I just spent nearly three weeks in London, coming home for my brother’s wedding, and to see friends and family; right now I’m staying in New York. The two cities have always seemed, to me, to be the two great cities of either the West, or of the world, although having never been to Shanghai or Tokyo, I can’t say how they compare. Both London and New York have giant size, vast populations that seem as or more varied than the entire world’s, art and artists, beautiful buildings, oppressive expense and the bewildering presence of astronomical wealth.
My brother’s wedding ceremony took place on the roof deck of the National Theatre, on the South Bank, on a beautiful Friday afternoon, and across the Thames, central London stood in all its several centuries.
What strikes me about New York, in contrast, is the edgy, rough air of the city, which seems unrelated to the behaviour of its inhabitants. Contrary to myth, I always find New Yorkers chatty and warm. I’m aware of the statistics that prove that high crime rates are something in the city’s past. And yet the spirit of the city, its geography, both human and natural, is wild, risky, threatening. Flying to London, looking down, I saw a countryside farmed and populated, domesticated. New York does not feel domesticated, not in the Jersey cliffs across the Hudson, not in the enormous, enclosing apartment blocks.