I ran across this photo the other day, and for no particular reason it took my breath away, bringing on a sudden wave of longing like I haven't had in years.
It's been more than a decade since I've lived there, more than enough time to have grown up and away from my youthful crush on the city and even to have had all it meant to live there mellow into something poised between nostalgia and a half-forgotten dream.
But then you see a picture like that, and it all comes rushing back, fierce and strong, washing away, if only for a moment, Africa and Egypt, sailing up the Nile and driving across Burkina Faso, meeting Mr. M., all the good and bad and really quite amazing that's happened, all of it paling in the memory of walking up Seventh Avenue late some weekend night, mischief afoot and the lights reflected in wet pavement and the gleaming shop windows.
Not to sound grand, but when I get in this mood I think about one of my favorite poems, "Ithaka" by C.P. Cavafy, the great Greek-Egyptian poet of urban melancholy. Like its hero, I think of my city as a goal, and somehow see myself after all again there:
...Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
You can read the whole poem, and, if you care to, learn about the remarkable man who wrote it, here.
I have a lovely life, but right now, to quote a rather less elevated source
New York is where I'd rather stay -
I get allergic smelling hay.*
I just adore a penthouse view;
Dah-ling I love you but give me Park Avenue!
*For which, substitute "sand".