Monday, June 23, 2008


According to popular legend New York is one of the most sociable cities in the world; to talk to/meet people in ticket-lines, elevators, the subway... After a week I haven't said "boo" to anyone that I haven't been handing cash over to. Not a solitary "single service" friend. It is clear that when the weather is warm bonhomie floats on the air - it just hasn't wafted past me.

Now I know what it feels like to be Latvian, Estonian, Finnish, and Norwegian. to quote a Hugh Grant characater in a dopey but charming little film: "Men are too islands! And I'm bloody Ibiza!!"

Social contrasts abound on the street and i sense that there is a whole lotta people speaking past each other - or operating within a wider social disconnect.

With a few hundred yards of 'ground zero', in the heart of the finance district and within feet of two iconic public sculptures, I spied two carts selling "Halal Food." What is it that will let an American forgive a Muslim a religious custom for the sake of a kebab - even a custom predicated on ritualized slaughter - within a few feet of their disgrace?

In Prospect Park, on Sunday, I got lost looking for the bandshell and a concert by the African group Keita. My fault. I followed my ears rather than looking for signs - and ended up at "Drummers' Corner" and two gatherings of African and African-American drummers replete with dancing and African BBQ. The groups were separated by some 500 yards, and the roadway, and nobody was wandering between the groups. An historical tension that living-in-America had been unable to dissolve. there were no white-folk in the vicinity (apart from those zipping by in various degrees of lycra on roller blades, bikes, and showing a clean-pair-of-heels).

Meanwhile, I found the band shell and Keita with three songs to go. At this concert of one of the popular giants of griot music there were hardly any black-folks visible in the crowd. A smattering at best. (I stood outside the ticketed enclosure so may have missed seeing those people in the tight knot near the stage).

It reminds of Miles Davis' frustration - written about in the liner notes of "Tribute to Jack Johnson" (one of his 'political' albums - that he never accrued a popular black audience.

I ain't the only one who is disconnected...

1 comment:

apexart resident said...

Hi Simon,

As a former apexart resident, I'm really enjoying reading your blog posts, and I wanted to leave a comment just to let you know that the readership does extend beyond the apexart staff! That's maybe one of the unusual things about the invisible readership of blogging that accommodates a sometimes-confessional quality.

I got a lot from my time in New York and the disconnections you speak of resonate with my experience. I found it very strange to be somewhere that was so self-consciously a ‘centre’… of everything. It was disorienting.

Look forward to reading more!