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ALEXANDRIA QUARTET - The Local East Village Blog - NYTimes.com


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ALEXANDRIA QUARTET

‘The City is a Cage’


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billboard through fenceMichelle Rick

Cities are unforgiving places, and New York perhaps the least forgiving of all.

One of its less attractive traits has always been its self-mythologizing triumphalism and I ♥ NY campaigns, a localized form of the nationalism it derides in the rest of the country. “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere,” Frank Sinatra sang in what has become Manhattan’s unofficial national anthem and New Year’s rallying cry. It’s a sentiment to which countless scrambling citizens still subscribe. If they can just work hard enough, be ingenious and ruthless enough, they too will be “king of the hill / Top of the heap,” because this is the place. Or so we like to think.

Is it, though? Just over a century ago, C.P. Cavafy (1863-1933), an enduringly popular Greek poet who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, wrote a 16-line poem called “The City” which immortalizes a peculiarly urban dilemma whose outlines disenchanted New Yorkers will readily recognize. Those who have just moved here should read the poem, memorize it, print it out, and stick it on the fridge door.
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