“I just keep plugging along,” she said. “But how long can I do it?”
N ONE OF MY LAST NIGHTS in Manhattan, I went to Avery Fisher
Hall in Lincoln Center. Leonard Bernstein was returning to the New York Philharmonic Orchestra as guest conductor. The concert ended with a profoundly moving rendering of a Mahler symphony. The audience rose to its feet. A woman in my row shouted: “Atta way, Lenny, sock it to ‘em!”
Sock it to whom, I wondered. Life, perhaps? Never mind; that combativeness, that willingness to engage is as much a part of Manhattan as the great music, the great buildings, perhaps its essence.
I departed the city by train, passing under the Hudson, surfacing in the Jersey flats. Looking back, I could see the towers of Manhattan poking above the bluffs along the river. It was an image very much like the one I had fashioned so long ago. The larger city, I knew now, had changed: It had lost jobs, people, and financial resources; for many, the human possibilities had narrowed. Yet in one sense New York had not changed. With Manhattan as its heart, it remains the greatest of cities, capable of inspiring wonder. Here as in ancient Rome, a poet could truly write: “Nothing human is alien to me.”
I remembered talking with an investment banker in an office above Rockefeller Center. He had grown up in Paris, lived now on the Upper East Side, traveled often on business to London and Paris.
“Manhattan,” he had said, “is the only place in the world to live. The only place that’s really civilized in the sense of the 1980s. Maybe not in the 19th-century sense. But whatever is happening in the latter part of the 20th century—in terms of the intellect and the arts, in science, in the sense of what’s good and bad in the world—is here.”
Whatever is happening—the good and the bad. Amen. I had not come too late. The train rocked on southward.