Sunday, August 12, 2007

Old New York: August

I have always loved this time of year in New York City. There are rare, uncanny patches of silence in the day, holes in the constant noise through which you can almost hear angels passing. I love the smell too, the sort of pungent, slightly overripe green smell of the late-summer flowers of New York permeating the air: trees-of-paradise and mimosa, gutter trees that will grow anywhere. Their fragrance, a little too sweet, is a prelude to the burning smell of a New York autumn.

I remember the first summer here I lived all alone here.  The subway cars were hotter than a sauna, and covered with graffiti. I lived that summer in Flatbush, which was almost entirely Jamaican. Young men would offer to walk me home from the subway in order to protect me. I remember getting off at the wrong stop in Manhattan one morning and walking for a bit before finding myself in what seemed like the bustling port of Hong Kong; I had walked south and east, and was in the deepest Chinatown. Later, I would go back and wander around, buying rice face powder and packets of the gold-printed square paper used for Chinese New Year to write letters on. I wonder if Chinatown is still like that; it’s a long time since I’ve been there; twenty years ago it was almost a foreign land. Do you still see rows of seamstresses at their sewing machines in sweatshop windows as the D train crosses the Manhattan Bridge? New York is a different city now, and much has been lost: the sense of a patchwork of many small neighborhoods, the relative ease with which you could get by with no money, the bittersweetness that hung in the air at this time of year.

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