I found something out yesterday, and I wonder if it’ll blow your mind as much as it did mine. Did you know that New York is real?
You’re probably wondering what the hell I mean by this statement. Let me try to elaborate. Warning; this blog entry is going to be messy. I’m going to try and extract my thoughts, and compose them enough on paper that they make sense to an outsider. They probably won’t, so apologies about that. But I’ll do my best. Wouldn’t life be so easy if we lived in the Harry Potter universe? I reckon I’d be able to extract my thoughts perfectly, like wizards and witches do when taking out memories for their own, and others’, pensieves. Because, in my head, that’s how this blog would come out in its best form: I’d extract it from my head with a wand, like a silvery whisper of thoughts, and place them onto paper. And then it’d all make perfect sense.
So let me try and explain how I can possibly be surprised that New York is real.
I’m English, right? I was born in England, raised here, and have lived here all my life. Sure, I’ve travelled; I’ve been lucky enough to be able to travel a lot, all over the world. But England is my home, it’s where I’m from, it’s the country that made me.
England is a country rich in culture, both historically, and presently. A lot of that culture is of course horrible: the British Empire, colonialism, Brexit, all that jazz. However, a lot of English culture is also wonderful. Shakespeare, Dickens, the Bronte sisters. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Ed Sheeran. Olivia Colman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland. I think I’ve gotten a bit off topic here, and am just listing famous English people. But that’s by the by; what I’m trying to get at, is that England is an old country, full of history. Some good, some bad, but all history nonetheless.
Now I was born in 1987; I can’t say when it started, but it’s certainly been so all my life. That is to say, a huge part of English culture, these days, is America. We watch American TV and films, listen to American music, eat American food. We visit America, aspire to live places like New York itself, LA, Boston, wherever. (there’s a whole other blog in there about how American culture is English: New York and Boston being just two examples.)
I’m not saying this as a criticism, oh no. All my favourite films are American: Jaws, Say Anything, Midsommar, Hereditary. My favourite bands are American: The Gaslight Anthem, Taking Back Sunday, Thursday. My favourite authors are all American: Bret Easton Ellis, Jonathan Franzen, AM Homes, Elizabeth Strout, etc. American literature is my favourite kind of literature.
And part of this Americanisation of England, is the ever looming shadow of New York. I grew up watching Friends, which is of course set in New York. I’m currently deeply, deeply engrossed in The Marvellous Mrs Maisel. Which is also set in New York. Favourite Christmas film? Home Alone. Whose sequel is set in New York.
New York, it feels, is almost as big a part of English culture, as England itself. It’s always there, whether the actual location of a show, or book, or whatever, or if not then it’ll often get a mention, be referred to in one way or another. The city that never sleeps is also the city whose influence reaches all the way around the globe, and touches on nearly everything. And in this sense, to me at least, it became like a mythical figure. Greece has the minotaur; Northern Europe has the Norse gods; South America has Jesus. I have New York.
So you can imagine my surprise, in a taxi from JFK into Manhattan, seeing that skyline. You know the one I’m talking about. It was especially impacting as it was evening, and dark, when I arrived. The city was lit up, and so seemed to forced itself upon me even more than if it had been day time. In the back of a taxi, travelling down the Long Island expressway (which is a highway I’ve heard of – because that’s how much New York has inserted itself into my life), crossing the East River (again, know what that is), and seeing the skyscrapers appear before me, I was overwhelmed. Not least because it’s so big! I used to live in the tallest building in Yorkshire, Bridgewater Place in Leeds. I had a flat on the 26th of 30 floors, and I felt like I was in the Gods. The apartment I’m currently staying in is on the 31st floor – so already bigger than the biggest Yorkshire has to offer. There are another 19 floors above me. And this building isn’t even that big, by New York standards. I’d say it’s probably pretty middling; it’s not huge, but not tiny. It’s just a New York building.
So last night, in the taxi, and then this morning, wandering the streets; 5th Ave, Broadway, The Avenue of the Americas, all streets I know the existence of, and yet I’d struggle to name so many streets in London, the capital city of my home country. Seeing it in the day time, being on the ground, walking between the giant buildings, it’s so weird to see that New York is actually fucking real.
It isn’t mythical; yes, it’s been written about countless times, both factually and in fiction, but the truth is the city exists. I’ve been to Crete, been to the ruins of Knossos; it was beautiful, I loved walking around it. But there was no minotaur. (Which is probably for the best, because if there were I’d most likely be dead as fuck.)
But New York? New York is real. I’m here, I’m in the city; it surrounds me on all sides, and I can see and hear and smell and touch it. I could also taste it too, I’m sure, but don’t fancy doing so. It exists, it isn’t just a myth.
I’m 34 years old, and I’m blown away by the fact a city I know to be real, but which has taken on mythical status, is indeed real.
Fucking mental eh?