Nature weighs so heavily on New York that this most modern of cities is also the dirtiest. From my window I can see the wind whipping up heavy muddy litter, which flits around on the pavement. Going out, I walk in blackish snow, a kind of puffy crust of the same hue as the sidewalk, as though that itself were buckling. From the end of May, the heat descends on the city like an atomic bomb. It is evil. People go up to each other and say, “It’s murder!” Millions of fleeing city dwellers take to the trains, leaving damp marks on the seats when they get off, like snails. It isn’t the city they are fleeing but nature. Even in the depths of my apartment I suffer the depredations of a hostile, muffled, mysterious nature. I have the impression of camping in a jungle teeming with insects. There is the moaning of the wind, the electric shocks I get each time I touch a doorknob or shake a friend’s hand, the cockroaches running around my kitchen, the elevators that make my stomach heave, the inextinguishable thirst that rages from morning to night. New York is a colonial city, a campsite. All the hostility and cruelty of nature are present in this city, the most prodigious monument humanity has ever raised to itself. It is a light city; its apparent weightlessness surprises most Europeans. In this immense, malevolent space, this desert of rock that tolerates no vegetation, they have built thousands of houses out of brick, wood, or reinforced concrete, all of which seem about to fly away.
I love New York.
- Jean-Paul Sartre, “New York, Colonial City” (1946)