Nostalgia for a Lost New York: The Economist Review of Richard Price’s LUSH LIFE

From The Economist of week March 22- 28 (Self still catching up on her reading, after all!)

The Lower East Side of New York has long been a gateway for sweaty, dreamy immigrants. Its narrow streets feature the residue of older struggles, its tenements and synagogues inhabited by earlier boatloads.

But the pickle shops and leather outlets now share space with fancy French bistros and sleek, glassy condominiums. Chinese immigrants crammed 20 to a room toil alongside young, white artists sporting ironic tattoos and writerly goatees. It is a “Candyland of a neighborhood,” writes Richard Price in Lush Life, his gripping eighth novel, a murder-mystery set in the area. With gritty, rhythmic prose, full of interrogating cops, wry bartenders and street-wise kids, Mr. Price captures the complex jumble of race and class in this “checkerboard of demolition and rehabilitation.”

New York has long lived in self’s imagination as her own personal mecca. Was it those pictures of Dearest Mum at 14, playing in Carnegie Hall? Or Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall,” which self saw three times?

But self no longer loves New York. She thinks she stopped loving the City (which isn’t even referred to as “The Big Apple” any longer — or, if it is, only by those who are too old to be considered “cool”) when she saw her first Starbucks in the upper East Side. She had called an aunt who played the piano for American Ballet Theatre. Imagine her consternation when aunt suggested meeting at Starbucks, just around the corner from her brother-in-law’s Park Avenue apartment. (Why on earth would self want to meet her New York aunt in Starbucks? There are no less than three Starbucks within a mile of self’s abode in California!)

Self thinks one of the reasons she loved Tel Aviv so much was that there was not a single Starbucks anywhere in the city. AND there was great, great coffee everywhere, even in chain bakery/coffee shops like Rolodin.

Last summer, when self was spending a sultry August in the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and getting to know so many fascinating East Coast artists, a number of whom were from New York City, she overheard them discussing at breakfast the opening of a — Heaven Forbid! — KMart in, of all places, her beloved Astor Place on the Lower East Side. That was when self knew that, without a doubt, Manhattan was no longer the Manhattan of her dreams.

And, for heaven’s sake, there is a Whole Foods on 14th street which beggars the Whole Foods in Palo Alto. And self’s brother-in-law was so gaga over Whole Foods when it first opened that he could not stop talking about it.

And, furthermore, Madison Avenue now looks like the Stanford Shopping Center, for two of the biggest stores are these:

    Banana Republic
    Williams Sonoma

And the old FAO Schwarz store on Fifth Avenue is now an Apple Store.

Self is just waiting for the first Jamba Juice to open.

(And, oops, dear blog reader: Self just did a google search and found that the aforementioned KMart had opened, but not, thankfully in Astor Place: on One Pennsylvania Plaza).

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

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3 responses to “Nostalgia for a Lost New York: The Economist Review of Richard Price’s LUSH LIFE”

  1. Me again…
    Starbucks opened in Israel to great fanfare…and closed two years later with a whimper. We already had great coffee and nice places to drink it in, as you well know.
    As a former New Jersey boy, who used to visit New York regularly, I must agree with you about New York’s decline. Now, when I arrive at the Port Authority Terminal on 42nd St, I imagine I’ve arrived in Disney Land (at best) or some police state like Singapore (at worst). Yeah, I admit, I used to enjoy an occaisional peep show as well as the vicarious thrill of dodging assumed muggers, connfidence tricksters and pickpockets. Now one walks up 42nd St past cops loitering in groups, not a mugger or peep show in sight. Not even litter and homeless people. Sad. New York has cleaned-up her streets at the expence of her soul.
    The Lower East Side has almost completely gentrified. It is almost impossible to find a good kosher knish or garlic pickles down there any more.
    There are no more bums on the Bowery…need I say more? This is NOT the New York I grew up in the shadow of….

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  2. When I lived in NYC there was a crazy woman who camped out on the island on Broadway at 110th. She would do high kicks and stayed in a rage, wearing rags. Quite pitiful. In those days, the city steamed mightily in the summer, and you weren’t a New Yorker unless you had experienced a power shut off, in a subway, in a tunnel. One hundred sweaty people in a subway car, in the dark, everyone in control and breathing calmly.

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  3. I was in a zone, the year I lived in New York. I had just graduated with a Masters in East Asian Studies from Stanford but whenever I mentioned that, everyone thought I meant “Stamford, CT.” It was my first experience commuting to a job by subway. I became slightly crazed, so much so that, one late afternoon, after an exhausting day at work, I noticed that people were staying away from one particular subway car. And I FLEW to it. Upon entering, I saw a man bent over, clutching his stomach. There was blood pooled around his legs.

    Do you know what I did? I sat in the car. I chose the farthest spot away from him and opened a book. After several long moments, people started to follow me. After a while, no one looked at him. Someone spread newspapers on the floor around his feet.

    But the train didn’t move. Eventually, a beefy white cop came (Why do I use “beefy” to describe a white cop? Such a cliché!). He addressed the man thus:

    “Guess you don’t feel so good, huh?”

    The man mumbled something in reply, the cop hauled him to his feet and they staggered off together.

    Five minutes later, the train left the station.

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