Sunday, December 14, 2008

New York Unconscious

New York is an old city, but the lack of an institutional memory is what "allows it to live forever." Meaning: even the most momentous of events, buildings, architectural feats, street names in New York can be forgotten, and hence unused, preserved, left alone to survive, remembered only in the city's unconscious - as ridiculous lore and mythology and rumour - and perhaps by a select few individuals, knowing enough not to paint over this or dismantle that. Today I took a tour of a long forgotten tunnel under Atlantic Avenue, the oldest subway tunnel in the world, dug 170 years ago by eight hundred Irishmen (who hacked their English foreman into pieces and buried him in the walls), then sealed 150 years ago and forgotten by almost everyone, aside from bootleggers and Murder Inc. throwing bodies down there (perhaps) and the Germans making mustard gas during WWI (presumably not). The tour was given by the guy who finally rediscovered the tunnel, in the 1980s, after years of piecing together this footnote and that microfiche and this old trunk of maps in the city planning office. He gives tours whenever he feels like it, and as a result of luck and machinations (I was supposed to work), I was on the tour today; in fact I was the very first person down the ladder, the very first into the tunnel, across the passage, under the beam, through the hole in the wall, down the wooden steps. It was humid and silent. The guide is himself rather paranoid, his stories (especially about himself) don't quite add up, muddled with self-aggrandisement and conspiracy theory, but that is precisely why he was able to insist on finding the tunnel, under the rubble and the mud... and precisely because his stories conflate both his own fantasies and reality (there were pirates in New York harbour; you used to be able to walk from Brooklyn to Manhattan by skipping from one ship's deck to another; spikes used to jump up and impale train riders in the olden days), they are the truth of New York.


Not Available said...

That is very rad.

Phil said...

I agree with Steve. That is the awesome thing about NYC: You could add the Ninja turtles to this post and it would not be more awesome. Your reality is more awesome that TMNT Power, yo.

Aaron, Kate, Will and Wyatt said...

That is way cool. That's the NY I want to see the next time I come!