New York has never been so European. But not necessarily in the sophisticated, smart sense, although the reopening of Provence on Macdougal Street is a good sign. We mean in the smug, antiseptic sense of a town where burgeoning ethnicity has been replaced by self-satisfied packaging. What kind of city is based on A.T.M.’s and UVB’s?
There was a time when New York was viewed as the adolescent version of a defunct empire’s colonial capital. For the first couple hundred years of our city’s history, it wasn’t much different from the London point of view toward Canberra or Ottawa, except that we were huge. And loud. And rude. In that sense, the 20th century was good for the city: immigrants, music, money, commerce, identity. That was pretty exciting for 100 years or so. Then came the 1990’s, and the 21st century, with its middle-aged investors and their children in million-dollar studios and the disposable income more associated with scions of sheiks than of schleppers. Once, we were the city of ambition, of sweaty immigrants and gangsters, of a high-energy, low-class self-esteem in which we knew that work was all the status anyone needed.
But now New York fairly gleams with portly, middle-aged self-satisfaction. Low crime rates! Big, self-satisfied egos.
Ambition is looked down upon; cool is rewarded. We eat “good” food here and drink “good” coffee! Grunge and grease and Nedick’s and Nathan’s are in the shadows. Trans fats are illegal. Every once in a while, an architect with a lot of vowels in his name is allowed to propose a building. Ascetic is a near-ethic.
Our mutual intelligibility with Europe has never been greater. For one thing, they all speak English now. For another, they all come here to shop for clothes because the dollar is such a weakling. While they’re at it, they’re buying up pieds-a-terres in which to rest their gnarled European feet after a long day on Madison Avenue, then off to lunch at some joint where the maitre d’ speaks their language. It’s Sarkozy City!
All our old office buildings—we invented the form!—are getting turned into condos for visiting Europeans while we build these “green” Internet-ready monstrosities that look like they were transplanted from some Parisian commercial banlieu.
It’s a funny reversal. Remember when we used to go over there to buy nice stuff for cheap? Now they’re sending over all their discount chains—Ikea, H & M, Topshop, Pret a Manger—and we’re devouring it. Next things to go: bathing and deodorants. Thirty-nine percent of Europeans polled last week said they resented Jewish wealth. What are we going to do with that one?
New York’s recent history could hardly have pointed us here. In 1969, from most points of view, New York City was on the other end of the swing, hovering over a precipice, about to fall into an abyss. From there, you could see the vast increases in crime, the gradual degradation of the cityscape, the economic malaise that would define the following 15 to 20 years. Then, an amazing concept: secession!
Norman Mailer and Jimmy Breslin ran on an independent ticket for Mayor and City Council president, on a platform of making New York City the 51st state.
Kiss off the boredom of the Democratic machine! they implored.
A drastic mood was taking hold. City for Sale was the name of Jack Newfield and Wayne Barrett’s chronicle of the years under Ed Koch.
But now the city really is for sale, it seems. And the bidding keeps going up. England is investing here; Germany, France, China, Japan and Dubai have laid down business or real-estate roots here.
We are zee streetwalker of cities. The tart of America, ready to sell for a nice pair of stockings. And zee sugar daddy is … Europe, with its exuberant anomie, its unapologetically mass-produced upper-middle-class 21st century–ness. Screw the 51st state! There’s only one economically forward-thinking move for our city: Join the European Union. Let’s start spending euros on the subway! New
Yorkers, get your berets screwed on right—it’s time to join the E.U.