Welcome to the City

The temperature is hot, the people are warm

NEW YORK — I have become a native American. No, not that kind. Merely, I feel like I have been naturalized on American soil. Though I was born in Paris and live in London, New York has temporarily conferred an American identity onto me. Dare I call it home for a little while?

New York is not the first city that cultural spectators would expect to fulfill such a warm and welcoming service. Most New Yorkers survey the surrounding lands of New Jersey and elsewhere with distaste. They prefer to hail their city as a de facto republic in the societal marshland of the rest of America. This geographical snobbery is even more concentrated in the intercity divisions among Manhattan, Brooklyn and the “lesser” boroughs. Really, one need not bother to even name them all.

Although most New Yorkers make no secret of their contempt for the land that lies beyond the Hudson and East Rivers, the city welcomed me with open arms. As I warily presented my immigration documents and student visa to the burly U.S Immigrations and Customs officer, I braced myself for a probing session of questioning, laced with distrust. There were brief words uttered, but to me they were distinctly heartwarming nonetheless: “Welcome back.”

Cities are hardly spaces in which one is made to feel at home. A bird’s eye view of the traveling routes that mold the city would show a human ant trail of Wall Street armor, lost tourists, and trendy hipsters. The financial analyst’s brow is lined by the latest economic woes. The leader of the tourist group is dismayed at having boarded the express train rather than the local. The hipster is fretfully correcting the tilt of his trilby hat. When someone is caught in the subway door, the disinterested glances of his fellow passengers reveal not only a minor disdain for the wellbeing of others but an inherent disinterest in them as well.

But I have been surprised at the ease with which I can be reminded of friendliness in this city. Perhaps a small migration (or stampede) of Harvard students to the city during the summer makes it easier to come across a familiar face. But more than once I have heard a distinctly comforting call of my name amid the screams of the subway and the merciless honks of taxis. Deep down in the hub of the Broadway-Lafayette station, I was able to commiserate with a friend over her day-long mission to procure just the right Blackberry for her boss. As we paused to exchange complaints on interning duties and made plans that did not revolve around Harvard Square’s amenities, it was evident that New York can never entirely swallow you. In fact, the hurried ebb and flow of the great city’s life encases those “home” moments with even greater significance.

During the summer, New York is mainly governed by an unbearable presence of heat. This has been brutally punctuated by torrential downpours of rain. Black clouds ahead, I hurried through a Tribeca street, vainly attempting to speed ahead of the menacing roars of thunder bellowing from New Jersey. My worried eye met an amused server behind the cupcake display in a café. I faltered, looked behind me, and obeyed her brief beckon to rescind my futile mission. Of course, she got some business, but she also knew that I would not out-maneuver the elements, and she nodded approvingly as I sank into a chair. Over the steam of a cup of coffee and a prime view of a spectacular water show, I could feel the welcome in “Welcome back.”

—Emmeline D. Francis ’11 is a Crimson editorial editor in Mower Hall.