08 May New York seen by an archaeologist
Do you know how an archaeologist looks at a city? Layered
Well yes, we archaeologists look at the world from the bottom up, we focus on the foundations, because that’s where it all begins. Halfway between the first foundation stone and the tip of the tallest skyscraper is what we call HISTORY, a story that is often up to us to reconstruct.
For those who know me personally and for those who have begun to follow our adventures, what I am about to say will be clear by now: I am a woman with an “ancient” soul, one of those who gets excited entering a library full of dusty texts, better if very ancient. Growing up with the myth of Indiana Jones on my bedside table, it’s the roots of cultures that fascinate me and their evolution. Big cities have never held more fascination for me than the pyramids of Egypt, the Parthenon in Athens or the temples of Angkor Wat; nevertheless visiting a city like New York seemed to me one of those things that is worth once in a lifetime. The Big Apple was an unexpected stop on a journey that had taken us first to South America and then to Southeast Asia; after so many months of wandering I thought I would like to savor the routine of our western lives for a few days.
In short, I thought I would like New York as I like a painting by Pollock, but deep down I know very well that it doesn’t hold up to comparison with a Botticelli!
How wrong I was.
No book, film, TV series or report has ever prepared my mind or heart for what I’ve had the joy of living in New York and honestly, I don’t think this poorly written short article of mine will make you imagine it!
New York is a city to live and this most of all represents its true essence; never showing signs of aging, she looks like a beautiful woman who has found the fountain of eternal youth.
Did you know that New York was founded in 1624, in a few years it will celebrate its 4 centuries of history; we are in the middle of the 17th century, an era which for us Europeans marks one of the moments of maximum artistic and scientific expression. It is the time of Galileo Galilei, of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, of Vivaldi, but it is also the century of Shakespeare, of the Sun King, of Newton. Now tell me, thinking of Romeo and Juliet, Vivaldi’s Primavera or Louis XIV’s France, can you perhaps think of analogies with New York? Obviously not, because the former are the memory of an ancient world, the latter the symbol of modernity. In archeology there is a phenomenon called “Reuse of the ancient”: the most modern societies have always reused elements of the past, reworking them according to their own taste and for their own needs. Looking at New York, this phenomenon seems all the more evident to me: transformation has been the driving force behind a city that has continually incorporated its past, celebrating it and at the same time giving it new life to show its ever more modern, fashionable, step with the times.
Where modernity has a cultural value
We travel the world for many reasons, but surely we all set off with the dream of a destination and ONE thing, THAT thing that exists only there and that we cannot miss: the Colosseum in Rome, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Great Wall in Beijing , New York life.
I went to New York to see the thrill of a people who have made innovation, development and ambition their flag, thus bringing about the Renaissance of the 20th century.
It did so by welcoming and embracing everything it could from cultures from all over the world: flavours, colours, smells, opportunities, activities, languages, excellence.
As a child, has it ever happened to you to take the globe, spin it as hard as a top, and when it stops, point your finger and say “Today I would like to go HERE!”. Here, living in New York has the same effect, only that here you can really do it: because if by chance your finger has pointed at South Korea, rest assured that there is a Korean culture center where you can start taking language courses. If it’s over on Greece, I recommend a good Greek restaurant in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood; if you have bet on France, the best boulangerie is right on Broadway, near the Strand Book bookstore; if you ended up in Morocco know that inside the Chelsea market there is a shop that seems to have come out of a Moroccan souk, you will surely find the Arabian Nights shoes you were looking for. New York is the only city outside Italy where an Italian can truly feel at home, where an entire neighborhood, Chinatown, has signs written only in Chinese characters and where you often find yourself speaking Spanish, sometimes French but hardly ever English, but how is this possible?
I know how proud we are of the Italian Renaissance, no one could agree more than me, but the historian’s skill lies in knowing that our existence is made up of repeating cycles: there have been other Renaissances after the Italian sixteenth century and other ce there will be, we just didn’t realize it; for us, people of the old continent, the past will always have an invaluable value, but in anchoring ourselves to the successes of the past we have forgotten to look at the successes of the present.
Now that I’ve known New York I can say that labeling it as a symbol of a society insensitive to art, history and culture always sacrificed in favor of progress is a mistake: innovating does not mean not looking at one’s past, but rather a way to celebrate it .
That past has given us exceptional models, the present must not be outdone for the societies of the future: and how can it do so if not by trying to improve itself?
Is therefore also the inclination to modernity a cultural asset in the broadest sense?
Everyone will surely know the famous phrase “Paris is always a good idea”, taken from the film Sabrina, with the fantastic Audrey Hepburn. Here, although there are those places where we would gladly return over and over again, this sentence can only be adapted to those places we really fell in love with and the one with New York was really love at first sight for me.
“New York is always a good idea!” and it really is.
And since we’re on the subject of cities, let’s move from the modern to the very ancient! If this article on New York intrigued you, don’t miss our post on Cusco. We hope both will inspire you for your future travels.