1.09.2005

glory days

In the local "City" section, the New York Times recently ran some famous New Yorkers' responses to the question "What was New York's Golden Age?"

Elaine Kaufman, owner of Elaine's, named the 1940's, Reverend Al Sharpton voted for the late 1960's, when he was a teenager, writer Fran Lebowitz and photographer Mary Ellen Mark nominated the '70s ("when the city was a wreck") and the late '60s, early '70s, respectively.

Choreographer Bill T. Jones said "Right after 9/11," citing how "we were vulnerable and open to the rest of the world, and we were ready for a change. There was a chance to ask questions, and it was a time when we were forced to do so. But it didn't happen. There wasn't a true conversation about what American means to the rest of the world or about why New York was chosen. It was an opportunity. And then the politicians took it."

Caleb Carr, author of New York City historical novels The Alienist and Angel of Darkness, made an interesting choice:
The 1890's. It may seem odd, to those living in a city sterilized by the Giuliani years, that anyone would feel fascination with or nostalgia for a decade that was almost as filthy, violent and degenerate as its predecessors.

But not only did the 1890's witness attempts at the kind of meaningful reform that eluded Mayor Giuliani - of the Police Department, labor laws, and living conditions for the poor - it also saw the blossoming of culture both high and vulgar: the dominance of the Metropolitan Opera and establishment of the city's great museums, along with the Bowery music halls, Broadway, and the proliferation of artists' communities throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. We should remember, too, that a New York scrubbed clean of prostitution, adult entertainment, drugs and other dark phenomena is a city that has lost its original dynamic, and therefore its meaning.

Like a troublesome child taking Ritalin, New York may be more manageable now, but it has also sacrificed its personality. That personality was crystallized during the 1890's, by a collection of idiosyncratic gang leaders, plundering corporate barons (who, while as vicious as any today, nonetheless lived in and tried to improve the life of their city) and reformers more concerned with improving sanitation on the streets and in hospitals than they were with minimizing the amount of annoyance caused the well-to-do by beggars.
Well, why bother blogging if people are going to write things like that?? Bravo, Mr Carr!

Laurie Anderson, consummate New Yorker, said there were a lot of golden ages. Oscar de la Renta said "Now," and Yoko Ono said, "Always".

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