Seeing Manhattan rising in the distance is always a treat. I am not sure it’s possible for anyone brought up around these parts to appreciate entirely what New York, the idea of New York, meant to us who came from the old continent. I was 11 years old and had seen only war and devastation. Dead, stinking bodies in the city parks, bullet-scarred buildings, people starving on the sidewalks, too weak to die in the privacy of their hovels. Then I was suddenly whisked from home and into a TWA first-class ‘stratocruiser’ stopping in Rome, Paris, London, Shannon, Gander, Boston and, finally, New York. I had a bed and had fallen madly in love with the stewardess but quickly forgot all about her upon seeing the sights: the Empire State building, the Chrysler building, Grand Central Station, Fifth and Madison Avenue, High Fashion on Park, Money on Wall Street, this was no mere city but a romantic notion, a dream come true.
Still to this day, when seeing the place from afar, the frisson is there. Unlike Paris, New York has not emerged on canvas. Edward Hopper is the only man to capture the city’s moods and shadows, its loneliness and loveliness, its red-brick housing lined up like soldiers on parade, the fire escapes standing out like rifles. Paintings of the city are depictions of the real place, and no one except Hopper has come close. That’s because New York is a novel and a movie, not a painting. New York is Henry James and Edith Wharton and F. Scott Fitzgerald, an imaginary mystical place rather than an Impressionist painting like the City of Light.
New York the movie is a black-and-white film. People rush about in a hurry.