“The City”

Well, I’m back from a wonderful trip to NYU. My hosts were outstanding, the students were a lot of fun, and I always find it gratifying to give talks in music departments. I presented a section on the history of psychacoustics and people seem to really be getting it. I also find that presenting something 2-3 times really solidifies it in my mind.

Cliche time: while I wouldn’t want to live in New York, it sure is a nice place to visit. One of the things I noticed on this trip is the way that people refer to NY, especially to Manhatten as simply “The City.” No further designation is needed. This is classic NY parochialism, but it’s so effortless as to be kind of charming.

NYU is right in Greenwich Village, which means that there is an amazing amount of stuff going on there. I had several stupendous vegetarian meals, and also revelled in the book shopping. Not surprisingly, almost all the faculty I spoke with went on at great length about their love for the place. The NYU buildings I entered somehow fit with the mental image of “a building in New York” that I developed as a child when we’d visit my grandparents. Not too brightly lit but not exactly dark, smallish rooms, but also with a mild labyrinthine quality to them. The hotel was in the finance district and kind of lame, but it wasn’t NYU’s fault — the place was undergoing renovations so I’m sure the troubles were temporary.

In addition to book shopping at Shakespeare and St. Marc’s (I love Labyrinth most, but not on this trip), I went over Williamsburg, which I gather is a part of Brooklyn. There’s a store there called Main Drag Music. I was on a quest to experience this item:

which is a bizarre signal processor unlike any other ever heard. Unfortunately, the guy who makes them is burnt out and there’s a 6-9 month waiting list. On the phone, I was told I could come play with the floor model. When I got there, it turns out that this was a bigger issue than they originally let on. So no PLL for me on this trip. I did get to try some other pedals that the same guy made, and some other wonderful flavors of bass distortion. I am especially fond of this pedal:

which basically takes an already fuzzed-out sound and uses crossover distortion to make it sound like the world is slowly being ripped in half. On bass, anyway. The full explanation is here. Schumann and ZVex are IMO two of the most creative outfits in the business when it comes to designing new signal processors. They’re like luthiers who find whole new ways to build an instrument.

Anyway, I didn’t mean to get swept up in gear fetishism, but rather to tell you a bit about my walk through Williamsburg, which conveniently isn’t on any of the tourist maps of New York. It’s the kind of place that’s doing well enough for a bustling business district, but every single window has bars over it. And it also has the highest concentration of Hasidic Jews that I’ve ever seen. I actually felt like I was in some kind of video game — every time I came around a corner, Hasidic Jews would be stationed on one or another part of the street. Except I didn’t really want to shoot any of them. Anyway, I began to wonder if in some strange cosmic loop, I’d happened upon the geographical source of the crazy little boxes we’d get once a year in the Talmud Torah from the Lubavichers. I don’t even remember what was in them except that they were supposed to be a big deal and were always a disappointment. But hey, I was a kid.

Tucked away amongst signs of Hasidic life and working class commerce are the signs of gentrification — a “luxury condo” unit going up here, a boutique used furniture store there. It’s still more tacqueria and barber shop than fashion boutique and bistro, but it is definitely changing. I wish I’d had time to stick around and see more, but I had to get back to NYU for an afternoon lunch appointment.

I am giddy with excitement about the Super Bowl tomorrow. It is an official holiday in our house. Though I’d better get that French homework done in the AM.

4 replies on ““The City””

  1. It’s funny that you mention “The City” … just yesterday I found myself in an online argument with Bay Area folks, some of whom are appalled by the long-standing tradition here of referring to San Francisco as “The City.” Been that way as long as I can remember … of course, there was that time back in the 60s I think it was, when the NBA Warriors had “The City” written on their jerseys.

  2. You know, people from just about every exurban and near-rural area I’ve ever met have called the nearby metropolis, The City, as in “we have to go into The City for some shopping”. Hardly parochial to many ears.

    It does sound odd to hear it said by people in such built-up, urban areas, mind you, who themselves live in “the city” by any stretch of the imagination. Maybe they’ve inherited it from London.

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