It is little wonder that so many still casually divide the globe into creaky hegemonies of West and East; the USA is still riven by them, never mind the philosophical fault line of North and South, and what the USA does we tend to follow. I have never been to New York; the river of mongrel blood that flows in these veins has tributaries in Seattle and the state of Washington, overlooking the Pacific, that do not extend across the Plains. I have never been to New York, but it feels like home.
Better yet, it feels like it could become home, in the same way that Melbourne opened its arms to a perfect stranger five years ago. So many have come this way before. So many writers. There is a temptation to borrow those words, for spice or for a crutch, or to add a scrawl of crayon to those who have worked in ink and paint. I am not immune.
The USA’s greatest export has been its culture, decades of television and films and food and merchandise congealing into familiarity. How else to explain this feeling of easy fluency? It is like love, when you gaze into evening windows lit up like starry eyes and the feel the warmth of belonging. I laugh at a friend who wants to go to the Museum of Natural History because that’s where Ross worked, he of the dinosaur cheques; barely half an hour later I get unreasonably excited about traipsing around the same part of Brooklyn as the cast of Girls.
But then, it is impossible to judge the rest of the country by New York. There are no uncluttered horizons here, no concept of the automobile as shorthand for freedom. If Bruce Springsteen had grown up on Manhattan he would never have written Thunder Road – a car would have been a useless extravagance. There would have been no freewheeling compass, opportunity in every direction; the island still worships acceleration, but elevation is a higher priority.
The ants milling about in canyons of shadow and stone and steel crane their heads skyward on occasion, looking forward to the day they too can look down. Perhaps they should turn their gaze lower still, to the city’s belly, where the banks and publishing houses and studios act as enzymes for talent. New York grows tall on this constant stream of nutrition; it stretches and yawns and spreads its influence ever further, and the detritus of those who were almost good enough is washed away into the uncaring Atlantic.
All the lines about sleep and the lack thereof are true. There are stimuli and stimulants in abundance. There is always something to do that you do not yet know about. There are always people to meet. They come from everywhere, and if you cannot tell where from, no matter – in all the best ways, a trip down these streets is a walk through the woods of diversity and into the jungles of eclecticism. The air can be close. The crowds can be daunting. But there are paths that can be hewn with the most delicate of machetes, and even the most travelled of these still gleam with the promise of adventure.