American Decline

Auf Wiedersehen, America

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a property in the Swiss Alps is in no need of a house in New York City. With apologies to old Jane, I am seriously contemplating giving up living in the Big Bagel after nearly 70 years. It’s elementary, dear readers, that the place simply ain’t what it used to be; in fact, it’s the lack of glamour and chic, the utter coarseness of everyday life, and the total lack of manners of its denizens that have driven me to contemplate leaving what used to be the most glamorous and exciting place on earth.

My first view of Manhattan was in 1948, being driven in from La Guardia Airport by my father’s chauffeur and seeing the Chrysler and Empire State buildings lording it over the other skyscrapers. The scene was like a promise of great times to come. After so many years of war in Europe, those great towers of the city, clustered on a narrow island, still glittered in the afternoon sun. The city, colossal and imposing, looked untouched by the war. Compared to a world of loss and ruin back in Europe, the skyline was majestic.

We moved into a large suite at the Plaza Hotel on 5th Avenue and 59th Street, and from my window, I saw a large RCA sign on the most imposing of all buildings, the Rockefeller Center. I didn’t sleep a wink that first night. After four years of war and six months of a civil conflict between communist guerrillas and royalists, beautiful Athens had been torn to shreds, pockmarked by bullets and blown apart. Gotham was like paradise.

The next day, I saw people as glamorously dressed as those I had seen in the movies. Men wore hats and suits, women wore gloves, hats, and high heels. Most people were fair-haired and Nordic looking, as were the tall Irish cops—because of height rules, now abolished—who were everywhere. My honeymoon with the city didn’t last long. I was sent off to boarding school after three days, but New York remained always on my mind, a dreamlike obsession for its glamour and unsaid promise that anything was possible. Especially romance. After six years, I was back in the city for good—and with a vengeance, to make up for lost time. I was 20 years old.


Categories: American Decline

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