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New York City, I love you…



Ben

I’m not so in love with New York anymore” said my friend Thomas the other day, and I can’t remember who else it was I was chatting to recently who was totally down on the whole NYC deal as well. I have a suspicion that the fashionable view is that the really creative stuff’s happening in London right now… an idea which, coincidentally, rather often seems to be promoted by really creative people who, um….happen to live in London. Geddit?

Well—you can say what you like, but I flipping adore New York. I guess, in part, the three days I’ve just spent were tinged with a bit of nostalgia, revisiting old haunts as well as visiting new ones, but… I don’t know, I think it goes deeper than that. I love the colours, size, vigour, strangeness, guts of New York so much; the palimpsest, the noise, the elements of chaos. I love the fact that history is simultaneously completely ignored but is a scratch below the surface (whereas we in London revere our history in a warm deadly bath of aspic while allowing toxic chain stores and ubiquity and blandness to overtake every nook and pore of our great city).

I love the fact that I know of NO other city in the world where people have so obviously collectively decided – now, today – that this is the way that great people are going to live in a civilised way in a city. To live and let live; to participate in Jane Jacobs’ ballet of sidewalk life…”not a simple-minded precision dance with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en masse, but an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole. The ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself”.

And I am afraid I don’t mean Paris, where (to my mind, am I alone?) there’s a touch of meanness these days, an edginess, despair even, that I find a little unsettling.  Rome: too much swagger, not enough action. Nor death in Venice, thank you very much. Berlin: wonderful Berlin, but it knows it’s not at the centre of the world.  Perhaps New York is losing its razor sharpness; perhaps I didn’t love the new profile of downtown with the ‘Freedom’ tower rising (which made one realise just how elegant that pair of towers were, how beautifully, unfailingly, they would locate you). Who knows, perhaps I need to get to China, or Brazil? I’m not sure. For me, I can’t think of any other place in any city in the world I’d sooner live than the richly textured streets of lower Manhattan.

There’s a whole funny joke out there, isn’t there, of certain magazines (who had better remain nameless) who once a year promote the idea that some random city in Sweden or Denmark is the most liveable place on earth; while curiously the editors, who are rather often telling us to disparage the city we live in, continue to carry on living in London themselves.   So I’m not going to fall in that particular trap. I’ve made a life in London, now, which I love, and I love our funny old chewed-up slipper of a city.

But can we have a shout for beautiful, messy, imperfect but perfect New York? I think I spent the happiest years of my life in her embrace, and nothing, nothing, nothing gives me such a shot in the arm as three days here. I’ve got to confess that arriving back this morning into the grey, frozen, wet sleet of London felt a little dull…. Please, spring, will you warm us soon?

A pair of stoops I designed in 2001, settling in nicely now:

Spring in Greenwich Village:

Hello Soho:

In the window of a Greenwich village pharmacy; old Doctor’s prescriptions:

Happiness: Brunch at Schiller’s:

Cafe Habana:

Old cast iron Soho:

Even more happiness: a liquid lunch at Odeon:

Civilised Wyeth:

The Freedom Tower rising (I miss the twin towers):

Olatz: the best bedlinen on earth (if you can cope with 5 years of poverty thereafter):

Life in New York is in the small details:

New York, I love you.

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