Friday, 13 January 2012

Looking West

Dawn, Friday 13 January 2012

It is mid-January on the Upper West Side, but not as cold as I have known it. The dawn rises grey and damp. From my 22nd floor window, I look beyond the nearer water-towers and fire-escapes, across the Hudson River to its farther shore and the slowly blinking red lights of radio masts, beyond shadowy, sleeping New Jersey suburbs, to the line of low hills on the horizon. Ragged clouds scud northwards. The first, brief shaft of weak sunlight catches the tower blocks and roof-gardens. There is a time of day when even the most sanguine are at a low ebb; and The City That Never Sleeps, possibly the most positive place on earth, seems drowsy and may have indeed slept and woken with the tiniest hint of depression.

In the street below, the huge trucks and taxis move warily down Broadway, past boxes stacked high on the sidewalk outside the Fairway supermarket. Like No Other Market, it is a warren-like Aladdin's cave of chaotic plenty: uneven floors, impossibly narrow aisles, clashing trolleys and baskets, incredible amounts of food piled obscenely high and sold... well, not that cheap; all bathed in a complicated scent of coffee and fish with an underlying spicy sweetness. Almost none of the vast amount of fresh produce is sourced outside the USA - this is a nation which can feed itself.

It is January: most of the Christmas lights have gone and the trees are bare - the grey, early hours of the new year. And there are signs of economic slowdown I have not seen before in the years I have been coming here. Filene's Basement is history. This famous chain of stores selling high-end clothes at knock-down prices in almost jumble-sale style has gone forever. There is the occasional closed-up shop unit and vacant lot along Broadway; and a subtle dulling of the exuberance that makes this city so exhilarating for the visitor. The can-do, right-now spirit is in the tap water; it will always survive. But it is temporarily toned down as Gotham, self-styled capital of the Western world, peers into the distance and waits for the recovery.

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