Thursday, October 23, 2008

Is New York becoming Paris?

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It was a nice day yesterday; appointments had not materialized, so I had time to wander New York a bit and see some of the areas around Midtown that I hadn’t had enough time to really explore before.  I visited the top of Rockefeller Center (beautiful views (above), cold wind, and trying to sell you something at every turn) and the Trump Tower (always trying to sell something, DSC02531 period (right)); Central Park and Times Square, of course, and a bit of shopping up and down the streets.

I like it a lot, its a wonderful city.  I was thinking about it’s future, though.  In many respects, it seems like the city is still absorbed by the mythology associated with it’s own past.  The monuments and landmarks are all cleaned up and highlighted, and their stories are told and retold at every tour, placard, and shop window.  There isn’t sense of being at the center of creating a future though: no areas that are setting the style, technology, social trends, or business models that the world will copy tomorrow.  Indeed, the elevator and street conversations that I overhear are more quiet shock and whispered fears of markets and jobs.

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A local radio show host was asked if New York bonds are a safe buy: he had the opinion that the city had become a national shrine in the wake of 9/11 and no state or national government would allow it to fail.  Local theaters are doing brisk business in plays based on the French Revolution, including Les Miz and A Tale of Two Cities (the Musical).

All of which reminded me of an article that I’d read on the web about Paris: City of Museums or Museum City.

In it, the author acknowledged that Paris is a “magnificent city that boasts incomparable assets…

And yet, for a world capital, there is no buzz.

Mayor Bertrand DelanoƩ is accused of turning the French capital into a "sacred" city where stringent regulations prevent a natural evolution of the city.

Many of my friends believe Paris has long ceased to be an influential city where tomorrow’s artistic trends are conceived and launched. It no longer represents an attractive option for creators who prefer the excitement and vibes of other capitals.

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New York, too, seems quiet in somewhat the same way, and in the grip of some of the same constraints.  As I walk, I wonder, will it evolve in the same way, losing the vibrancy that made it a wonder and beacon for much of the last century.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Checking in from New York

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5 am near Times Square in the Big Apple: the wind is howling around the corners of the hotel and there is rain gusting in intermittently.  Still, the city feels alive and friendly.

I used to visit New York to manage a clinical group at NYU in the 80’s, and this area could be frightful.  Times Square was dirty and rundown, people were selling drugs and prostitutes on the corners, and a walk down 48th Street was like a ride through Pirates of the Caribbean, with transients leaning out of every doorway to panhandle as I passed.

How different today: the area is clean and vibrant, there are are theaters and shops everywhere, the sidewalks are busy and safe.  Restaurant Row along 46th street is filled with wonderful ethnic and local restaurants, and shopkeepers and smiling and helpful to point out directions.  Part of it is the policing, but I also think that 9/11 and the financial crisis have humbled the city a bit, taken the edge off some of the arrogant excesses.  People seem friendlier, smile more, make better eye contact than they used to.  It’s all for the better, and I like the city more every time I visit.

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My father’s angiogram did not yield good news: he had severe multivessel heart disease with over 90% blockage of every major artery.  Fortunately there was no heart damage, and he never was symptomatic.  The physicians opted for a 5-vessel bypass operation yesterday, a 9-hour procedure.  At his age, the risks run around 15% for death or stroke during the procedure.  We all stayed very tightly connected by phone yesterday to share progress reports and encouragement, and the surgeons say that everything went according to plan and without complication.  He’s been moved to ICU and may be conscious again this afternoon, so we’ll get a better picture of how he’s doing in the coming days.  But the news is good so far.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

On the road again…

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The list of tasks is pretty well whittled down now: a couple of manuscripts to review and two business plans that need drafts rewritten, but otherwise everything seems knocked down to size.  The apartment is cleaned and things are packed for a trip to France and onward to the US for the next week.  Internet contact may be a bit intermittent, but I’ll post thoughts or pictures along the way as always, when I can.

DSC02448 (1024x751)The autumn light is falling beautifully among the leaves and water in Soonsbeek park this weekend, the fountains are still running even though the patrons are increasingly bundled up.  The yellow leaves are still gradually disappearing from the tree behind my building, only the bottom bits are remaining now.  It’s getting the feeling of an hourglass, counting down the days remaining until I move south.

My father is going into the clinic for an angiogram / angioplasty on Monday.  His calcium CT came up high, leading to a nuclear stress test which came up abnormal, so this is the next stop along the path.  He’s over 80, they are implicating the posterior coronary artery (a bit of a backwater in the heart), and the whole thing feels a bit aggressive to me, but I’m sure that they are being precautionary in the whole diagnosis.  My parents and I had a long talk about heart function and balloon procedures last night, it was nice to be able to help a bit.  It’s always a worry when these things come up when I’m so far out of position, but my youngest brother is going to drive in to keep an eye on everyone.

ParkWe also talked about how the financial problems are playing out in the US.  They say that they get the feeling that we don’t really feel it as acutely here in Europe.  In the US, the stores and restaurants are noticeably emptier, there are many more signs of distressed home sales and business closures, and much more conversation about how retirement suddenly is out of reach as investment values plummet.  I agree that there hasn’t been that feel to life here.  Maybe it’s because the Dutch carry less debt and aren’t so highly leveraged: apart from IceSave, there hasn’t been much casual conversation about finances.

I called the expatriate office at work to let them know that I was making the move to Maastricht and to figure out what records they needed.  They said that there has been a sudden rush of repatriation in the past couple of months; it made me realize how fortunate I was to have found safe harbor for the time being.   A friend asked the other day whether I still had a real job or had been given a courtesy one: I admit that it’s a bit of both.  Certainly I have a role and am making a contribution, but this position didn’t exist before I took it.  I suppose it’s, again, a precautionary flag.

But, for the moment, I’m where I want to be and things seem to be shifting into place.  It’s taking work, but moving life’s furniture and baggage around always does.  In the end, though, it should become both a home and a future, a prospect I’m holding onto tightly.