The baseball diamonds and golf courses freckling the landscape told us we were flying over the U.S.. As the plane descended, the Hudson River, Central Park and Lady Liberty announced our arrival in NYC.
Although the wind was biting, cyclamen, pansies, and even roses were blooming alongside the purple cabbages that decorate the streets of the Lower West Side.
I had recently narrowly escaped being in the U.S. for election day, and was not overly enthused at the prospect of spending any time at all in Trump’s new, great nation, but I was being taken to the Big Apple for my birthday, and to accompany Ron on a Broadway binge. Nine shows in seven days – yup…to me, that qualifies as a binge.
Throughout the week’s stay, every conversation more than a couple of sentences long circled to the angst of the nation. On the street, from the stage, in restaurants and in private homes, people railed against their new President, horrified… mortified. Who was responsible for this travesty of common sense?
Those who didn’t vote for Clinton as a protest, angrily denounced a Harlem community leader during the theatre/spiritual experience entitled Can I Get a Witness, “How’s that going for you now?” Members of the community came together in circle to gather their energies, to prepare their spirits for battle through song, dance and fiery oratory.* There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that afternoon that war has been declared on all people of colour in the U.S., and that unity, strength and determination were going to be required of all.
Or was it the fault of the Russians? Friends of ours insisted this to be true, over dinner at their apartment overlooking the Hudson River (“Compact? This is New York!”). They weren’t too sure how it had been done, but the CIA say it was so, it seems. So it must be true, right?
I can’t quite fathom why the President-elect is choosing to stay in the middle of this town that abhors him so much. Barricades divert vehicular and pedestrian traffic away from his black and gold Darth Vader megalith among the fluffy, sparkly storefronts of Cartier and Tiffany’s. Nothing seems to anger New Yorkers more than blocked traffic. Unless maybe its the fortune (an NYC cop said $500,000 – CNN says $1 million**) spent on protecting Trump. A college student was arrested trying to get into the Tower with a knife, handcuffs and rope while we were there.
Norman Mailer said that New York City is an island off the coast of America, and ran for mayor in 1969 with a platform of making it the 51st state. It feels like Montreal, but in English – another island where diversity is celebrated and Art matters. On the subway, people are as likely to be reading books or studying librettos and scripts as staring into screens. NYC does not at all act like the U.S.A. of Trump et al – the one that has us holding our breaths in anxiety.
Rockefeller Centre was still crammed with humans feeding on spectacle and electricity of every sort. Images were captured a million-a-minute along the row of wire and light-bulb angels joining the gigantic iconic Christmas tree and the light and music display on the facade of Saks 5th Avenue. On the more somber and elegant end of the spectrum, the Oculus Transport Hub of the new World Trade Centre raises wings of hope and inspiration beside the ponds and waterfalls marking the footprints of the fallen towers at the 9-11 Memorial.
On my birthday, as I prayed beside one of the memorial ponds, icy winds blew some of the tobacco back over my head, mixed with spray from the waterfall, and I felt that I, too was being prepared – maybe even blessed – for work to come.
*http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/12/05/james-baldwin-onstage **http://money.cnn.com/2016/11/21/news/protecting-donald-trump/ ***https://www.911memorial.org/memorial