Have you ever felt like you’ve been to a place before you actually get there?
I feel a little like that with New York.
From researching the city in preparation for my trip later this month, I feel like I’m arriving there with a lot of images in my head about what it’s like. New York is one of those cities whose cultural presence is virtually everywhere.
The images and expectations I have of New York come from various texts:
– non-fiction books I’ve read this past year like Concrete Reveries, The Conscience of the Eye, Loft Living, and The Death and Life of Great American Cities that talk about New York’s architecture and urban planning developments;
– movies that feature the stately Brooklyn Bridge, the soaring Empire State building, ubiquitous taxicabs, elegant brownstone apartments in Greenwich Village, and the romance of Central Park in autumn;
– songs that declare, “If I can make it there I can make it anywhere” and “New York – concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there’s nothin’ you can’t do”;
– news images that show the World Trade towers collapsing and a nation in mourning, and, more recently, protestors denouncing capitalism in the ongoing demonstrations called Occupy Wall Street;
– and iconic photographs that tell stories about people, places, and events that linger in our cultural memories:
Part of the excitement before going to a place like New York is wondering how much the city of my mind will compare with the city in reality. Will the map I have in my head match with what’s on the ground? Will the pulse of the streets be as fast, energetic, and unpredictable as I’m anticipating? Will the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building be as impressive as they appear in photographs? Will Times Square be as loud and ostentatious as I’m expecting? Will the subway be as dirty and confusing to navigate as everyone says it is? Will I forget I’m in a city when I stroll through Central Park? Will I step out of my tourist role long enough to catch a glimpse of what it’s like to be a true New Yorker?
In the movie 500 Days of Summer (which, by the way, does not take place in New York), there’s a scene that I think brilliantly captures this tension between expectations and reality.
Sure, it’s in the context of a guy imagining how his evening will go with the girl he likes, but don’t we do this with anything in life that we’re anticipating – have an image in our heads of what something’s going to be like (whether it be a job, a relationship, or a city), only to live it out and discover how far or close these two screens are from aligning with each other?
I’ve let you in on some of the images and expectations that I carry with me to New York. I’ll share the other half of this split screen with you when I come back in November.