Saturday, June 6, 2009

In Defense of The City

I read the following, this morning, in the final pages of Joseph O'Neill's beautiful novel Netherland:

We were sailing on the Staten Island Ferry on a September day's end. The forward deck was crowded. There was much smiling, pointing, physical intertwining, kissing. Everybody looked at the Statue of Liberty and at Ellis Island and at the Brooklyn Bridge, but finally, inevitably, everybody looked to Manhattan. The structures clustered at its tip made a warm, familiar crowd, and as their surfaces brightened ever more fiercely with sunlight it was possible to imagine that vertical accumulations of humanity were gathering to greet our arrival. The day was darkening at the margins, but so what? A world was lighting up before us, its uprights putting me in mind, now that I'm adrift, of new pencils standing at attention in a Caran d'Ache box belonging in the deep of my childhood, in particular the purplish platoon of sticks that emerged by degrees from the reds and, turning bluer and bluer and bluer, faded out; a world concentrated most glamorously of all, it goes almost without saying, in the lilac acres of two amazingly high towers going up above all others, on one of which, as the boat drew us nearer, the sun began to make a brilliant yellow mess. To speculate about the meaning of such a moment would be a stained, suspect business; but there is, I think, no need to speculate. Factual assertions can be made. I can state that I wasn't the only one on that ferry who'd seen a pink watery sunset in his time, and I can state that I wasn't the only one of us to make out and accept an extraordinary promise in what we saw--the tall approaching cape, a people risen in light. You only had to look at our faces.


  1. I love the comparisons between the colored pencils and the sight of the city. There's a lot of color and visual imagery in this writing - I will have to investigate further about this book - I do so love a good book :)

  2. Gorgeous. And I didn't get very far into this before I fell right out of it and into my own memories. Not as neatly designed but I wrote of crayons and I'll post it on my back door tomorrow or the next. Thanks. Never do know where you'll find inspiration or what form it'll take.

  3. how beautiful...thank you for sharing this.:)

  4. O'Neill had to have been thinking of Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry." Surely there's an across-the-centuries dialogue here, as Whitman anticipated.

    Beautiful passage. While my city is much smaller, it is a city, where humanity can accumulate. It is rather sad that we must defend the city in this America where the goal is to escape that basic unit of civilization.

  5. Steve, Yes -- I thought it was rather sad, too, that we have to almost defend the city. I guess I realized when I read that passage how much I love cities, despite a love of nature as well. Cities are often unsung, as are the toiling, teeming masses of humanity in them. And when I lived in New York, I loved the idea of so much humanity pressed around me.



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