Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Of Subways and Voices

(Note: One of the reasons I have deferred updating my blog for so long is the huge turn my life has taken as a result of relocating for a while to the United States, initially in New York City, the Big Apple, the City that Never Sleeps, the Capital of the World, etc etc. If I were to update my blog, it had of necessity to be of things in my everyday, personal experience, but there was also the fear of sounding like a travelogue; and I am most certainly not a travel writer. I forget to take note of important places, or things; when my wind wanders, I even occasionally ignore the landscape and wonders of nature that travel writers are so wonderful at describing. Here is my attempt at a more personal account of impressions and scenes imprinted in my mind rather than a detailed description of places and landmarks).

New York City. In the city that never sleeps, I never slept either. Or hardly did. First because of jet lag, and later on because of a combination of bad habits, genuine insomnia, and the sirens that would so often cut across the silence of the night with alarming insistence. I never did get used to the sirens. Police cars, ambulances, fire trucks, and the occasional car alarm. Upper Manhattan.

The boroughs of New York are connected with an impressive network of underground trains - the subway system - that take you almost anywhere you want to go, any time, night or day. Our train, the one that took us downtown, was the A train. Oh, the A train! What sights, and smells, and visions, and experiences I had on the A train. Let me leave it at that.

But what remains for me the essence of the city is the remarkable talent of the subway performers - singers, dancers, and musicians. Imagine walking for miles (because you got lost trying to reach your destination which googlemaps told you was a ten minute walk, but that is a different story), tired feet adding to your frustration. Imagine being all alone with not a single soul to talk to or even smile at (New Yorkers are paranoid that way); imagine waiting in a cold, damp, dirty underground station, hungry and burdened with baggage both emotional and physical; imagine traveling what seems an interminable distance in the train, eyes resolutely downcast or deliberately kept blank so that you are not caught looking at any of your fellow passengers - who by the way, are doing the same thing - eye contact must be avoided at all costs; imagine wondering to yourself if it's all worth it after all; and then imagine the most soulful, earthy, raw voice belting out a bluesy note that you recognize in the midst of all that, or a lone, melancholy violin wafting through the air, or even a group of particularly acrobatic band of young boys playing music and hanging upside down from the poles inside the compartment. It's a little piece of heaven; a reminder that there is beauty in the most squalid of places, a little nudge to let you know that you are not alone. It is art doing what it does best - elevating your soul and transporting you to the realm beyond the mundane. Cheers, you brave, unsung heroes!