It was with Jazz tunes spitting out from my living room that I just finished reading Paolo Cognetti’s New York Stories… started last night. I received it for Christmas and, if the cover didn’t inspire me at first, I hung up the back cover straight away.
“What were you going to do there? Your friends often asked you: why this city again? Why all the time? What is there in New York that you don’t already know? Sometimes you wondered it too. You had walked it up and down and across it, so you knew it better than your hometown. “To write” was the answer that cut short all questions. But there was something else too difficult to explain. ”
In 2003, 25-year-old Paolo Cognetti traveled to New York to make a series of documentary films on American literature. The young writer fell in love with the city that never sleeps and, for ten years, he will never stop returning. These New York Notebooks are the story of his many trips back and forth to the city “of fortune hunters, soap bubble blowers and shattered dreams”.
In this language which belongs only to him – a divine blend of simplicity and poetry – he takes us in the footsteps of his literary heroes, Melville, Whitman, Ginsberg, Capote or even Paley, Salinger and Kerouac. He wanders through Brooklyn, “the city of writers”, wanders between the skyscrapers of Manhattan, drags his loneliness along the Hudson or the East River, pauses at Ozzie’s to blacken the pages of his notebook. As always with Paolo Cognetti, there is no trip without meetings and new friendships: each time he returns to New York, he finds his Italian-American friends, Bob, his “uncle from Brooklyn” who owes his rudiments of Italian reading Moravia and Jimmy, who feeds a passion for Mussolini and has never set foot in Italy.
Illustrated with nine maps drawn by the author, these notebooks are an ode to New York, “its bridges, its islands, its autumns, its half-real, half-fantastic inhabitants”.New York è una finestra senza tende
If some passages give pride of place to authors and artists of the last century who lived in New York, this is not what excited me the most about this book. What really appealed to me, on the other hand, was the description of the lifestyle of New Yorkers, the cultural diversity that we find (and that is told to us through these pages) and particularly the historical, loaded of the Big Apple’s history(ies) linked to successive immigrations. Yes, the writing style is particular, yes Paolo is curious to discover the city in a different way from “average” tourists and yes the author does not take tweezers with the well-known clichés of the city that never sleeps.
The book is full of anecdotes, each more interesting than the next (for example: why sewers smoke?) and made me want to discover the city in a way that I had not imagined until there. No, I’ve never had the chance to travel to America’s biggest city before, but yes, I really want to.
Initially my priority was to visit the 9/11 Memorial then the Empire State Building and after take a tour of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Broadway before eating a New York Hot Dog and a giant Pretzel. Today, and after reading this superb novel, my priorities are more or less reversed with, always, a real interest in One World Trade Center but a strong desire to see the red brick buildings with my own eyes, the High Line Park, meet New Yorkers in Central Park but also and above all in the different cosmopolitan neighbourhoods and collect the stories that have led these people to live the life they lead here today. This book is not much about the city itself but about the people who inhabit it, who make it up, who made it what it is now.
Sorry, this article is starting to be long and it was not my objective when I started writing it, but it must be said that reading made me want to write again, as I did for a long time in the last summer (not necessarily on the blog… I would probably tell you later about this still unfinished project). I will simply end with a quote which lets me think that Cognetti feels for New York what I feel for Los Angeles:
“Nevertheless, every time I leave I am afraid of not finding it again, my city. There are places that you leave confident, you are sure that they will remain unchanged during your absence, and others that are like people: in the meantime they will change at least as much as you. In this city, things disappear, so I have to remember them. “Paolo Cognetti, New York Stories