digesting the crab at the muddy bottom of the rivers of Bowery

Perhaps it was the rain. Or the fraying of a relationship. Or the combustible matter that has been created by all this therapy. But New York was like damp ashes.

I first went there in 1994 when I was 24 and knotted. I’d just met Abraham, a handsome ballet dancer in Berlin with the biggest thighs I’d ever encountered. I spend most of my week in Manhattan swerving between excited coke-accelerated city-worship and squishy, soft-hearted longing for my new boyfriend back in Berlin.

Back then I was doing lots of clubbing and desperately casting around for some secure base. I did lines on a car-bonnet outside the back of CBGBs, I caught lice in a bed in the East Village, I poured hundreds of quarters in to a payphone on Avenue A trying to call Berlin, I chased a South African male model through the crowds at Twilo, my heart turned tiny. It was a bruising time.

But I went back maybe a dozen times between then and now. With different boyfriends, different parties, different drugs. I went back sober, and working. I filmed and I stayed in swanky hotels in Meatpacking District – where earlier I’d hung out in an artist studio watching him mix tar and cut out rent boys from the gay weeklies. I filmed in Central Park, on top of the Met. I climbed the Empire State at dawn and photographed pigeons looking down.

And the City purred on. Sunshine on the village, the Christopher streer pier, sushi at Hiro, beer by the waterside.
It got clean, it got safe, it got bombed.

And the last few times I have wondered why I am there. Is it all just one big consumer experience? The shops are like beautiful art installations. The art installations feel like shops. I feel pampered and pleasured. But I don’t feel real. I don’t feel engaged. Just handled.

Maybe it’s the crunch, or the jetlag, or the invisible smoke still rising from Ground Zero. The city made me sad.


  1. robin

    May 19, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    It makes me sad too – on a daily basis sometimes – surely a component of living here.

  2. Jeff

    May 19, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    Wow. That’s too bad. Invariably, New York fills me with positivity and hope. The City has an energy and vitality unlike anyplace else I’ve been. I also find the vast majority of people friendly and genuine. I will grant you that Americans in general have service down pat, to the point where one might feel handled, as you put it, but coming from Canada where the concept of service is basically non-existent, I dig it.

    Check out the restautant Dirt Candy (dirtcandynyc.com) the next time you are in town. Canadian chef/owner Amanda Cohen will make you feel at home and less sad!


  3. Geoff Coupe

    May 20, 2009 at 10:19 am

    Perhaps it might be a NYC equivalent of Johnson’s aphorism about London, but perhaps you’ve simply grown up. I’ve lived in cities, but now I feel more comfortable in my skin living in the country.

  4. Valerie W

    May 20, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    I think we all go to NYC at different times in our lives and each time its for a different reason.
    My daughter who’s in her twenties goes for the clubs. I go for
    Broadway. Others for the restaurants. There is an energy about
    the city I guess because of the number of people going to
    or coming from somewhere. As things branch out from Big Cities,
    I’m finding I can find things closer to home ie Providence, RI.
    But for me going to NYC is like a mini-trip. Two hours to the
    train station, two hours on the train and then a day tramping
    around the city. Something different to do. Like Geoff says
    you’ve probably just grown up. Remember we’re always evolving.

  5. HeatherAnnie

    May 23, 2009 at 7:49 am

    Too much of too much.
    Look for the small in the large.
    Let go of your expectations and just be.
    Oh, yea… and don’t forget to give the
    homeless guy in front of the at McDonald’s
    in Times Square a quarter.

  6. lori

    May 28, 2009 at 3:33 am

    “It got clean, it got safe, it got bombed.”

    not my recollection of it. It’s pretty dirty in my book.

    I like this piece stylistically. Thanks for letting us
    know you. Btw, you chasing models?!

  7. Pete

    May 28, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    NYC is for sharing and if you have no one to share it with then it becomes difficult especially if with and yet you have ‘memories’ of times gone by it omesmes a little difficult
    becomes a bit difficult. Why not take me next time?
    But seriously you may have to just go ahead and
    exorcise a few demons and perhaps not stay too long.
    Go shopping! do the sights – and not just the boys.
    Laters bro

  8. mark

    June 1, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    you have a beautiful writing style ( i sound like your teacher) and i like the way you do not edit yourself to make it palitable

  9. Duane

    June 3, 2009 at 5:14 am

    You nail it so often. That’s why I come back time to time. The art piece compliments your thoughts. It induced a wave of nostalgia for me. It intrigues me how how very different each of our experiences and take’s on a place can be from another’s. How different the experience of a revisit can be from our last.

  10. Robert

    June 7, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    As native New Yorker, I find myself somewhat mystified by your feeling “handled”

    as though you were a piece of merchandise. You certainly don’t seem to be describing

    the New York where I was born&raised! This city is a place of tremendous energy &

    pulsing vitality. I’ve lived in a number of places& I keep coming back- drawn by its siren

    call of the promise of endless possibility and reinvention!

  11. Daniel Murray

    June 8, 2009 at 3:23 am

    A city is much different when friends and lovers are not around.

  12. Annie

    June 9, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    If all you see of the city is Soho and Tribeca I would expect you to open a vein. What creative person wants to hang with trust fund babies? Come to the real neighborhoods and you would be renewed!

  13. Veristes

    June 16, 2009 at 1:28 am

    i stumbled across you on Brit-Tv, in the Cash In
    The Attic House and Garden Channel, which I never
    watch, and Lo…..an expert on psychotropics with
    a fine mind, to boot! I write a great deal about
    Eternity in a Grain of Sand sort of stuff……so,
    here’s something for you, too, Alistair…..I even
    have a blog entry about you!

  14. Scott

    June 17, 2009 at 11:18 pm


    In your spiritual journey have you read the works of Sylvia Browne?
    THE OTHER SIDE AND BACK is the first in a series in earthy, straightforward
    American style. I have found answers to many of my own spiritual questions
    in her books.

  15. toby ellis

    July 13, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    beautiful description,alistair
    newyork would make me sad too, the more
    spiritual you get the more you pick up on
    humanitys sadness/the more sensitive you
    are to lower vibrations.being in a city
    for long is not good ‘escape to the country’
    with me? and learn to be content with serene

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