Back to the city

To return to the great city after months spent under pine trees and by the sea is to experience a heigtening of all one's sensitivitiesM an open-eyed wonder on seeing the strange ways of urban man. If those pine trees happen to be upon a Maine Island, and the city happens to be New York, the contrast is deepened to the point of shock. I cannot deny that I enjoy the contrast. Coming back each autumn to the rigidly laid-out streets and to artificial canyons of stone, I feel an exhilaration only slightly tempered by a kind of primal homesickness.

There is, first of all, the necessity to examine the changes that have come about in the city during one's absence. In the immediate neighborhood I find this year many agreeable small improvements. A new tree has been planted just west of our house and seems to be flourishing. Flowers i had not observed in other autumns stand in the areaways and along the stoops of the serried rank of brownstones. Elsewhere new stores have opened -- food stores, mostly: a place of french homemade specialties and one of Italian, as well as several small restaurants. This part of the city is obviously a place where people like to live, and where they apparently very much enjoy eating.

Farther afield, it is amazing what advances have been made in building projects which I had been following story by story before my departure. While I idled in my cool breezes, or worked after my fashion, the great enterprises of the city did not stand still. Through the hot days men still climbed to their precarious perches and with cries audible in the streets below inched the massive girders into place. Indeed i almost get the impression that such undertakings progress as well in my absence as when i am present to survey them daily.

More subtly, almost like an ingredient of the air, there stirs in the city a sense of artistic and intellectual ferment. Galleries are alight with man's latest efforts to astonish us by his art. New plays and films present themselves; dance companeis celebrate their premieres. It would take a very active night-prowler to savor all these entertainments. Yet even for those of us who do occasionally stay at home, forgoing some of this dazzling feast, there is satisfaction in knowing how much we miss. i think i could never be bored in the city. Fir if I began to be bored, I would remember what I mightm be doing, were I more adventurous and energetic.

It is wonderful to me to see how well men and women adapt themselves to a way of life so contrary to their natures. That they can endure these hard pavements , suffer being cut off from the open sky, breathe air and drink water drained of essential purities, seems proof of the hardihood of the human race.I read not long ago that when the Paris subway was first constructed, philosophers predicted that the trains would run empty. Was it to be seriously expected that men and women -- particularly Frenchm men and women -- would leave their rightful place on the earth's surface to delve, like moles, underground? Of course the city people confounded the philosophers. Today in Paris the mass of French urbanites takes as naturally to this subterranean life as fishes do to the sea.

Meanwhile here in New York, clutching their purses to their sides, removing from their necks the delicate gold chains with which they like to ornament themselves, the frailest women travel with no sign of unhappiness beneath a maze of ducts, pipes, wires and other technological paraphernalia.

If you want a persimmon out of season, if you desire to leaf through a rare 16th-century text, if in short you have some need of the particular, the bizarre or the otherwise undiscoverable, the great city is the place to be. Country folk must be content with what nature designs or what a relatively unimaginative commerce provides. But the great city has everything, and has it in profusion. Saying this, i almost forget the roar of the sea; I become reconciled to being cut off from the fogs and the falling leaves of an island very different from Manhattan.

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