He Saw It All
E.B. White on the "poetry" of New York - and the danger of war.
BY MICHAEL JUDGE
Friday, August 16, 2002 12:01 a.m. EDT
E.B. White was born in 1899; he died in 1985. He never saw the city he loved under attack. But one gets the feeling that he imagined it over and over again. He understood that the idea of New York, this "capital of everything," was a threat to dictators and religious fanatics the world over. "In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer who might loose the lightning," he wrote, "New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm."
Title: Here is New York.
Author(s): White, E. B. 1899- (Elwyn Brooks),
Publication: New York, Harper
Edition: [1st ed.].
Description: 54 p. illus. 20 cm.
FROM "HERE IS NEW YORK" (1949)
E. B. White
(Read by David Remnick.)
It used to be that the Statue of Liberty was the signpost that proclaimed New York and translated it for all the world. Today Liberty shares the role with Death. Along the East River, from the razed slaughterhouses of Turtle Bay, as though in a race with the spectral flight of planes, men are carving out the permanent headquarters of the United Nations—the greatest housing project of them all. In its stride, New York takes on one more interior city, to shelter, this time, all governments, and to clear the slum called war. New York is not a capital city—it is not a national capital or a state capital. But it is by way of becoming the capital of the world. The buildings, as conceived by architects, will be cigar boxes set on end. Traffic will flow in a new tunnel under First Avenue. Forty-seventh Street will be widened (and if my guess is any good, trucks will appear late at night to plant tall trees surreptitiously, their roots to mingle with the intestines of the town). Once again the city will absorb, almost without showing any sign of it, a congress of visitors. It has already shown itself capable of stashing away the United Nations—a great many of the delegates have been around town during the past couple of years, and the citizenry has hardly caught a glimpse of their coattails or their black Homburgs.
This race—this race between the destroying planes and the struggling Parliament of Man—it sticks in all our heads. The city at last perfectly illustrates both the universal dilemma and the general solution, this riddle in steel and stone is at once the perfect target and the perfect demonstration of nonviolence, of racial brotherhood, this lofty target scraping the skies and meeting the destroying planes halfway, home of all people and all nations, capital of everything, housing the deliberations by which the planes are to be stayed and their errand forestalled.
7 July 1999, New York Times, pg. B3:
The Mayor (Rudolph Giuliani - ed.), who often takes great glee in his image as a Flatbush-born, maniacal Yankee fan wholly devoted to the city he refers to as the Capital of Everything, instead streessed his ties to places like Saratoga, Lake George, Utica and Elmira.