Letter from NYC – 1

For quite sometime now I have been considering writing a column called ‘Letters from NYC’. A friend had suggested it when I talked about the writers’ block that I frequently encounter. The question always was one of what I might convey to the reader through such a column. My daily presence in New York City is a slice of my life, how could it possibly be of interest to anyone else? As it is I find my existence somewhat mundane. All my days are colored a bluish grey with the blue to grey quotient varying with a dip to the bottom or an upward tilt to the top of the flatline I inhabit. Sometimes there is a splash of color across the blue or grey. Those are the days when someone says something that keeps me smiling all day, days when people looking at me ask what I am smiling about. But such days are few and far between.

So a letter that I would write from New York would be about what? That is a question I have been asking myself for months now. It is a city of unique sights, sounds and smells, yes definite, characteristic smells. It is defined by a crush of tourists, with slightly annoyed, frowning inhabitants trying to maneuver themselves in and out of blocks of tourists craning their heads to see the tall buildings or people walking towards Third Avenue and asking which direction Seventh Avenue is. It is also a city of street vendors, roller bladers, lately, manual and motorized rickshaw pullers. It is a city like any other where heat, rains, excessive cold or snowfall cause unforeseen problems (they feel unforeseen even if they are experienced at least once every year). It is very possible for a 100 degree day to feel like a 112 degree day or a 32 degree day to feel like a below freezing day. The tunnel effect they call it.

Today was one of those 112 degree days also described by the local radio DJ as the third in a row of no-underwear days. It was impossible to stay cool. The sidewalks radiated heat and one saw just a little less skin on display than one would at a Cote d’Azur beach. Wonder what The Sartorialist would have to say about that! But the clothing decision is one not to be taken too lightly in this heat. One needs to prepare oneself for a freezing commuter bus, the burning sidewalks and pavements and the freezing place of work. The feet prefer sandals in these times but sandals can never be worn without first investing in weekly pedicures. So if one chooses not to go broke getting pedicures then the only options are shoes, sneakers and sweaty feet. One also needs to carry a light jacket for the freezing effects of air conditioning in the aforementioned places. Then there’s the question of cooling oneself through frappucinos, iced coffees or ice cream cones but when everyone in the city has the same idea then one needs to evaluate the pain of standing in a long and winding line against satisfying cooling effect of the much coveted treat.

All of a sudden weather has grown from the lowly status of ‘small talk’ to really BIG talk. There are people in the borough of Queens who have been sans power for two weeks now. They are shown huddled together in the dark in their aparments, food melting and rotting in their refrigerators, fanning themselves. Exploding manholes were reported from another part of town and gas prices continue to soar. Weather is the filter through which we now view everything. I am reminded of the refrain from Paul Coelho’s – The Alchemist – about the universe conspiring to get you what you want. Maybe this is something that presidential candidate Al Gore really wanted happening. What better platform to run and win than the weather. If this isn’t the The Inconvenient Truth what is? The hurricanes have started, earlier this year, temperatures worldwide are soaring.

Between the months of March 2006 and July 2006 I have been in five countries – India, US, Canada, Britain and France. Every country was hot beyond ones wildest imagination, starting as early as March. There are reports of actual patches of Green in Greenland. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal, the celebratory tone of which came under considerable flak. They had interviewed a Greenland farmer who was happy to see reindeer grazing on patches of green. It didn’t seem to matter that the polar bears were dying but Greenland could now grow crops that its reindeers could graze, what could possibly be wrong with that? How oblivious can a newspaper be to reality? Or how interested in shaping public opinion a certain way?

Speaking of newspapers, in the wake of Fidel Castro’s gastrointestinal illness and the transference of power to his brother Raul Castro, the WSJ reported on the street celebrations of Cuban emigres to Miami, cheering the prospects of democracy. The esteemed British pink paper Financial Times also reported on Cuba and their view was that Cuba is in the strongest position ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. They also felt Cuba was in strong hands with Raul while WSJ called him a dangerous and mean military intelligence guy. No wonder wise folks advocate reading non-domestic papers, it probably is the only way to get to balanced opinions and viewpoints.

The Financial Times has become a new favorite of mine. The comments, analysis, opinions, reviews are all worth reading and immensely satisfying. I was intrigued by an article by Ludovic Hunter-Tilney in the July 28th Arts & Weekend section of the paper. The entire world is discussing global warming and wondering how concerned they need to be but this reporter escapes the London heat by ducking into the Tate Britain’s exhibition on the works of John Constable and views his 1820 painting The Hay Wain as year zero for global warming. Constable was known for his landscapes and detailed attention to weather in all his paintings. If industrialization is responsible for our present crisis then Ludovic suggests Constable’s bucolic must have been at the cusp of when it all started. The horse is probably standing in water to to cool the iron around the wheels that tended to warp and buckle at the slightest elevation in temperatures. Although the day depicted in the painting probaly topped out at a balmy 70 degrees Fahrenheit. So apparently I am not the only one out there who seeks connections between far fetched things!

Getting back to the hot day in New York City, instead of Tate, we like ducking into air-conditioned malls. Malls where the ladies from the cosmetics corner used to converge upon you with perfume samples, spraying you without your consent, or inviting you for makeovers. Well, they have gone one step further now. They have a scope. They like to scan your facial skin in microscopic detail. They highlight magnified pores, sags, degenerating collagen and get you worked up to a point where you believe your face is melting, degenerating and that you need to act fast. Then they move in for the kill and tell you that you needn’t worry and that for hundreds of dollars a month you could get back to the taut elasticity of your teen years! How perfectly pigeon-holed do they have thirtysomething women! I came across a blog that talked about marketing geniuses and the levels of predictability they achieve. Modern day purveyors of snake oil can never lose. There are women now who carry pocket-sized Evian sprays to spritz their face with water several times a day, to hydrate their facial skin (wouldn’t drinking more water be more effective?) I know some women in our super-glam magazine publishing industry who probably don’t smile or laugh. Who wants laugh lines?

That’s not so much about New York City in the end as it is a tour through the brain cells of someone who has a lot of dead commuting time everyday and can afford leisurely detours through fragmented thoughts scattered all around.

If there really is another letter from New York perhaps it will be more about NYC! Let’s hope for the best.

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