The City

I’m still quivering like a struck gong. As I was on September 11. I take it personally, I suppose. (Which sounds narcissistic and infantile, but bear with me for a minute.) I love London, and I love New York – both of them. In a very basic, in the bone way, that goes back to childhood and adolescence. Both cities stand to me for freedom – for escape, adventure, independence, self-fashioning, possibilities. (What comes into my head – this is very absurd and hokey, but I’m going to be absurd and hokey today – is that moment in the [absurd and hokey] movie ‘The Electric Horseman’ when Redford is just about to set free his stallion in a hidden valley to join [and rule] a herd of wild horses. Just before he pulls the bridle off, he tells the horse, ‘Make something of yourself, now.’ Then off comes the bridle and away goes the horse. ‘Make something of yourself, now’ – that’s what New York and London tell us – at least in my personal mythology.) I grew up about 50 miles from New York, so of course it was our Golden City, our Oz, the place where everything was going on. It was an immense part of my growing up to be able (both allowed and competent) to navigate around New York on my own. I liked going with a friend – especially with my eccentric amusing clever cousin Steve – but I loved going alone. The freedom I felt! I can’t even explain it, because it seems to be more than the sum of the parts. It wasn’t just that I was off on my own in a big city with no one knowing exactly where I was. (Sometimes no one even knew vaguely: I would occasionally go without telling my mother, partly just so that…no one would know. Disappearing. Disappearing into freedom. I didn’t do anything scandalous or stupid – just escaped.) It was something more, and I take it that the something more was New York. Cleveland or St Louis probably wouldn’t have done it.

And London was the next stage of that, when I was seventeen. I spent two weeks there on my own – and it was like the freedom of New York squared, or cubed. Because I’d never been there before, never been out of North America before, wasn’t going back to Princeton on the bus at the end of the day – and because it was London. London’s not just any old city, you know. And it got into my bloodstream then and has been there ever since.

So I take it personally. And then, as I mentioned, I was just there, I know people there. I’m wondering if the nice people at Souvenir Press will be able to get home (but buses are running in Zone One again so they’re all right unless they left early). But even without all that, it’s just London itself. It upsets me, somebody bashing at it. And that’s narcissistic, but it’s not entirely narcissistic, because the people who did the bashing did it precisely so that people like me can never ever have that kind of freedom. In fact they did it to punish New York and London for allowing people like me to have that kind of freedom. In the world they would establish, people like me would, far from being allowed to roam strange cities at age seventeen, would be locked up for their entire lives, and never even allowed to know what freedom is. Death and immurement, that’s their Golden City. Well no to that.

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