for Rachel

By J.S. Porter 

[avatar user=”J.S.Porter” size=”thumbnail” align=”right”]J.S. Porter[/avatar]

I love New York.

I love it because it’s a Big Minestrone Soup, everybody from everywhere, thrown into a Giant Pot, all simmering – sometimes boiling—together.

I love it because of the Art Galleries, the bookstores, Central Park, Broadway, baseball, The New York Times, The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books

I love it because of things like this, sentences like this, from “Of All the Blogs in the World, He Walks into Mine” by Katherine Rosman on December 29, 2017, in The New York Times:

“ A man born to an Orthodox Jewish family in Toronto and schooled at a Yeshiva and a Japanese-American man raised on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, were married in the rare books section of the Strand Bookstore in Greenwich Village before a crowd of 200 people, against a backdrop of an arch of gold balloons that were connected to each other like intertwined units of a necklace chain or the link emoji, in a ceremony led by a Buddhist that included an operatic performance by one friend, the reading of an original poem based on the tweets of Yoko Ono by another, and a lip-synced rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” by a drag queen dressed in a white fringe jumper and a long veil.”

There aren’t many slogans or logos I’d wear or tattoo on my flesh or put on a bumper or use as a fridge magnetic. But “I love New York” is one of them.

My love affair started early.  When my parents emigrated from Ireland when I was four, dad insisted that we come to the New World by boat.  So we arrived in New York City from Cork in 1954 by boat, the name of which my 97-year-old mother has forgotten.

For an Irishman like my dad, New York was the place you had to see. The biggest and the best of everything, the most modern, the most advanced. It was a high point of western civilization.  I have no memory of that first visit.

But I’ve had five more visits to restock my memory – a family trip, a school trip, a trip to see the Mets play.  Then two magical visits.

I went to interview the niece (Marcia Kelly) of a poet (Robert Lax) with my friend Michael and stayed at a wonderful Catholic hostel called Leo House, easy walking to the Chelsea Hotel and St. Mark’s Bookshop. Michael and I took in a Tom Stoppard play, “The Invention of Love” on Broadway.  On my own, I made quick raids on the Frick, MOMA, the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan.  The experience amounted to the most art I’ve ever seen in a single day. I also took a long subway ride to Long Island to see the Noguchi Museum on my friend Wayne Allan’s advice, and later spent several happy hours in the Gotham Book Mart in Manhattan.

My last visit (six so far) was in many ways the most precious to me.  Post-9/11, the skyline had a hole in it.  I had just retired from teaching and my daughter Rachel very generously wanted to treat me.  She somehow managed to get reservations for The Algonquin Hotel in Times Square, Dorothy Parker’s old haunt.  While Rachel slept in in the mornings, I’d ride the subway lines to my favourite galleries, once stumbling upon a room full of Vermeers at the Met. Rachel and I rented bicycles to cycle around Central Park and we took in two fabulous Broadway plays – “Chicago” and “Company.” We also spent time in Columbia University and walked our feet off in order to arrive at Corpus Christi Church where Thomas Merton was baptized in 1938.

New York City is for me a city of great writers like Norman Mailer and James Baldwin. Patti Smith, Sam Shepard and William S. Burroughs lived in the Chelsea Hotel about which Leonard Cohen wrote a famous song; it’s the place, through the generosity of The New Yorker, in which Alice Munro and Mavis Gallant made their names as international writers, the place where Thomas Merton went to university and Robert Lax worked briefly for The New Yorker —the place where you’d get up early to read what Susan Sontag had to say in The New York Review of Books. It’s a city of energy (don’t have the energy for it now), a city of constant change, a city of hospitable and welcoming people.

Open, inclusive, dynamic, New York is the city of Dorothy Day.  It’s the place where a Jewish man and a Japanese-American man found marital bliss in a bookstore.