#181, Broadway, NYC
"My barber was back at work in his shop; again the head waiters bowed people to their tables, if there were people to be bowed. From the ruins, lonely and inexplicable as the sphinx, rose the Empire State Building and, just as it had been a tradition of mine to climb to the Plaza Roof to take leave of the beautiful city, extending as far as eyes could reach, so now I went to the roof of the last and most magnificent of towers. Then I understood -- everything was explained: I had discovered the crowning error of the city, its Pandora's box. Full of vaunting pride the New Yorker had climbed here and seen what he had never suspected, that the city was not the endless succession of canyons that he had supposed but that it had limits -- from the tallest structure he saw for the first time that it faded out into the country on all sides, into an expanse of green and blue that alone was limitless. And with the awful realization that New York was a city after all and not a universe, the whole shining edifice that he had reared in his imagination came crashing to the ground." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald, "My Lost City", July, 1932
I read this on a beach in Monterosso under an orange and green striped beach umbrella, chewing a fresh nectarine, my sandals cast off in the damp sand, the air smelling of sunblock, my hotel key lodged in the sand, the Ligurian Sea stretched out before me with its lush, lulling, repetitive blue waves. I looked up from the pages of the book, squinting into the sun, thinking of how my mind could often understand things so much better when I was far away from them, how Hemingway could only write about Michigan when he was in Paris (or was it vice versa?). When I returned to New York, I understood the passage F. Scott Fitzgerald had so eloquently described about his lost city, understood the disappointment far better in Italy than I would back in New York, when the illusion once more had me in its snare. Something had shifted in that weak mirage, its glitter less glittering, its thick air a bit thicker. But what was it? What was the full measure of that loss?
No, it is not endless, this thing that is the city. It is fallible, faulted. It smells of fresh petrol and stale coffee, it is rough and edgy. It has limits. And to take what is its flaw -- to convert this crushing realization into beauty -- requires a more eloquent pen than mine tonight.