Sunday, March 30, 2014

On New York and Carbonara


In his classic essay, Here is New York, E.B. White wrote of Manhattan,

"...the curious thing about New York is that each large geographical unit is composed of countless small neighborhoods. Each neighborhood is virtually self-sufficient. Usually it is no more than two or three blocks long and a couple of blocks wide. Each area is a city within a city. Thus, no matter where you live in New York, you will find within a block or two a grocery store, a barbershop, a newsstand and a shoeshine complete is each neighborhood, and so strong the sense of neighborhood, that many a New Yorker spends a lifetime within the confines of an area smaller than a country village."


Before I came to this city, I wondered how people could eat, and do laundry, and go about all the mundane tasks of the everyday, while hurrying about to the rhythm of big business and small business, of patent leather shoes and sneakers and heels, all driven into the same concrete streets day after day. How, in the chaos of urban life, could a person find the discipline for all the small tasks, let alone all the big tasks, that underlie the business of living? 

Clearly, I was not a city person then. Perhaps I'm still not. But E.B White nailed it– Manhattan is a leviathan built of smaller parts, villages woven together by crisscrossing subway lines, pulsing just beneath its asphalt skin. Around the corner and up the block, are the same faces mulling around the same shops– the same coffee bar boys and deli clerks out for a smoke; the same skinny blonde, maybe 20 years old, sitting on the same red brick wall, awaiting someone I've never seen perhaps; the same dapper old man giving me a wink through fall, winter, and now spring. 


This neighborhood even has a farmers market on weekends. It seems a small miracle in fact, that in the 4 square blocks I haunt day in and day out, there could be a gathering of fresh, local food, readily available weekly. What luck!

To be fair, the market wasn't much to speak of this winter. There were apples in abundance, in all colors and sizes, and assorted apple products too (ciders, jams, and butters for months), but not much else. Apples, apples, apples... the weeks wore on. Maybe I'll miss the apples come summer, but somehow I doubt it.



You might think that in a city like New York, famous for glittering highrises and sprawling culture, that locals would disperse like ants at a picnic, cutting trails here and there– getting into everything good. I'm sure that's true for some, but it hasn't been my experience of Manhattan. No, for me, excitement arises in the small deviations from normalcy I find day to day, in the few blocks I know well here. It came in the yellow blush of daffodils, lined in bouquets at the farmers market this Sunday. Besides apples, finally, there was a sign of spring. And it came too, in cooking and eating the week's bounty amongst friends, after an all-too-long winter.


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