There are times when I find myself walking aimlessly around New York, times when my eyes have a soft focus that seem to catch energetic waves usually invisible during daily tumults, and I can still never quite find NYC, as if with every forward step the city retreats in contrasting dance. It’s a weird pseudo-state that’s almost two dimensional; one can’t quite look around it to see what’s behind the walls.
Way back when on a cold January of 1945, in a time I am almost certain people travelled by boats, Jean-Paul Sartre walked through a city just as restless as it is today and dubbed it “mediocre and unoriginal”. His european eyes were pampered by the museum cities and our city, I claim ownership after these many years, lacked the patina of one with gilded weathered hearts. Is it good, bad, comme ci, comme ca?
Is it to my benefit then that these streets harbor Jules Romains's movement of "unanimism", one of a collective conscious, this particular one being of existential long-sightedness; looking to tomorrow. The communal spirit of New York isn’t of family, it’s achievement of goals that hardens and callouses. I question every day whether or not I have learned all the lessons this city has to teach me; should I leave and explore elsewhere? Relentlessly I question my endurance - at what point will New York start to bite at my muscle once it’s done with the fat?
Who actually stays here?
At this point I don’t know why I’m picking through his essay “New York, Colonial City”, trying to find some new dimension of NY that we haven’t seen yet. He was a guy who felt just as compressed by the buildings as we all do. Perpetual mid-town syndrome.
The only surprise came when he noted his delight of the sky.
I try to see it through the same eyes, but the sincerity escapes me, as does the city itself when I try to locate it by looking at the buildings. I believe Sartre wanted his words to shed an immortal compliment to a city so blatantly accused of wrongs, yet it still falls short. No matter how pure and lonely a wild beast can be, it will not stand guard for you. It will only turn in to an austere skeleton. At least we know stucco is far sturdier on dry surfaces.
I’m not entirely sure how many more times Sartre returned to this misplaced city, but for a man who spent the majority of his life trying to figure out how to live he left with these lines carved into his notebook while he roamed New York: