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This report is taken from PN Review 54, Volume 13 Number 4, March - April 1987.

Reading New York John Ash

  From the window I see

an immense city, carefully revealed,
made delicate by over-workmanship,
  detail upon detail,
  cornice upon façade

reaching so languidly up into
a weak white sky, it seems to waver there.
(Elizabeth Bishop:
Love Lies Sleeping)


Anyone arriving in a foreign city for the first time will feel themselves falling victim to clichéd responses - of wonder, excitement or disappointment. Approaching New York you have to penetrate fold upon fold of images from novels, poems, movies and television. Your first view of the city at night, seen from the direction of New Jersey, inspires a rush of recognition and gratitude since everything is as you wanted and expected it to be. But this feeling is then countered by a kind of nervous disavowal. All this glamour and radiance may be delusory. It is almost like falling in love ... At this point something may happen to trip your response, to throw things slightly to one side. For me this moment came when my taxi came to a halt on the street in Chelsea where I was to stay for the next six weeks. I discovered that the street was lined with trees.

Now, I had been firmly convinced that trees in Manhattan were restricted to Central Park and a very few rather dusty and woebegone oases further south. A tree in Upper New York State may be part of spectacularly ...


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