Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Third New York Again

Regular readers will recall that this blog is named for a quotation from E.B. White included in his little book Here is New York. This blog’s first entry included this quote: "There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter — the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. […] Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion."

I thought it would be interesting to return to this quote to pick up where it left off. Of The Third New York, White continues: “It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high-strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements…And whether it is a farmer arriving from Italy to set up a small grocery store in a slum, or a young girl arriving from a small town in Mississippi to escape the indignity of being observed by her neighbors, or a boy arriving from the Corn Belt with a manuscript in his suitcase and a pain in his heart, it makes no difference: each embraces New York with the intense excitement of first love, each absorbs New York with the fresh eyes of an adventurer, each generates heat and light to dwarf the Consolidated Edison Company.”

And except perhaps for the farmer arriving from Italy to establish the small grocery store, now he’s probably from Korea or Vietnam, much of this still holds true.

As for what drew me to this greatest of cities, it is the same passion and energy that so many settlers before me helped to make possible. Of course, I love the plays, the music, the museums, and the movies, but it has so much more to do with a vitality in the city streets, a liveliness on the subways, a largeness in the public spiritedness of thousands of New Yorkers that speaks to the city’s infinite possibilities and its responsibility to something beyond the individual self.

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