Today I was reading an article about French immigration to Israel called "Au revoir Paris; Bonjour Israel!" The front page of the article featured a shot of the Eiffel Tower and the surrounding neighborhood at dusk juxtaposed with an El Al plane taking off. Much as I loved visiting Israel and would love to spend some more time there-- well, call me a blasphemer but to leave Paris for Israel seemed sacreligious. I felt a reaffirmation of my choice to live in Paris swell up in my chest.
But really, it's just a question of exchanging one set of symbols for another. I mean, come on-- I should be embarrassed to have had such a visceral and cheesy reaction to the Eiffel Tower, no? It's cool to be unimpressed by it. As Aleksandr Petrofsky's daughter put it so eloquently in the last season of "Sex and the City": "It's heedyus. Just heeeeedyus." But then, I've never been able to pull off deadpan.
Anyway, on my recent trip to London I spent some time with my Emily. On the Tube, we discussed our feelings toward New York right now. Neither of us felt any active desire to be there-- more just an occasional nostalgia for the past brought up by random evocations of Houston Street or the FDR Drive. No, we decided-- we were both completely happy in London and Paris, respectively.
But then I read this article on Slate this week, and I realize that my relationship to my "hometown" (ok, I'm originally from Long Island, but 8 years in Manhattan I think gives me the rightt o call it my "hometown") is more complex than the occasional twinge of nostalgia. If you'll allow me to quote the author, Inigo Thomas, at length:
"In his book Waterfront: A Journey Around Manhattan, Phillip Lopate writes that New York is the saddest of cities—saddest because of its incompleteness, the feeling that nothing there is finished or fulfills its potential. Such an observation might seem a bit overdramatic; aren't other cities equally sad—how about Havana? And just how do you measure sadness? Yet I know what he means. Perhaps it has something to do with New York having once been a port, where there was all this coming and going. And yet the port is no more, and the arriving and departing is now invisible, and it's sometimes difficult not to be nostalgic for another time, when you could watch your boat come, or look back at last summer when life was better than it is now. Sitting on a bench on Hudson River Park starring at the sunset can be unbearable, the light inspiring an overpowering nostalgia, which encroaches even more strongly in the fall, as evening approaches, when colors caught in turning leaves resemble stained-glass in a cathedral or another place of mourning."
I can't generalize about why New York is the saddest of cities like Lopate-- I can only speak for myself. Personally, New York is the saddest of cities because it represents who and what I will never be. That is--content to be where I'm from. A local. Why did I never fit in in a place where everyone is supposed to fit in? and why do I now feel that I fit in in a place that discourages heterogeneity?
But going beyond banal discussions of "fitting in," whatever that means-- mentally putting myself back in Riverside Park at sunset brings tears to my eyes, like pushing on a recent bruise. And it's not as much about the beauty of the leaves or the colors or the light or the river-- although all those things are crucial--as it is about being twenty years old again, in the middle of my college years at Barnard, with my entire future in front of me, with New York City, and therefore the world, opening wide its doors.
At some point those doors began to close, and that's when I needed to leave New York. I no longer view the world in terms of an opening and closing of opportunities. I try not to push on bruises when I get them. There will be other sunsets in Riverside Park in my future, as I return to New York for various personal and professional reasons for various lengths of time. But every time I think about what I'll never have in New York, and what I ought to have had there, it's like saying goodbye over and over.