The Skyline

Today is the first day of my January term class on “New York and Modernity,” which I’m teaching for NYU Abu Dhabi here in New York. Thirty-four NYUAD students have come from various parts of the world to take one of several courses being offered here. (In fact, NYU has altered its academic calendar to accommodate J-Term classes: the spring semester will now begin on the Monday, rather than the Tuesday, after Martin Luther King Day, six days later than in previous years.) My course has five students from NYUAD who hail from Australia, Canada, Egypt, Pakistan, and Russia respectively — plus one native New Yorker who studies at NYU New York.

We’ll be traipsing around the city for the next three weeks and blogging our way through the course: we’ll be writing posts about the things we’re seeing and the reading we’re doing and the things that we’re thinking about the City and its relationship to the idea of “the modern.” And I mean we: I’ll be posting along with them, here at PWHNY. The students will each maintain an individual blog, with the posts aggregated at http://jterm.patell.org.

For their initial posts, I’ve asked the students to write about what they expect from New York, either from direct experience (in the case of our native New Yorker) or from all that they’ve heard and read about the city before coming to it.

Over the next three weeks, I’ll be asking the students to look for exemplary moments or objects — small things that seem to encompass something larger about the urban or the modern or both. Here’s my contribution:

The skyline. (This picture was taken as we landed back in New York after a family trip to Abu Dhabi in November.) If you’re a real New Yorker, that skyline never gets old. On that day after I received my job offer from NYU back in 1993, I flew out to UCLA where my then-partner was on the verge of receiving an offer. I’m one of those New Yorkers who doesn’t hate the idea of LA and indeed finds the city appealing (sorry, Woody), but as I took the taxi over to the Triborough Bridge to LaGuardia Airport, I looked out the window and saw the skyline emerge over the barriers at the side of the ramp, I suspected I wouldn’t be leaving New York in the end — and that even if I did a part of me never would.

A real New Yorker is always a New Yorker: no matter where he or she might happen to be living, that skyline indelibly marks what Whitman would call “the soul.”