1,000,001 love letters have been written to New York City over the ages. If you’re an artist who has spent even a small fraction of time here, it undoubtedly changed your consciousness in some fashion, and sooner or later, you will attempt to put your finger on how best to express the imprint she’s made on your heart and soul.
One of my very favorite literary love letters to New York is “My Home Town”, an essay Dorothy Parker penned for McCall’s Magazine in 1928:
It occurs to me that there are other towns. It occurs to me so violently that I say, at intervals, “Very well, if New York is going to be like this, I’m going to live somewhere else.” And I do — that’s the funny part of it. But then one day there comes to me the sharp picture of New York at its best, on a shiny blue-and-white Autumn day with its buildings cut diagonally in halves of light and shadow, with its straight neat avenues colored with quick throngs, like confetti in a breeze. Some one, and I wish it had been I, has said that “Autumn is the Springtime of big cities.” I see New York at holiday time, always in the late afternoon, under a Maxfield Parish sky, with the crowds even more quick and nervous but even more good-natured, the dark groups splashed with the white of Christmas packages, the lighted holly-strung shops urging them in to buy more and more. I see it on a Spring morning, with the clothes of the women as soft and as hopeful as the pretty new leaves on a few, brave trees. I see it at night, with the low skies red with the black-flung lights of Broadway, those lights of which Chesterton — or they told me it was Chesterton — said, “What a marvelous sight for those who cannot read!” I see it in the rain, I smell the enchanting odor of wet asphalt, with the empty streets black and shining as ripe olives. I see it — by this time, I become maudlin with nostalgia — even with its gray mounds of crusted snow, its little Appalachians of ice along the pavements. So I go back. And it is always better than I thought it would be.
I suppose that is the thing about New York. It is always a little more than you had hoped for. Each day, there, is so definitely a new day. “Now we’ll start over,” it seems to say every morning, “and come on, let’s hurry like anything.”
London is satisfied, Paris is resigned, but New York is always hopeful. Always it believes that something good is about to come off, and it must hurry to meet it. There is excitement ever running its streets. Each day, as you go out, you feel the little nervous quiver that is yours when you sit in the theater just before the curtain rises. Other places may give you a sweet and soothing sense of level; but in New York there is always the feeling of “Something’s going to happen.” It isn’t peace. But, you know, you do get used to peace, and so quickly. And you never get used to New York.
Then of course, I also adore E.B. White’s “Here is New York”, written in 1948:
There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born there, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size, its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter–the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these trembling cities the greatest is the last–the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness, natives give it solidity and continuity, but the settlers give it passion. And whether it is a farmer arriving from a small town in Mississippi to escape the indignity of being observed by her neighbors, or a boy arriving from the Corn Belt with a manuscript in his suitcase and a pain in his heart, it makes no difference: each embraces New York with the intense excitement of first love, each absorbs New York with the fresh yes of an adventurer, each generates heat and light to dwarf the Consolidated Edison Company. . . .
The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now; in the sounds of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest editions.
All dwellers in cities must live with the stubborn fact of annihilation; in New York the fact is somewhat more concentrated because of the concentration of the city itself, and because, of all targets, New York has a certain clear priority. In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightning, New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm.
Stumbling across these brilliant excerpts got me pondering which other art works of staggering genius really stand out as some of my all-time favorite love letters to New York. Coming up with a SHORT list is near impossible, there’s just too much to choose from (so expect follow up posts in the future, as more examples come to mind). For the purposes of this post, I included a few tried-and-trues that simply could not go without mention, and opted to focus more so on semi-recent indie-newbies that you may not be as familiar with. Enjoy!
Check out Flavorpill’s compilation of NYC-loving literary masterpieces, including F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” and Patti Smith’s “Just Kids”.
All the Buildings in New York… That I’ve Drawn So Far
by James Gulliver Hancock
One artist’s painstaking labor of love, docu-illustrating NY’s iconic architectural landmarks and the perhaps lesser known gems that exist perfectly beside them:
by Becky Cooper
Another artist’s labor-of-love-turned-public-art-project in which New Yorkers individually contributed personal drawings of their Manhattan to Ms. Cooper’s greater vision:
IMHO, Woody Allen takes the cake for greatest cinematic love letters to NYC:
Look closely! This short uses miniatures to “capture” a day in the life:
A sweet ‘lil short about NYC romance that’s sure to pluck at your heartstrings:
5 Boroughs, 3 B Boys, 4 Ever:
Perhaps the greatest Big Apple anthem of all-time:
Mraz transports feel good LOVE throughout Manhattan:
These young newcomers distill NY’s Soul so poignantly:
Cat takes the prize for capturing the essence of my Manhattan best of all:
There are just so many notable love letters to NYC out there! Which are YOUR favorites? Please share by leaving a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!
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