Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Excerpt/New York City

I check out several library books each week, usually dashing into the midtown branch of the New York Public library 15 or minutes before it closes, making choices mostly on titles and blurbs alone, preferring to get the package home and open it like a present. Sometimes I'm disappointed, as when I checked out a book last week on the famous philosophers and found it abysmally written, but other times I get gems.

Yesterday, though, I was in my own neighborhood and decided to pop into my local branch to see if I could find a CD promising to teach the listener Spanish. I found one but also found another thick book, "Writing New York: A Literary Anthology", containing essays about the town written, as I discovered when I cracked the book this morning, by Charles Dickens, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe and other giants of literature.

Each morning the temptation is there to fill my head with junk knowledge from internet headlines. I resist with the good stuff, and, this morning, as I say, cracked my new book, wondering if it would entice or repel. I came across this:

"New York City is the most fatally fascinating thing in America. She sits like a great white witch at the gate of the country, showing her alluring white face, and hiding her crooked hands and feet under the folds of her white garments---constantly enticing thousands from far within, and tempting those who come from across the sea to go no farther.

And all these become the victims of her caprice. Some she crushes beneath her cruel feet; others she condemns to a fate like that of galley slaves; a few she favors and fondles, riding them high on the bubbles of fortune; then with a sudden breath, she blows the bubbles out and laughs mockingly as she watches them fall."

James Weldon Johnson, "The autobiography of an ex-colored man", 1912

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