June 22, 2009
In the morning, to start walking. About a half-mile along the streets, then over an expressway – finally I find a path in an old park and then I step from the path into the tangle of the forest. To stand there. Then after a while, with twigs pressing my back and a leaves brushing the side of my face, turning back and forth in the breeze, birds and insects seem to be flying through me. I feel like a six-foot column of electrified blood. Then I hear myself say “Local-lujah!”
Eat local, shop local, think local, love local, all politics is local. Now why would I bring up that word, during my reverie in the woods? I had to laugh, but I think I know what I was feeling. A natural ecosystem fills up with life. Even in the desert or on the side of a cliff, and certainly in an old forest in Prospect Park in late June, life comes forward as much as it can, becomes thick with things, all the beings swimming together in the wind. Natural life wants to be local.
These last two days, at the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island, and then the Greenhorn celebration by young organic farmers, we immersed ourselves in citizens taking on that churning complexity of wildness. They could be naked, dance, paint themselves, take the identities of animals and plants. When Mermaids do the bump or radishes and tomatoes and corn are growing in verdant fields that were once tar warehouse rooftops – we achieve the strange local happy crowd of nature.
The “local” was once thought of as less exciting than the “urban,” or the “city,” or “Manhattan.” The economy that dominates the urban centers masks the carriers of life’s natural surrealism, keeping our playfulness in the distance. New York City is increasingly suburban, the vertical suburb. We have miles and miles of concrete, polymer plastic, and walls covered with identical details, logos and ads. The insertion of nothingness in the foreground is basic to Consumerism. Because then we must make purchases to bring the things that interest us in closer. It’s the lack-get cycle, and it is shopping’s rhythm, and kills the local.
But hey! Local-lujah! is the exhilaration of all that sensual variety that we already have. We say NYC has 500 neighborhoods. Bloomberg’s people would argue that this is too high a count. They come up with 291. We say that a neighborhood is a state of the body, of bodies, of citizens, anyplace where we congregate as trusting strangers. So we see neighborhoods everywhere, and the more the better. Get away from an expressway or a chain store and the life wants to crowd in, talk more, walk brightly, dance, and shout sassy epithets at the deli.
We see local life as the optimum state of the city. It is the green vision for the city, too. Our neighborhoods may not be full of professional environmentalists, but we are natural if given the chance. Our intuition tells us that naked neighbors dancing as Mermaids down Surf Avenue is the best defense against the developers’ visions of Coney Mall…