I was surprised as I tuned in to the long promenade of Chelsea Market, much like I was surprised as I surveyed the gorgeously lit interior of Grand Central Station from the staircase last Sunday. The bustle I expected and even anticipated. Multitudes of lives walking, running, standing, eating, kissing, talking-- in a photo montage that leaves me, as New York always does, a little mesmerized and a little short of breath. But was surprised me was the sound.
It was hushed noise.
Despite the crowds, I could scarcely pick out one conversation from another. It was more like the din of clinking glasses and relaxed voices in a well-carpeted restaurant than the cacophony one expects in two tourist hubs in the city. It was even possible to describe the muffled footsteps and as pleasant and even cozy. Was it the air of the holidays enveloping the city?
This is more of an answer for a sound engineer, though I did find the whisper gallery and other secrets rather intriguing in my research.
Regardless of the answer, the sounds of New York called my senses out of their routine slumber. Travel in itself is a beautiful, chaotic disrupter of routine. For the time span your imagination allows, each face you pass on the street or encounter in a train holds meaning. Colors and patterns are highlighted against neutral backdrops of marble, brick, and concrete. The feeling of a coming meeting, an encounter of synchronicity, is palpable. If you allow me to entertain the idea of the unseen, the energy takes hold of your body and rinses you in it.
I've never dwelled in city (or borough) this intense, so I can only guess that such an overwhelming energy is dulled or trapped in routine movements over time. Living now in the countryside, and previously in small cities however, I can still sense the palpability of each space. Some rejuvenating, others draining; each unique to the seasons and mental weather of its inhabitants.
The changing nature of a place and its effects on its dwellers and visitors has fascinated me for years. How much is perception? How much is felt by our own projections of mood? Do you shape your environment or does your environment shape you? Is asking in such black/white, opposite extremes the right way to answer a question? After all, the borders of a city are blurred and shift with the times. Is it fair to try and categorize it?
What is identity without place?
What constitutes a city?
What is a city without its architecture?
What is architecture without people?
Who are the people that create the culture that is New York?
What is culture without a witness?
And what I was reminded as these questions buzzed around in my head, was that such grasping for answers interferes with the experience I was here for. Intellectualizing the world I was experiencing removed me immediately from that world, and my best friend who was sitting next to me, here to share the city with me to celebrate my birthday.
I tuned in again, smiled at the din and rush of inhabitants, ate one the best noodle soups in my personal history, and absorbed the energy of that multi-faceted place until I dozed on the train, exhausted with New York's people and possibilities. Its electric, pulsing energy left humming while I returned to my sleepy town-until next time.