Friday, February 29
Leonard Quart

NEW YORK

In bed with a lingering case of flu that at times has seemed unshakable, lying there impatient and angry that my body has betrayed me, I masochistically consume hours of radio, for a while only listening to the relentlessly demagogic right wing talk shows bashing those hated "dark eminences," the Clintons, and taking frustrated pokes at that newly minted liberal maverick, John McCain. Luckily I can find relief with WNYC's (New York's Public Radio station) consistently intelligent, probing, wide-ranging, and relatively balanced morning and early afternoon interview programs, the Brian Lehrer and Leonard Lopate shows.

On Lopate's show I happened to hear an engaging interview with the Publisher Jane Pirone and Managing Editor Rob Tallia of the "Not for Tourists Guide to New York City" that whetted my interest, and for the moment exorcised the strident bleating of the Hannitys, Limbaughs, Savages, and the rest of their bullying ilk. Why are we on the liberal/left always too civilized to match the talk show ranters with equal doses of bottomless venom? Nuance is just too good for them!

  • Given my personal and professional interest in the city, I buy a copy online of this pocket-sized, richly mapped and detailed guide (though the small type forces one to squint if one's eyesight is in decline). It's clearly not a book for the casual tourist, but for people who have come to live permanently or temporarily in the city, and wish to negotiate it in the manner that long-term locals do. The Guide, first released in 2000, is part of a growing series of books that include guides to cities like Atlanta, Boston, Seattle, and soon London, and there are even ones published for Brooklyn and Queens.

    I was less interested in the listings (though they are encyclopedic), than in the notes where the editors offer a great deal of information in a concise style. The first page I focused on dealt with movie theaters — my second home and temple. The Manhattan listings are complete, and the notes know to highlight distinctive Downtown theaters like the Sunshine, Film Forum, and the East Village's home of avant-garde films, the Anthology Film Archives. I was surprised that there was no special mention of the IFC in the Village, a movie theater that offers a superior and eclectic mix of European art films, American independents, and documentaries. It's a theater whose programming always avoids the predictable and commercial.

    The Guide provides commentaries about an infinite variety of Manhattan subjects ranging from parks, nightlife, and restaurants to shopping, public transit, and museums. Writing about parks, the Guide covers less well-known ones like East River Park and Randall's Island as well as the iconic Central Park. East River Park is located off the FDR Drive on the Lower East Side, and is remote from any subway. It's a thin sliver of land with a river esplanade that's a work in progress, with a variety of ball fields that have been reconstructed. The park is devoid of beauty, but serves the neighborhood well.

    The 195-acre Randall's Island is part of Manhattan, and is located at the confluence of the East and Harlem Rivers, right off the Triborough Bridge. Once neglected, it recently has evolved into a sports complex under the guidance of the Randall's Island Sports Foundation. There is a driving range, miniature golf course, tennis courts, and a state-of-the-art, 10,000 seat Icahn Stadium replacing the old, deteriorating Downing Stadium in 2005. The park's baseball, soccer, and lacrosse fields host school and serious amateur league games, as well as more casual play (though a controversy has erupted over the city's plan to rent sports fields on the Island to elite private schools.)

    One of the New York places the Guide provides notes for is the South Street Seaport, which includes the largest concentration of restored early 19th-century commercial buildings in the city, and also renovated sailing ships. The historic preservation and the view of the Brooklyn Bridge can be stunning, but much of the Seaport functions as a standardized tourist mall featuring fast food, shopping and nightlife. In a city like Baltimore a similar development, Inner Harbor, has been a linchpin of whatever revitalization inner city Baltimore has been able to achieve. In New York, the Seaport is just one more tourist attraction, and has gotten lost in the shuffle.

  • The "Tourist Guide" is very useful, albeit aimed primarily at the young and the hip. However, by the time I finished reading and writing about the Guide the flu had begun to pass — though I hadn't lost my need for a dose of right-wing talk radio. I was curious as how they would go about attacking Obama in a climate where explicit racism on the media has become unacceptable. But I knew they would find a way.

    One unusually crude talk show host always introduces Obama by adding "Obama rhymes with Osama." Another finds him "colorless" — clearly not meeting that dim white host's stereotyped notion of blackness. And the biggest blowhard of them all, Rush Limbaugh, has said, based on nothing, that if Obama doesn't "want to be" black, he should "renounce it, become white!" He added, "If you don't like it, you can switch. Well, that's the way I see it. He's got 50-50 in there. Say, 'No, I'm white.'"

    All of this insipid nonsense seems to be a mere appetizer for much more virulent, often ad hominem attacks — racial, religious, and ideological — that will be leveled at Obama if he gets the nomination. I may be naïve, but I have a feeling he can weather the onslaught.

    A part-time resident of South Egremont, Leonard Quart is a regular Eagle contributor. He can be reached at cinwrit@aol.com

    Overline-

    Letter From New York