The Bardvark: "All the Young Dudes Carry the News"-David Bowie
Leaving New AmsterdamSaturday, June 09, 2012 By Nika di Liberto Sabasteanski ‘13
My one thought is to get out of New York, to experience something genuinely American – Henry Miller When I was obtaining my driver’s permit last year, I handed my passport to the clerk in order to identify myself. After perusing the information he needed for a minute or so, as if he had just stumbled across my name, he looked up and said, bastardizing my surname in a way that does not translate to the written word, “Nika Sabasteanski! With a name like that…you could be a taxi driver.” I laughed with him, even though he was fairly serious, thanked him for the career advice and went to take my written exam. On my walk home from the truly Kafkaesque Department of Motor Vehicles, I thought about his assessment of my old world name and I realized that I, like my fellow Y2s, will be leaving this eccentric, to say the least, melting pot for a long time to come. I know that we will return for holidays and summer vacation, but for a large majority of the year, we will be living abroad, at least, that’s what the rest of America feels like. Despite brief trips westward to California and New Mexico, the extent of my cultural connection to the United States is bounded within the northeast. I have never been south of Virginia and spend most of my time in the city I was born, quite satisfied that I have everything I need. And I do, for the most part. New York is unparalleled in every way, but I feel like I have never experienced the rest of this country. My prejudices and culturally defined arguments have rarely been challenged and I am certain that the next four years will call into question every tenet I have deemed, and which my fellow New Yorkers have affirmed to be, objective. I will be living in Baltimore, which struggles between contrasting atmospheres: the vibe of a liberal college town and the remnants of segregation. Just five minutes out of MICA town replete with young artists and establishments like the bookstore/rebel base “Red Emma’s”, you are confronted with the shells of buildings. It appears to be a war zone, forgotten in time until someone funds the city’s memory. I hope that I will find a home amidst Baltimore’s vibrancy and ever evolving identity, but I think that we are all eternally linked to New York. Its character has shaped my own and like a mother wishing to impart the most important lessons to her offspring, the city has enacted a tough love initiation program, for my own benefit of course. New York tested my assertiveness by having me order a knish and an egg cream at Katz’s on a rather busy day; she assessed my social skills by placing me in rush hour train cars, where your fellow passengers are your poles. She analyzed my spatial reasoning skills and innate impatience by giving me three minutes to run northwest from 32nd St. and Broadway to Penn Station to catch a train, praising me when I determined that the most efficient route was the eastbound bike lane. I should mention that I was given extra points based on the impracticality of my outfit, the heaviness of my pack, and the frequency at which I used expletives to denote my frustration with the relentlessly slow, seemingly comatose masses that occupy midtown. Finally, New York evaluated my ability to bond with my fellow citizens by providing us opportunities to criticize her own incoherence, help each other off the ice laden sidewalks in the winter, and interact with complete strangers in relatively controlled settings. There is no other city that challenges its inhabitants so pointedly and routinely and then praises their resilience, that exposes us to so many absurd situations and then offers us no explanations except that which our imaginations can produce. We live too close to each other to turn out halfway normal and yet we take each other’s neuroses with a grain of salt. We are some of the most forgiving people, even though visitors, who are not accustomed to our pace, can’t always see our soft underbelly. New York is a microcosm of the world, stuffed rather uncomfortably but flawlessly onto a landmass barely visible on a map of the country. But we are its pulse. Willie Morris wrote: And it was to this city, whenever I went home, that I always knew I must return, for it was mistress of one's wildest hopes, protector of one's deepest privacies. It was half insane with its noise, violence, and decay, but it gave one the tender security of fulfillment. On winter afternoons, from my office, there were sunsets across Manhattan when the smog itself shimmered and glowed… Despite its difficulties, which become more obvious all the time, one was constantly put to the test by this city, which finally came down to its people; no other place in America had quite such people and they would not allow you to go stale; in the end they were its triumph and its reward.