What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Matthew Trammell is not like a piece by James Wood, and neither is like a piece by Peter Schjeldahl. One could not mistake Finnegan for Frazier, or Lepore for Paumgarten, or Goodyear for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

"New Yorker" Connections

Joseph Mitchell (Photo by Therese Mitchell)

Recently, Lorna, our daughter, Isabel, our thirteen-month-old grandson, Rowan, and I spent a few days in New York City. Many of the places we visited reminded me of New Yorker pieces: the High Line (Peter Schjeldahl’s "High Line Rhapsody"); the Whitney Museum (Schjeldahl’s "New York Odyssey"); Canal Street (“Ian Frazier’s "Canal Street"); Bryant Park (John Updike’s "Comment"; retitled "Bryant Park" in his 1965 collection Assorted Prose); the 9/11 Memorial (Adam Gopnik’s "Stones and Bones"). But it was a bike rental shop called Blazing Saddles, on South Street, in the Financial District, that produced the most satisfying connection. Lorna had found it online. We decided to walk there. As we made our way down Fulton Street, I knew we were in Joseph Mitchell territory. I was looking at the street, trying to imagine what it might’ve been like in the Fifties, when Mitchell was there, poking around the Fulton Fish Market, eating at Sloppy Louie’s, talking with the owner, Louis Merino, the subject of his wonderful “Up in the Old Hotel” (originally titled "The Cave," The New Yorker, June 28, 1952). We found Blazing Saddles, rented a couple of bikes and a bike buggy, and spent a beautiful March afternoon cycling a path that took us across the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn, then over the Brooklyn Bridge, and back to Blazing Saddles. Two days later, I’m back home on Prince Edward Island, reflecting on the trip. Just for fun, to savour the Fulton Fish Market details, I get out my copy of Mitchell’s Up in the Old Hotel, and read the first page of the title piece. The second paragraph begins, “Sloppy Louie’s occupies the ground floor of an old building at 92 South Street, diagonally across the street from the sheds.” I check the Blazing Saddles receipt. It states the shop’s address – 93 South Street. Without realizing it, I’d come within a few feet of the location of one of The New Yorker’s greatest pieces.

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