Saturday, October 22, 2011

A World Like New York

A few times every day, Father Anonymous passes somebody wearing a Yankees cap. At first, to be honest, he didn't even notice them. He's a New Yorker, so Yankees caps, and sweatshirts and other merchandise, are a customary feature of his visual landscape, no more remarkable than billionaires or crazy people. But after a few months, Fr. A stopped in his tracks and said, "Waitasecond! I live in Eastern Europe."

A quick GPS check confirmed this insight, and the curious little cleric sat down to sip a cappuccino in the piazza and contemplate. Yes, caps with the distinctive Yankees logo are common here; likewise sweatshirts and sweatpants. A quick survey, however, revealed that other popular athletic clubs are represented less well. The raw numbers look like this:

Team

Hats

Sweats

Other

Chicago Bulls

0

0

0

Los Angeles Lakers

0

0

0

Brooklyn Dodgers

0

0

0

Texas Rangers*

0

0

0

Minnesota Vikings**

0

0

0


Even the Mets come up goose eggs.

More remarkable is the paucity of local team logos. Except, perhaps, on game day, CFR and U-Cluj jerseys are invisible; although we have seen Steaua Bucuresti merch in shops, we suspect that nobody actually buys it.

All this struck Fr. A. as curious. One expects to see one's hometown team supported in the hometown, and one is hardly surprised to find a few stray fans in Philadelphia or even Boston. (The latter a bold crew, willing to risk life and limb by wearing their pinstripes in Beantown). But ... why here?

Mother A. simply shrugs and says, "To many people, New York is America." This idea fascinates us, since to so many people, especially Americans, New York is anything but America. (Also Dutch businessmen. We sat up drinking with a few dozen of them the other night, and each time we introduced ourselves as American, Geert or Hans would ask which part of America; and then say, "Ah, so not really America." (We had this conversation so often that we began to wonder about the Dutch educational system, and considered sending a shipment of US maps to our distant cousins in Deventer.)

Comes now the news (courtesy of a sharp-eyed reader, Dr. Dan) that Mohamed el-Bibi, the Libyan freedom fighter said to have discovered the late Col. Qaddafi hiding in a sewer pipe, has been widely photographed wearing a Yankees cap. A blog at the Times meditates on this, and defers to the suggestion of Max Fischer at the Atlantic, that Mr. Bibi's hat should not be taken a sign of team loyalty: "Probably he doesn't even know what the Yankees are."

Probably. But he's still wearing the cap. And why?

Here's our answer: Because New York is America. And a particular vision of America. It's not just that "Yankee" is a catchall term for our compatriots (often followed by "go home"); an eagle or a flag or a big Thanksgiving turkey could represent America qua America better than the elaborately scripted initials NY. Rather, New York -- meaning here the city in particular -- represents the America that people all over the world admire, and dream of: a place of freedom, peace and relative prosperity; a place of almost infinite opportunity; a city that welcomes strangers, of whatever race or faith. A place where the Jewish mayor wouldn't mind a mosque at Ground Zero.

It may not be just as they imagine it, but this is what they imagine, and what they want for themselves, for their own countries, even in countries where is is the dream is almost impossibly unlikely. Perhaps especially in those countries. It isn't that people want to move to New York, so much as that they want the places in which they live to be more like the New York they have heard about.

So while the terrorists plan their next attack -- almost certainly aimed at New York -- it is helpful to remember that they are choosing this particular target because it is the envy of the people they most want to crush. And while Republican presidential candidates fall all over themselves in the effort to credit some other country -- any other country! -- for bringing down a dictator, it is helpful to remember that the guy who actually caught Qaddafi was dreaming of a world more like New York.

______________________________________________________
* Does this team still exist? We have heard a persistent rumor that Bush Jr. destroyed it, along with everything else his wretched and incompetent hand ever touched.

**Lutherans! Or so we choose to believe.


7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bush left the Rangers some 40 years after the Dodgers left Brooklyn.

Father Anonymous said...

Er, yes. And is remembered by fans about as fondly as Walter O'Malley.

Nixon is Lord said...

Nobody in America wants to live in New York unless they're going to live somewhere like the Upper West Side; they especially don't want their kids anywhere near its public schools.
People want to move to New York from crappy places overseas; their kids and grandkids want to move as far away as possible from it.
Even "progressives" like Bernie Sanders end up in Vermont, a place about as vibrantly diverse as Mainline Protestantism.

Father Anonymous said...

Ah, well, shows what you know. Sure, there are a lot of Americans who despise the very idea of New York City. Many of them have never been there, and others have only made brief tourist or business trips. Frankly, your comment sounds like the sort of thing they say.

But the truth is that there are many Americans who fall in love with the city, and move -- happily, and often permanently -- to parts of the city the tourists have never heard of. Of course immigrants are, and always have been, a big part of the picture; but so are kids from Kansas who take one look at Astoria or Williamsburg and say, "I'm home." Some later decamp to the 'burbs, but some don't.

Nixon is Lord said...

So the public schools aren't lousy? People don't spend thousands of dollars so that their kids don't have to go to them?
"Progressives" have a far greater preference for chlorophyll than melanin. So do the tea baggers, but at least they're not hypocrites about "Celebrating our Diversity".
Astoria and Williamsburg are gentryfying and becoming enclaves almost as expensive as the suburbs; they're still not sending their kids to local public schools.
The people who've moved to the suburbs are usually people who've grown up in the City.

Father Anonymous said...

Obviously, I disagree. I'll go further than that, and say that, so far as I can tell from decades of personal observation, you're just wrong.

Mixed in with your wrongness is a bit of right. The NYC public school system is awful, apart from a few high-profile exceptions (Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Poly). And that absolutely does drive the wealthy to private schools and a lot of other people to the suburbs.

Everything else in your comment is either mistaken (some native New Yorkers move to the burbs; some would rather die; ditto people who moved from Oshkosh) or nonsensical (gentrified neighborhoods are "almost as expensive as the suburbs"? Well, yeah-- because they're way better to live in).

What I don't get is your point about progressives. I never claimed New York was hippieville -- in fact, I mentioned two high-profile Republican mayors. In a row. Even with the self-segregation along political lines that one reads about these days, I'm not sure there is much of a leftist utopia anywhere in the US. Even Vermont has a libertarian bent that lurches over into outright conservatism, as why shouldn't it? America is a fairly conservative country.

What I did say, and what I will stand by, is that New York offers a degree of ethnic, religious and sexual diversity (and therefore tolerance, however grudging) which is fairly rare anywhere in the world, and combines it with the opportunity to earn a decent salary and enjoy a pretty good standard of living. At least as long as your aren't overly committed to yards and gardens.

DR Dan said...

Thanks for the shout-out. I thought you would have an insightful musing on the Platonic ideal of NY, and I enjoyed your posting.
BTW I ran across this cartoon today that reminds me of your patient repartee with "Nixon..." http://www.notquitewrong.com/rosscottinc/2011/08/03/so-youre-mad-about-something-on-the-internet/