November 27, 2016

Mental Health Break: Nicolaïdis on the "Chaotic Grace" of New York City

In this age of Trump, we need diversions. Network member Kalypso Nicolaïdis (Oxford) offers us some in her recent post on openDemocracy, entitled "Walking the grid of freedom." This piece provides some (appropriately transatlantic) reflections on the great walking city that is New York, along with some wonderful evocative photographs. Below is a taste, while the remainder can be read here. Enjoy.

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... I now know that avenues are not endless. At least not all of them. Park ends on Union Square, Fifth on Washington Square and Lexington on Gramercy Park. Or that this may not be such a straightforward proposition after all. Do they really end, or simply transform, change their name but not their identity, to live another life, re-gendered on the other side? After all, and after Union Square, University Place is really Broadway and Broadway may as well be Park. Or do they carry their flow underground taking their passengers under the deep blue sea? In Paris, we used to believe that the Boul’ Mich went all the way to the Mediterranean, sous les pavé la plage as they said in 68. Perhaps Park twists and turns all the way there too.

And I now know that buildings are not nameless. That the dazzling twin-towered buildings on Central Park West – the Century, the Majestic, the San Remo, the Beresford, the Eldorado – were all erected during the Great Depression on top of smaller handsome namesakes, old wealth pioneers of the upper grid two or three generations earlier. By the late 1920s, the name of the game had changed, the time had come to worship and appease new material gods. 80 years later, I float mesmerised on Central Park’s Lake below, oblivious to my kids’ antics. I now see it with absolute clarity. Gaudi’s descendants may still be labouring over the Sagrada Familia conceived at the same time back in Barcelona, but these buildings on the Park grew in the blink of an eye, America’s version of the same idea, living structures turned into secular cathedrals for the likes of Bono and Jobs, monstres sacrés whose quarters could be no other than these, boldly magnificent, awe inspiring Notre Dames on the Park.

My New York is grand and vain, like an endearing old lady hiding behind her grandchildren and scores of elegant scaffolding. Venice may be sinking, Istanbul spinning, Beijing rising, Rio dancing, London globalising, Paris greying, but New York who grew beautiful by mistake is aging with chaotic grace. Freed. 

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