“He adored New York City,” a bumbling male speaks in voice-over. The everyday expanse of New York, with images of skyscrapers, pre-war buildings, parking garages, diners and bridges—like monuments frozen in time, save for the subtle strum and movement of the occasional car or passerby—accompanies it in black-and-white frames; the staggering, symphonic sound of the 1924 American musical composition Rhapsody in Blue, plays in the background.
“He idolized it all out of proportion,” the voice continues, unsure of itself. “No, make that: he – he romanticized it all out of proportion. Yeah. To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin.’”
The voice, belonging to the Bronx-born filmmaker Woody Allen, sets the opening monologue for his 1979 cult classic Manhattan, as scenes from Bloomingdale’s to Brooklyn, pay filmic homage to the City that Never Sleeps.
Allen’s Manhattan, immortalized, is as he describes it. She never ceases to be a city of sharp contrasts and dramatic proportions, where different people and cultures clash, collide, and converge with such violence and frenzy, toughness and severity, and cynicism or neurosis, that outsiders looking in may mistake our straightforward nature or plain-spokenness as aggressive or rude, overlooking the profundity of our compassion and tolerance that belie our hard-guarded exteriors. But the truth is that we’re all just mush on the inside, deeply romantic and sentimental, but never in a way that may compromise our reality, or, more importantly, our communities. (If it’s one thing New Yorkers know, it’s that we are intrinsically at one with the people, places and things around us; as American author Tom Wolfe wrote, “one belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years,” and one can only assume he was speaking to its milieu and spirit the same.)
Our pride as New Yorkers transcends nationalism. We prefer the full embrace of humanism. New York was the first capital of the United States, inaugurating George Washington as president in 1789. It was at the forefront of the anti-slavery movement and the Underground Railroad. She is the Statue of Liberty, welcoming millions of immigrants through Ellis Island to modern day, her towering skyline a beacon of global commerce and trade. She has countless cultural and artistic institutions, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney, and the Frick— she is even home to the permanent headquarters of the United Nations. New York, for all her glory, has also given us Broadway, Balanchine, the Harlem Renaissance, Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, the World Trade Center and Central Park, to name a few more milestone markers.
So for the holiday season, we decided to stay home, here in larger-than-life Manhattan, indulging in some of our favorite winter rituals, visiting institutions both old and new, high and low, uptown and downtown, the city’s alluring charm filling our every footstep along the way.