Cold buildings and warm eyes
February. It’s bitterly cold and the wind blows so hard at the top of the Empire State Building that you have to hold on to the wall. New York in front of you like in the palm of your hand. Buildings that push up, black, gray, impersonal, that makes you feel cramped and you want to hide, leave, sink somewhere where you wouldn’t see those concrete fists, fingers reaching for you.
You’re going down the drain. You are afraid to look up at the thought that all this scenery of rich America will come crashing down on you. You hide in the cafe from the concrete and the cold. As you sit at the counter, you notice the dark, warm eyes in the black face smiling at you, the mouth opening and asking if you are not cold, and you are getting warm. You are surprised to notice that there are people around you, creatures, warm and sensitive, a living contrast to the concrete city.
Later you go to an Indian restaurant for lunch. The space and air surround you with real Indian mysticism. Red tablecloths and burning candles on the tables. The staff moves silently, so that you startle when you feel the waiter next to you. When you come back the next day, they run up to you, thank you for visiting again, you get your table. Because you have become a permanent guest.
During your lunch break, you watch people on the street. There is no rush anywhere, groups of people are standing on the corners, talking about yesterday’s hockey results, how long it will be so cold and whether the daughter has started piano lessons.
You walk down Broadway in the evening, bumping into people coming from or going to a theater performance. You turn onto 42nd Street, where the girls offer their services and the shop windows are blue. Suddenly, you no longer see the concrete outlines of buildings, but only the lights that blink, wink and blend with the stars in the night sky.
Alta-Ann and Alan invite you to dinner with a salad after the main course. You sit and talk about politics, religion, family. You drink straight whiskey as opposed to them who enjoy cocktails. And it seems to you that you have always known them. While Lo Yi is looking forward to the gift, his wife invites you to a Chinese dinner as soon as you get back to New York.
And despite all the coldness and closedness of the concrete metropolis, you can’t wait to be with these people again, hoping that they will always remain warm and open.
The article was first published in the magazine Mladina, in the fall of 1977, after my first visit to New York.