Sunday, July 27, 2008

The look

One of the first things I rediscovered after getting back to New York from London is the look. By this I don't mean what I'm wearing (or choose not to wear), or the style, or the attitude.

I mean simply that people look at each other. In London I thought I had it figured out. At a distance of 10m or more you were free to appraise people, but then any closer you would turn your eyes away, only turning them back at the subject as you passed. Interesting, but really quite limiting.

Here in New York instead people simply look at you. No, not stare, but give you an honest moment's appraisal. And unlike some other places (Paris? I am inventing this? Those who know more, please correct me) in which any such inspection requires a neutral to bored expression, in New York you are allow to appreciate what you see. People will smile, or more often simply let you know that they like what they see. You can sit at a sidewalk cafe, and those at tables and on the those on the streets are always playing the look game. And if that's all you're going to do, then you have pretty much a free pass. If you want to proceed to the next level - a word exchanged, perhaps more - then it's another game, more on which later when I myself learn the rules of this game.

But the look game is simple and fun, because once you get into it there is more than one look. There's inquisitive, appreciative, disapproving, flirtatious, bewildered, scolding, critical, and of course the harried-get-out-of-my-way look.

* * *

Last night my friend Till and I were sitting at an sidewalk table; unusual for NY and more typical of Paris we were both seated to look out at the street. It was a street and not an avenue so the traffic was not overwhelming. But what a scene! First there were the 4 motorcycles, each parked to occupy a car spot (not laterally). Curious. And then after a while a man in a big SUV rolled along, his four children jumped out to go the Mr. Softie ice cream truck, and he got onto the one of the bikes, but just lounging not driving. Initially, I wondered whether he was just sitting on someone else's bike. The man had a perfectly hemispherical belly and wore shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt. After a while, an older man who I had assumed was just loitering came up to him, approached him really. They spoke, and the younger man gave the older man the keys, and went in. The man rearranged the pylons that were cordoning off the area, and began to shift the cars around. After he was done, he was beaming. As though his position conferred great importance on him, and perhaps it did. I noticed that were 2 older guys just hanging out, looking after the different cars.(*)

A while longer and I noticed that there were many people loitering near the entrance to the building were the man had gone in. From time to time, people would stop by and speak to someone in the second-floor window above us (the same man?). Others would go in. The people going in were a wide cross-section of New Yorkers. I couldn't really pin down the type. Many seemed to live there, many did not.

After a while, the man above threw down some keys to one of the younger guys and he drove off with one of the motorcycles. But not before the boss's 8 year old son got to turn the ignition key and rev up the motorcycle. He was thrilled, and skipped off seeming very important.

And I suppose the highlight of the evening was when the woman made her appearance. She was fake blond, with reasonably good legs, but pretty (I believe the New York word is...) curvy from there up. She wore a black and white knit dress with horizontal stripes that was shall we say very fitted. Right out of a cartoon, Till commented.(**) Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Don't be too sure, because she hung out for a quite while, just chatting to people she seemed to know, and Till and I had to move along before we found out how this story ended.

* * *

Another night in the East Village.



(*) I was trying to pin it down, and finally I concluded they reminded me of the old men that populate the edges of town in a Sergio Leone or Kurosawa movie.

(**) Till went a bit further. He said, Europeans can't really pull off this look. They're too self-conscious. Americans (both North and South) can really inhabit the character without any inhibition, with a why not me? feeling.

Friday, July 18, 2008

There's no place like home -- get me out of here

I've been working out of my summer sublet here in New York the last three days. It's hot, though not oppressively so, but my good German-Italian landlord doesn't believe in air conditioning. So I keep the windows open and get a pretty decent cross-breeze as the landlord promised. So far so good.

(A quick digression here -- It takes me back to the mid-1980s when I was traveling in Italy with my parents. We stopped for the night in Viareggio. Our little hotel was on the main beach drag. But when we asked where the air condition controls were we were told that there were none. Not needed! Here we have the fresh sea air! It was one of those becalmed nights with no breeze, and we roasted. Looking back of course all of this does seem naive of us. Even now, but even more so then, air conditioning is a luxury in most European countries and many of those who can afford it just don't believe in it. I've become a little hardier since then, and unless it is past the low-30s can survive without complaint. After that, I still survive, but might complain a little.)

(Another quick digression -- Americans love air conditioning! Every building has central air conditioning or you see window units, hanging precariously and symmetrically from the window. It's true that NY is a hot city in summer, but it is still remarkable. My windows open out into the central court hard of the building, and for most of the day and night the din of air conditioners is so loud that sounds like I'm next to a runway. On the plus side, it drowns out other city noises.)

So back to my sublet. For the last three days there's a builder (love this word - such a concrete image - better than construction worker) doing something in the courtyard below. I know when he arrives because he starts whistling. Every day it's a different tune, with a fine clear tone and heavy vibrato. But it's the same tune the whole day. I repeat the whole day.

The first day it was fine, because I didn't know the tune. But it was infectious. As the day went on, I began whistling it too. Then it was New York, New York! Still good. Then yesterday, it was Mellow Yellow. I began to get nervous. And then after an hour of whistling it, he began to sing it too! "They call me melllllow yelllow...." And finally this morning, he's on to that tune from the Wizard of Oz.

Can I call 311 to complain? (This is the city complaints hotline.) 911? (Police, fire, medical emergency.) Buy ear plugs? Yesterday I went over to the window and began whistling along. We had some fine counterpoint going for a minute.



**Update: Today he switched tunes -- he's on to "If I were a rich man..." He had better not start singing the "Yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum..."

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Back to the word

Things have been so hectic that I have had little chance to put together any visual distractions for my posts. Goodness, minus the keyboard and computer this is what it must have been like in the 19th C -- only words!

Several of you have kindly asked where I'm holed up in New York. If I could, I would post a picture of the cute sublet I've managed to snag in the Columbia University area (on the west side of Manhattan near 116th Street), but that would require transporting my camera and the cable I use to transfer pictures off the camera from Boston to New York. Two city living has its charms -- by the time I'm getting bored in Boston, it's pretty much time to head off to New York.

Eventually I have a master plan in which I will have two of everything: two computers, two toothbrushes, two wardrobes, and all I will have to do is to transport myself between A and B. But as I'm already discovering there's a danger here -- pretty soon there will also be two of me and one won't be talking too much to the other!



Thursday, July 3, 2008

Missing (not only) my computer

As I sit down at my computer, I feel immediately at home in this sublet I've taken in New York. It's both surprising and rather obvious. Pictures, music, e-mails, even work -- they're all here.

And I realize why I 've felt stretched so thin lately. The first week away from the computer was great, but by week two, though I was checking e-mails, there was just the comfort of doing all of that in my home computing environment that I missed.

So good to be home at last, at least in computerland.

But still missing everything else...



Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Proof of life

Greetings friends,

Just wanted to drop a little line to confirm that I still exist. Soon there will be pictures, perhaps the odd poem or two, and more than a few complaints.

But right now it's back to the fray...


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