belief sets in, it is replaced by a desire to be everywhere all at once, and to do everything all at once. To make such an attempt is futile, unless you have nothing but time. When the realization strikes that time is fleeting, there arises a despair that is founded upon having failed the city somehow. There remains no other option but to return, to try and do better the next time.

Sitting on that park bench in Union Square a mere three days ago left me unable to articulate any of this. All that I knew was that I was an outsider, that none of it belonged to me: my brief glimpse of the city was all that I was to be afforded for the moment, everyday life intervening and dictating my swift removal from the streets of somebody else's town. Now I see things more plainly. The city belongs to no one in particular and to everyone in general. It belongs to the out-of-towners just as much as it belongs to the artists and writers, to the financiers and fashionistas, to the street urchins and hipsters.

Returning to Toronto has not left me embittered that I cannot call New York City my home. Rather, I feel newly enamoured with this other great urban centre. The beautiful June day could have something to do with this outlook, but I also suspect that I have adopted a newly found appreciation for this marvel of a city, which is most likely a direct result of having spent time in the most marvellous city of them all. I feel the potential of all that this city has in store for me: I have much yet to learn from it, to learn about it. The low-lying gnaw, however, does not abate. The rattle and hum stays with me too, despite my displacement to another park bench in another city, which is, in fact, not displacement at all: it is replacement, from which I expect to shortly be displaced.

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