Stories & Opinions From New Yorkers.
Stories & Opinions From New Yorkers.
People who write about New York City are total frauds and phonies. Personal feelings aside, I hate this goddamn city, and I will see it burn if it's the last thing I do. It would be entirely impossible to encapsulate something so vast into any amount of words or phrases. Writing about the culture of The Big Apple is like lying down in the middle of the Arizona desert and trying to count the stars … you could spend forever doing it.
The first reason it is so impossible to pay homage to Gotham in words is what language do you even do it in? Census information from the year 2000 states that there are 176 languages spoken by students in the New York City Public School System and 138 languages spoken within the confines of Queens alone. While there are no exact figures for the entire city, some experts estimate that as many as 800 languages are spoken in the city that never sleeps. Which also explains why the city is awake all the time; the residents won't shut up!
"New Yorkers could eat at a different restaurant every day for nearly 23 years straight without going to the same place twice."
The cacophony of languages, however, is just one aspect of the Empire City that makes it all but futile to write definitively about its culture. Then there is the food! If Paris was a "movable feast," as Hemingway said, then New York is an unstoppable buffet. If there are 800 languages, then there are 900 different styles of cuisine to be sampled, and most of them probably deliver around the clock. According to Open Table, restaurant seating software, a hungry New Yorker could eat at a different restaurant every day for nearly 23 years straight without going to the same place twice.
What do languages and restaurants mean, though? They don't tell the real story of a city's culture. Art tells the story of a city's culture, and how could anyone even think about trying to frame the home of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol of Lichtenstein? How do you articulate the home of Grandma Moses, Ella Fitzgerald, and Jay Z? It's known worldwide that to make it in the world of fashion, art, music, design, or any other artistic discipline, New York is the mountain that must be climbed to truly be at the top of one's craft. Frank Sinatra may not have been born in New York, but he still knew that if "You can make it here, you'll make it anywhere," an idiom that still holds true today.
But art is for the hippies, am I right? To truly dive into the culture of a mega-city, the magnitude of the City of Dreams, there has to be history. Deep-rooted traditions and mythic folklore worthy of Paul Bunyon and Pecos Bill, and I defy anyone on God's green earth to find me a person able to break down the tales of New York into a readable narrative. The story of this town goes veering off in as many directions as the maze of streets that make up Lower Manhattan. New York is home to titans of industry like Carnegie and Rockefeller to, notorious gangsters like John Gotti and Charles "Lucky" Luciano, from Champion Athletes like Derek Jeter and Lawrence Taylor. Did you know the world's first chess champion is buried in Bushwick, Brooklyn? I walked by his grave just a few days ago.
The city has brilliant political leaders like Marcus Garvey and WEB Dubois and has seen scandal, riots, murder, war, epic victories, and horrific losses -- but history is continuously made in New York. History is boring, though, and I'm not some nerd. To really write with authority on the culture of a city like New York, you have to investigate its very soul, and last I checked the soul of New York isn't up for examination.
Stonewall Riots of 1969 | Image Credit: PBS
Was it the soul of New York burning a fiery red when the Stone Wall Riots paved the way for a whole new outlook on queer culture? Or perhaps it was shining in Mets blue when the air traffic controllers cleared the air space around LaGuardia Airport so that legendary Beatle Paul McCartney could bid farewell to the Shea Stadium faithful with Billy Joel. It was the last event the 45-year home of the New York Mets would ever host. Maybe the spirit of New York City shines brightest when she opens her harbors to the millions, if not billions, of immigrants who have been coming here looking for hope and a better life for hundreds of years.
They call it "The City So Nice They Named It Twice," and let me tell you, she can be a cold bitch. But no matter what anyone's opinion of what Mafia Don Joe Bonnano called "The Volcano" is, New York is a one-of-a-kind city with an unimaginably dense culture that could no sooner be communicated through an 800-word article than it could a 2,000-page book. New York has to be heard in its own language. It has to be tasted with every taste bud. Its funky sights and songs need to be seen and listened to. It needs to be learned, but to really appreciate New York City's culture, you have to let it seep into your soul.