I am in the Newark airport (again), on my way to Sweden (again), and thinking about stuff (as usual). I took the Bieber bus up from Reading this morning, departing at 9am (despite the fact that my flight does not leave until 5:20 this evening). That in itself was a cultural experience. It is not often in the USA (not living in the countryside anyway) that I find myself in a communal experience like a bus ride. Normally I am fairly isolated, in the car, in the normal rounds of places I go (the book store, the coffee shop, the running store). And in those places, I generally come across the same basic types of people. Namely white, suburban, upper-middle class folks. So the bus ride, with its mix of races and classes, all brought together by the common goal of getting somewhere, perhaps got my subconscious thinking about culture.
I arrived in New York City at the Port Authority Bus station just after 12noon. I was hungry, and initially searched on my phone for a nearby sushi place to get some lunch before making my way to the airport (I had time to kill. I still have time to kill, and I am at the airport). I searched, and found the closest place was in the wrong direction, and it was snowing a blizzard on the streets of NY and I did not pack my jacket, thinking rather smugly that my puffy coat is already in Sweden, so what would I need that for (forgetting that I was public-transporting myself to the airport rather than getting dropped curbside in the car). Plus, I remembered that I was in New York City and was bound to find a suitable place to eat (even by my picky standards) en route to Madison Square Garden and Penn Station. And that is what really got me thinking about culture.
This is not a fully formed idea, but merely a thought that entered my head and that I think was worth writing down. I ate lunch at 'Village 38', a small marketplace-type joint on 8th Avenue, replete with two salad bars (one hot, one cold), a deli, a sushi counter, salad counter and Korean BBQ-type counter. Plus drink coolers, coffee machines, the works. All of it self-serve, with cash registers in each corner and tables to sit and eat upstairs (unfortunately out of plastic and styrofoam contains with plastic forks).
I ate my lunch and walked outside, back into the snow, and that is when this thought came to be. New York, so is my impression anyway, is meant to be a multicultural, the mixing pot of the world, at least in our American mythology. Stepping out onto the street I saw people of every race, of every size, shape and color. I saw a Halal restaurant across the street, next to a NY deli, next to a pizza joint called 'Roll N Go'. Like a good county bumpkin, I looked up at the tall buildings rather than where I was walking, and I took some photos of my surroundings, with this cultural thought in my head.
And in that moment it dawned on me that the multiculturalism of New York City is in a way a myth. The city is rather it's own culture.
It may have begun multiculturally, as immigrants fled Europe and other parts of the world, arriving on Ellis Island and not having the means to get any further than the streets surrounding the port where they were left off, forming clusters of German, Polish, Spanish, etc. cultures in different parts of the city. But now it seems that the attraction of living in, or even visiting the city, is not due to it's cultural mix, but due to the entirely new culture that has formed out of that. The culture that is all that stuff blended together. An Indian who wants to be close to Indian culture would not move to New York City because of that - he would move there precisely because there is so much going on there, and that idea I think is independent of anything else.
There are city people in general and there are countryside people in general, and I do not mean that in any political or class sort of way. I just mean the hustle and bustle. I am a country guy, Mia a city girl (kind of - at least more than I am). I think the draw to NYC is not the multiculturalism of it - not anything specific that is - but all of it blended together Simply the fact that is it so busy, and real 'city people' like that excitement. The cultural melting pot took all of the parts and made them something wholly different. Like mixing strawberries and bananas in a blender and ending up with a blueberry smoothie (?). I am obviously not expressing this as clearly as it was in my head when I first thought of it, but I hope you get the picture.
Later on the NJ transit train to Newark Airport I sat next to an older woman and read TIME magazine for the short journey. I noticed someone reading the newspaper in the seat in front of us and happened to catch that the text was all Asian characters of some sort. And the it occurred to me that my ideas might be completely wrong.