People like to say they do or don’t like cities, or that they’re city folk or non-city folk, which kind of suggests that cities are all the same. That they are passive. People also like to say, ‘a place is what you make of it’ which, while I get the sentiment, I don’t totally agree with.
Of course you can make the best or worst of a situation or a location depending on your attitude. But I also think a city is kind of like a person, with character traits and personality quirks that either gel with you or not. You can have a gut feeling about a city, good or bad, and you can fall in love with a city the way you do with a person. I can anyway. Sometime it’s quick, sometimes it’s gradual. Sometimes your relationship with a city can completely change. Just like with people.
London has my heart. It was love at first sight, the first sight I was old enough to recall anyhow, when I was 16 and we were visiting family. I can’t even tell you why, but straight away I felt comfortable there. I moved there as soon as I could and immediately felt more at home there than I’d ever felt in Australia. I still feel energised when I’m in London, inspired. There are places in London that overwhelm me with waves of love. Over the years, even though my relationship with London has often been long distance, it has grown deeper, and more complex.
It’s difficult not to compare New York City to London, even though that’s not fair. I know it’s not just me though – google ‘New York and London’ and you get tons of articles and listicles comparing the two cities. From a global viewpoint there are a lot of parallels, I guess they could be considered cousins.
I’m not in love with NYC, not yet anyway. Maybe we’re in the courtship stage, maybe we’re only destined to be really great friends. Which sometimes is better anyway – less high-level emotion at stake.
I’m enjoying exploring this city, but it somehow feels harsher than others I’ve lived in – certainly more than London with its historical beauty, its accessibility to other countries in Europe, its free art galleries. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m older, more world-weary and heartsore, less bright-eyed and all that, but so far NYC has made me feel tired and a little overwhelmed. Maybe it’s the politics, the fact that I know I now live in a country that is officially anti-healthcare and pro-gun. That companies here are reluctant to hire full-time or offer benefits; the gig economy is rampant, the lack of a safety net is a reality. Especially compared with Australia, where the majority of people don’t have a clue how good they have it. It feels like consumerism clashes with poverty here in a more everyday, obvious way. It’s what I see on my walk to work. It’s not a new observation but: everything IS bigger here, more extreme. The highs and the lows. There’s nothing subtle about America.
Maybe London is not actually any easier – the politics certainly aren’t any better – but perhaps the British sense of humor, the sarcasm, softens the blow. The elegant buildings, the polite but controlled society, the culture of binge drinking which allows some release. From this vantage point the repressed nature of the British starts to seem nuanced and layered while the directness of Americans starts to seem brash, maybe even a little vulgar. It’s the Wild West here, people beg and busk for money on the train, they blast loud music on the streets, they actually have impromptu block parties around open fire hydrants in the streets – just like in the movies.
Which is exciting, which is fun, which reminds me so much of the looseness of Latin America while also putting into sharp focus the rigidity and conformity of Australia. Especially Sydney, that vapid bimbo of a city.
New York exhausts me, but I still have no footing. I met someone this week who told me it took her a full year to get the city in focus, to feel settled. She was from New Jersey! I’m taking my time, I’m reserving judgement. I haven’t figured out what NYC is to me yet. I’m intrigued by it, I want to get to know it better.
Basically, that’s why I’m here.