I’ve got that feeling again: that strange sensation in my stomach. It could be excitement or maybe the delayed digestion of the truffle oil pizza I inhaled at dinner. New York will do that to you. It worms itself deep inside you and pulses through your veins, feeding you like your new oxygen.
The metro plays a symphony. The brakes screech out the high notes; the chattering is a steady bass; the unabating pacing of passengers keeps the beat while the preacher in the corner takes the solo. The phrase ‘melting pot’ falls short when describing the metro in the Big Apple. A suited-and-booted business man with a Rolex and a frown is sucked into the screen of his iPhone, unaware that there’s child wiping her dirty hands on his briefcase. At his back, a gang of hustling teenagers bust a move for a dollar bill, while some French tourists loudly try to decipher their map. The whole scene is framed by a series of advertisements in Spanish. Are you dizzy yet? If not, then you’re about to be.
The metro screeches to a halt at 42nd street and we flood out onto the streets. It’s late at night but Times Square is lit by its own galaxy of superstars. Models, footballers and actors stare down at us from the sides of skyscrapers. On a recent trip to Florence, I was bemused by the idea that some of the tallest and most beautiful buildings in the city were built by aristocratic families who wanted to get one-up on the others by being the owners of the most grand palazzi. I think Times Square would be the modern equivalent. Brands and campaigns enter into the contest of who can create the biggest, flashiest, most colourful advertisement, of who can blind the tourists most extravagantly. When you remove yourself from the square’s glare, your eyes readjust as you melt back into the maze, but you never get over that sense of pure excess. On the most humble corner of the most discrete alley, the most unassuming diner will brag about how many grams their excessively-whopping whopper weighs. You go to a sports match and they surround you with screens showing other sports matches. That old custom of ‘waiting’ has been stamped out by an army of busy bees that drives around the city, ready to whisk you away at the wave of a hand. It’s the biggest, fastest, shiniest, loudest mass, bursting at the seams. The energy overflows the neat grid of concrete lines which are entrusted with the impossible task of imposing order on chaos. New York is a benevolent beast that lives and breathes and helps you to do the same. And all the metaphors and similes in the world will never do her justice, because New York isn’t a city you can describe, it’s a city you have to feel. And even when you make it out of the maze, the vertigo you felt at the top of the Empire State Building remains in the form of that strange sensation in your stomach, calling you back.