President’s Letter: October 2023
Monthly observations and insights from MAS President Elizabeth Goldstein
I confess that the world has been getting me down lately. The multiple wars and humanitarian crisis around the world are horrendous to witness. And, just because that is not enough, we have continued gun violence at home and have witnessed the breakdown of one of the United States most important institutions, the House of Representatives. Whatever your views on any of these issues, it is heart-wrenchingly painful to read the front page of the New York Times.
So, it was with great relief when my brother-in-law shared with me an episode of The Daily Show with Desus Nice interviewing folks near Penn Station on what makes a real New Yorker. You may find this clip here. (Warning: There are some graphic word-pictures!) What a release to laugh about the funny, insightful way people describe their hometown.
I saw the clip with my husband, Steve, who has been hounding me for years to have MAS develop a list of the things that you are required to know or do to earn the right to claim to be a real New Yorker. Steve turned to me after we watched the clip and said “what would you ask to find out if someone is a real New Yorker?” I realized I had a million ideas and none at the same time. As you have heard me write before, the diversity and desire to help are things that spring to mind, a little inchoate but strong.
Steve moved here for the first time, in the middle of 2017. He has read the Power Broker cover to cover and the two Gotham volumes by Mike Wallace. He has made it his business to know a lot about the city, but this is really something else, isn’t it? It is not so much about knowledge, in the formal sense, and more about spirit.
E.B. White, in his essay “Here is New York,”1 wrote about how to identify a “real New Yorker” by observing their attitude and behavior. He described the unique blend of toughness and sentimentality that defines New Yorkers, noting that they are both jaded and hopeful, and that their love for the city is rooted in its imperfections.
Dorothy Parker wrote, “I take New York personally. I am, in fact, somewhat annoyingly tender about it. A silver cord ties me tight to my city.”2
And Colson Whitehead with his extraordinary, ordinary language, creates the patina of the city vividly: “Your favorite newsstands, restaurants, movie theater, subways stations, and barbershops are replaced by your next neighborhood’s favorites. It gets to be quite a sum. Before you know it, you have your own personal skyline.”3
A special shout out to our friends at the Museum of the City of New York for their interviews with famous New Yorkers, in which they ask the same question.
So, my inquiring mind wants to know: What is your own personal skyline what makes you a New Yorker? What makes a New Yorker, a New Yorker? Is it a kind of patois, an attitude, a gruff love for a place that is hard to love?
Tell me what you think….it is time to have some fun together. I will share the best of your answers in a couple of weeks. A new email box whatmakesarealNYer@mas.org awaits your answers.
President, Municipal Art Society of New York
- Here is New York by E.B. White and Roger Angell, 1949
- A Journey into Dorothy Parker’s New York by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick, 2013
- The Colossus of New York by Colson Whitehead, 2003