I would like to share five little glimpses of what life in East Coast has been in the last two weeks and a half. For all what I can say, New York is a city that creates as well as it destructs, it is a laboratory full of faces full of stories, and bodies in quick succession, of potential like no other metropolis ever saw. Here are ten vignettes from here:
1) The Subway (listen to this sample by Gershwin): unlike its European counterparts, the New York city subway is an experience all by itself. Little cleanliness, grime, leaks, century-old tile and the thunder of the carts in the distance make the grand waltz of the industrialized world. Perhaps many will not seduced by the copious amounts of trash, the rats scouting by the rails, the eternal hurry of its bypassers and the token weirdo; but, in the eyes of this occasional -and very optimistic- visitor, the NYC subway is a dance. It is a dance of sweat, of condensed humanity wrapped in that very particular smell of warm fabric, grease and brushed steel; an egalitarian moan in the depths of the Underworld, a stream of textured countenances and bright eyes full of hope, of boredom and apathy turned liquid in its 24-hour motion. What beautiful thing to write about, this waltz, this river!
2) Park Slope: while it is true that Brooklyn has always enjoyed a bad reputation for many years, things are changing rapidly in some parts of the city. Amongst these parts is Williamsburg -hipster haven- and Park Slope, the neighborhood I currently write from. A drab working class neighborhood at one point, it began to gentrify in the 1970's and it is currently one of the most desired neighborhoods in the NYC metropolitan area. The general vibe of Park Slope is positive, with light brushstrokes of bohemian good will close to that one of San Francisco. Its residents range from poor African-Americans living in government housing projects, to affluent, upper middle-class young commuters who will not settle for the overly expensive housing options in Manhattan itself. Ironically, the price for a room in Park Slope is close in price to one in the Upper West Side. However, the range and closeness of services and the tighter sense of community well compensates for those who seek a peaceful haven where kids can be raised properly, without renouncing to the hustle and bustle of the Capital of the World.
3) Love for adventure: despite my strong belief that my partner, Rachel, deserves much more than a bullet point on this post, I would like to give you a basic introduction to this wonderful person. We met in the same department around four years ago, big-eyed and excited about the gift of filmmaking. Not only we conjured one of the most refreshing collaborative efforts in our four years of education, we also awakened each other's insanity when shaking our skeletons to the tune of the B52's. We occasionally talked about the hardships of being an international student, our shared heritages and the little common verbal twists of Spanish and Portuguese. Almost seven months after leaving my school early and taking the best road trip in my entire existence, we met again in front of the Brooklyn Public Library. We had not exchanged words in months. But deep inside we felt that there was a strong, secret connection we yet had to unveil in each other, a latent energy that had been dormant for the past four years, after much hardship, confusion and grief. We met again, as different -yet the same- people at heart. Upon my return, and many hours on Skype -which gave us the perfect distance and closeness to think-, we met at the Newark International Airport, renewed, beyond the links of friendship. There is much more that lays unsaid; but you have my promise that one day I shall write about us, and our unfathomable bond.
4) Being a man: in a quick visit to Rhode Island to catch up with old friends, I decided to spend day with my mentor, Jim. He is the person who really fueled my passion about cars, and taught me the unspoken art of self-reliance. After a long morning pulling out a rusted Mercedes 190SL out of the forest, Jim went deep in the mounds of paperwork in his little office, and came back with an M1 Garand rifle. "Because the way the chamber would close, it would break the soldier's thumbs", said as he snapped it shut, "When they hurt it, they call it the Garand thumb. Do you want to shoot it?". I nodded, speechless. Back in the forest, he handed me the rifle and taught me how to load its eight rounds. I aimed at the paper target we had set up, and fired slowly, one bullet after the other. I had done it. I had shot a gun for the very first time. Such power, such mechanical simplicity, such anticlimactic empowerment. That instrument in my arms could take a man's life, but the split second I pulled the trigger came down to a lot of noise and a hole on a thick sheet of paper. More than testosterone-induced exhilaration, it was relief, more than anything, to know that such big item had been crossed off my bucket list. I did feel like more of a complete man, and it is a skill I hope to learn in detail.
5) Cinema Paradise: in Thayer street, the main artery of college-town Providence, lies a small, brightly colored theater called the Avon. I met its owner, Richard, whose commitment to the family business goes beyond any degree of detail in the film-watching experience. From the classic glass Coca-Cola bottles available with its magnificent popcorn, to the half-dollar coins in the change of purchases; from the classic fifties opening animation "Let's all go to the Lobby" to the charming, affable personality of the Man himself. We had dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant in the company of Rachel and two most excellent friends, followed by a tour of the projector room and a private screening of Sunset Boulevard on the big screen. For the sanity of the world I hope that these little family theaters do not keep succumbing to the mega-mall, multi-plex fever. The experience of visiting them, of breathing in its red velvet halls and looking at the dramatically lit Art Déco motifs is as much of an experience as it is watching the film itself, it lies beyond raw, capitalistic function. There is true charm, the true small-town magic of the wizard behind that 24-frame-a-second machine.
Yesterday I went to Cape Cod to pick up one of the cars for the TV show I am working on. The make and model shall remain secret, all I can say is that the car is forty years old and drop-dead gorgeous. Tomorrow I shall be taking many chances in driving this machine to Kansas. The previous owner told me I was crazy for not shipping the car, to which I answered that taking chances is what life is about. It truly is. I do not have 100% certainty that the car will make it, and I am fine with this decision. No one takes chances anymore, nothing seems to feel earned or subject to the whims of destiny. Mankind has made everything safe, and everything numb –and I am not only talking about cars. Taking a journey has become little more than getting home, a little more tired than usual. What about the process? What about the decisions? What about exposure to life as it happens? What about the stories that wait to be told?
Ladies and gentlemen: farewell for now. Wish me luck on the road.