Last night I went to have dinner with Johnny and Kevin and a few of their friends at a truly wonderful restaurant called Flatbush Farm in…Brooklyn. And the night before that, my friend Sivan and I were hanging out and having great Indian food (well, by US standards anyway) in the Jackson Heights area of…Queens. It is amazing what psychological barriers we have in place for all sorts of things. I remember coming to New York as a kid and later living here on a university co-op assignment at the age of 19. In those days, Manhattan WAS New York, no two ways about it. And there was something off-putting to me then about leaving Manhattan. And there was something even more off putting about the idea of actually living outside of Manhattan. You don’t travel hundreds or thousands of miles to move to New York just to live outside of it, I reasoned at the time. And I was not alone in my assessment. The media and culture at the time were similarly Manhattan focused and dismissive of the other boroughs. Of course, as the economics of living in Manhattan became increasingly perilous, more and more people moved out and New York seems to me today to be a much more decentralized place in terms of where it is all “happening”. If anything, I notice a little reverse snobbery from Brooklynites these days when they are forced to leave their beloved borough for “…over there”. In any event, if I move back to New York, I will feel much more comfortable living in any number of neighborhoods spread out through the boroughs …of Manhattan, Brooklyn or even Queens, anyway. You couldn’t pay me to live in the Bronx or Staten Island.
All over the US, many crosswalks will have a button on them. The purpose of this button is to alert the system that you wish to cross. I have long wondered whether these do in fact link to any system, or are merely there to make the control-happy residents of this country feel as if they have some measure of power over something when in fact they have none. Perhaps it is just the equivalent of the “barber pole” progress bar prevalent in so much software. The bar doesn’t do anything other than alert you that a process is happening (and often times is totally faked), but it does give the illusion that progress is being made and thus calms the user. Similarly, perhaps the button is false comfort, but comfort nonetheless since it supplies the illusion of input or control. What do you think? Does the button actually do anything?
I’ve only been in Mexico for three days, but already I notice a bunch of things that are different in my perception from the last time I was here. I can’t help comparing Mexico to India of course, since that is where I spent most of the last year. But what is shocking to me is how amazingly developed Mexico seems to me compared to my visit a couple of years ago. I remember visiting Mexico city when I was still living in LA and while loving it, feeling a vague sense of unease from the differences in infrastructure and culture. This time around, and after a year in India, Mexico so far seems calming, recognizable and culturally very much more familiar. The infrastructure here (roads, sidewalks, metros, public parks, toilets, etc) seems very much taken care of and solid. That sense of chaos and unease is totally gone. The extremes represented by India seem to have erased my previous perceptions. Sure, there are tons of cultural differences, and these are what I have come to explore, from the language to the food to the history. But it feels so much more welcoming than before, so much more familiar. I guess it really is all relative.