Monday, October 13, 2008
Invisible Cites, Part 7: In Black and White
As I pack up our apartment, I find myself overwhelmed with nostalgia for my beloved city, and, strangely, missing terribly the friends who preceded me in exodus, like Soprannie, who is long gone, and Robot Boy, who left more recently to take a prestigious fellowship. Each of us had reasons to move, but I think we were all grateful for the excuse. Though I love -- and they loved -- our city profoundly, "our city" has virtually vanished from the collection of identities that New York variously assumes. As has been discussed in previous posts and comments, New York is no longer a welcoming place for young strivers in the creative fields, and, pace my commenters, this is less a reflection of these strivers' ability than it is of the fact that the artistic market has contracted severely in the past few years. A couple of examples: most of the dozens of regional opera companies that used to audition singers in New York each autumn now no longer send their people here; singers used to be able to cobble together an income from church and synagogue jobs, but, no matter how frugally one lives, it's no longer possible. I could go on, but won't.
Occasionally, I run into my old colleagues. One, a tenor, has a mid-level international career that requires him to spend ten months of the year away from his children and his chronically ill wife. Another, a bass-baritone, is working steadily, but I met him in Central Park walking home to the East 90s from a rehearsal at City Opera, several miles away, because his pay only allows him one subway ride a day. I ran into another former colleague, a brilliant soprano who created one of the female roles in one of John Adams's operas, at my university the other day: she's getting her Master's degree and is thinking about developing music history courses for learning-disabled high-schoolers. These are all splendid singers of the first rank, but none has attained the level to which he had aspired. And the artist's struggle in New York City is much harder now than it was even a few years ago.
My own career had changed a great deal even before motherhood, and in the past few years I've mainly performed chamber concerts of rare repertoire in the regional U.S., which, though I've loved it, has been no way at all to make a living. I'm not sure what I will be doing musically in my new city, but, if all goes well, I'll soon have my doctorate.
So I've been reminiscing about friends and a way of life already long gone. But I'm going to miss concrete, physical things just as much, things that transcend the limitations of time and memory, like black-and-white cookies. I'm not sure if they exist outside of New York, and to be honest, if they do, I don't think I will want to try one; they can't possibly be the same.