December 18, 2005
A Paean To Cities
I am not in New York right now; I am in Minneapolis, my hometown,
though no longer my home.
For the last few days I was in Washington, D.C. There was
a Board Meeting for CINE and a variety of meetings with various
Discovery Networks. Finishing them, I made my way out to Baltimore
International Airport and caught a plane to Minneapolis so
I could visit relatives and friends, pre-Christmas, giving
me an opportunity to see them and visit with them before settling
in at Claverack Cottage for the Holidays themselves.
As I flew out to Minneapolis, I sat next to a man who was
on his way home to San Diego; he was enthralled New York was
my home. Today I had lunch with a good friend who remarked
to me again how different [nicer] New York was today as opposed
to before 9/11. Actually, I told him, the change had been
going on for years, 9/11 solidified the growing human-ness
of the city. [Nothing like a catastrophe to knock some of
the hubris out of your sails, while underscoring the fragility
and temporary nature of life.]
While traveling over the last few months, I have become aware
[again] of how exotic it seems to some people to live in New
York, in Manhattan. I tend to take it for granted I am living
in one of those places where things happen, one of the great
cities of the world. I recall Dr. Robert Moulton, my undergraduate
adviser, saying in a class that every continent had only a
few great cities. For North America, in his mind, they were:
Toronto, Montreal, New York, Los Angeles and Mexico City.
I have lived most of my adult life now in either Los Angeles
or New York and so I take for granted the exotic nature they
have for other people. And if there is a time to enjoy New
York, it is now, when it is festooned in its Holiday finery,
relaxing in the interesting position of having been declared
the safest large city in America. New York?! But itâ€s
It is also the city from which emanates much of the worlds
news as it is home to the news divisions of the big three
networks [okay, okay, so theyâ€re not that
big anymore, really]; it is home to much of Americaâ€s
fashion, birthing ground for much theatre, much of everything
comes of out New York, from gossip to creative thought.
Along with Los Angeles and London, New York is part of the
trend setting triumvirate of cities that dictate much of the
worldâ€s cultural consciousness. Now you
can argue all you want about whether that is good or bad â€
and you still have to come back to the fact that like it or
not the zeitgeist of the world gets largely created in these
places. Certainly many religious fundamentalists of all flavors
find these cities satanic Sodoms and garrulous Gomorrahs.
At the end of the day, they are what they are; wildly wonderful,
erratic, erotic, neurotic, if not psychotic places, a maze
of contradictory forces out of which comes much that the world
both loves and hates.
It is what happens when you put a lot of people together
in one place, mixing intelligence and money, political power
with cultural clashes, melting together individuals with a
rainbow of backgrounds and languages.
They are called cities.
It has been this way from Biblical Babylon to the amazing
Alexandria to the goliath that was Rome at the height of its
empire. These are cities that have fed history and fostered
culture and frightened people by their arrogance and greed
and simple existence.
Yet they are our wellsprings.
To my friend today, I said I have lived out many of my childhood
fantasies, and that included getting to meet some of these
places that are cauldrons of trouble and change. Cities nurture
us and break us and give us chances for re-birth; they are
the mothers of cultures and inventions and while we may shun
them or envy them, they are the beacons which shape our times.