We all came to New York to try our luck, attracted to the myth of the city: the spell of its skyscrapers, the scenes from our favorite films, the shine of artistic talents that first exploded here, the never ending clink of their imaginary Martini glasses. Inevitably —as someone whose name escapes me wrote— New Yorkers are divided among those who succeeded and those who ruminate their failure.
We are all passing through New York. One of the first things you notice when you start growing roots here is that almost everyone came from somewhere else. (Getting to know native New Yorkers is normally a lengthy task for newcomers, a new layer of belonging.) Yet, it could be argued that we are all native New Yorkers after approving the arduous exam of settling here. There are those, however, that insist 6 to 10 years is the minimum time committment necessary to earn the title. (And after becoming a real New Yorker, you will suddenly find it impossible to leave, they always add.)
In contrast to the cliché that New York is the capital of the world, E.B. White offered a less glamorous view: New York is nothing but an infinity of self-sufficient unities, struggling for identity from one block to the next. The vertiginous quality of New York does not prevent the creation of feelings of attachment to your neighbors, of belonging to a corner, something that progress has destroyed elsewhere.
New Yorkers are always looking to discover new worlds within the boundaries of the city. Restaurants that are opening or closing their doors, festivals held once a year in a remote corner of a borough far from your own, a journey to an unknown neighborhood looking for a unique dish. Everything is a good excuse to jump on the subway and travel through a different world for a couple of hours.
Few things infuriate me more that when a visiting friend or relative says that New Yorkers are not nice. True, some people walk down the street, tension and anxiety written all over their faces. But usually New Yorkers are just trying to get where they are going as quickly as they can. And, yes, getting into a fight with a New Yorker —millionaire or homeless, it doesn’t matter— means tempting fate. But when you need directions, a place to eat, a practical favor from your neighbor, or want to start a conversation in a bar or a square, New Yorkers are accustomed to debating, sharing and helping each other.
We all came to New York in search of that unnatainable fantasy, but stayed because we fell in love with reality: an afternoon crossing the Brooklyn Bridge by bike, a concert that couldn’t happen anywhere else, the smell of coffee in the mornings, the light rain on your face when leaving a bar, the unlikely mix of people in the subway coming home on a Saturday night.
The five boroughs as an infinite map that may well lead to happiness.