We’ve discovered something. When New Yorkers dream of the simple lives they could have had, they no longer dream of some Kansas farm (way too Red-State Scary) nor midstate Pennsylvania (how boring) nor upstate New York (too expensive anyway).
No. They dream, my friends, of us.
The New York Times, especially, has become recently obsessed with Portland as an inexplicably progressive “quality-of-life” mecca—well-styled, well-bred, not too exciting but pretty enough to marry—counterpoised delicately, apparently, against their own terrible proximity to the earthshaking power of Titans, which they have bought only at such… great… cost.
Case in point: following the NY Times’s up-on-Portland Todd Haynes piece last week (and recent affair with our restaurants), we now read in an article on New York’s livability and self-obsessions in Sunday’s Times magazine:
“I’m guessing that in Portland — either one — they don’t hire Rod Stewart to sing at birthday parties. Even the rich people may fly commercial. And yet they still have a progressive arts scene, excellent ethnic restaurants, a lively downtown, good schools. My family would be able to afford there what we could never afford here. But we’re not going anywhere. We stand with the 51 percent who think New York is worth what it costs; I’m just not sure why.”
You get it? We’re Goethe’s blue-eyed Margareta, but you don’t get to rape us and kill our brother. You keep your life in coming here, your soul, your sense of your own cosmopolitan good heart, but you gotta give up on the infinite, the dream of peeping into life’s black box, and treat us instead like good-girl Beatrix (dying to meet you, babe). New York requires fortitude, they tell us, premonitions of calamity, stronger hearts than ours to withstand it.
But anyway, we still think it’s a love letter they’re writing, and we’re writing them back in the same spirit.
Letter to New York
By Elizabeth Bishop
In your next letter I wish you’d say
where you are going and what you are doing;
how are the plays, and after the plays
what other pleasures you’re pursuing:
taking cabs in the middle of the night,
driving as if to save your soul
where the road goes round and round the park
and the meter glares like a moral owl,
and the trees look so queer and green
standing alone in big black caves
and suddenly you’re in a different place
where everything seems to happen in waves,
and most of the jokes you just can’t catch,
like dirty words rubbed off a slate,
and the songs are loud but somehow dim
and it gets so terribly late,
and coming out of the brownstone house
to the gray sidewalk, the watered street,
one side of the buildings rises with the sun
like a glistening field of wheat.
—Wheat, not oats, dear. I’m afraid
if it’s wheat it’s none of your sowing,
nevertheless I’d like to know
what you are doing and where you are going.