Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Take the A train

My friend Isadora sent a link for an article on a journal in Argentina about the New York Subway, and as I was realizing that few cities in the world (maybe only Paris, i guess) has been so fetichized as NY. Everything on it has been subject to world scrutinize. Isadora also send me this link for the famous song from Duke Ellington (Take the A train), in the voice of Ella Fitzgerald.
The subway from New York was started in the very beginnings of XX century taking the London subway as a model. At that time New York was home of crowds of immigrants which would arrive everyday from Ellis and would pack up Lower East End. The subway was intended to give more room for the people to move through the city, and it was really succeeded. Since then the subway took the city to a new level of modernization, and some would say it unblocked any rigid social system that could still remain. The subway is a very democratic way to move, all can take it no matter who you are in the social scale (anyway I've heard the same about coca-cola).
As I have all this floating in my head, I decided to take the A train to Sugar Hill, in Harlem where Duke Ellington lived. This was the area of the black elite in NY at that time. Maybe it is until now somehow. As it is said in the first link, this music has been created in 1939 by Billy Strayhorn a musician that was was following the instructions to get to Duke's house.
You must take the A Train
To go to Sugar Hill way up in Harlem
If you miss the A Train
You'll find you've missed the quickest way to Harlem
Hurry, get on, now, it's coming
Listen to those rails a-thrumming (All Aboard!)
Get on the A Train
Soon you will be on Sugar Hill in Harlem
another version of 'Take the A train':

But reality is quite different from the legends, as my long stroll through Harlem and the Bronx could showed me. The A train is not the cutest one in town, but like all other has a kind of standard. From the people round me 7 in 10 had I-pods or musical devices. Even the poorest of the guys was listening to music or playing some game. No wonder, like everywhere in New York, the subway is absurdly noisy. I think people want to protect themselves into their own little electronic worlds. When we get to 125th I leave the train and went on walking. Sugar Hill is not dotted on the map, but is said to be around the 125th and the 155th. Although the first scene I saw on street was not a good one - policemen arguing with people on the street- it looked quite calm in comparison to downtown. There's a park, there's the university, which are always signs of good life. It is somehow like leaving the city, or like a smaller city. the features are more like small buildings, residential surroundings, mixed with some commercial centers.

The Harlem look more homogeneous to me, with massive afro-american population.
The Bronx is much more mixed and vibrant, with its afro-latin-oriental population dividing a huge area in the map. At first it looked a bit frighten to me, as I arrive through the bridge over a highway just in front of the massive Yankees Stadium and got into an area for heavy traffic, so I had to walk into it until get to kind of a commercial center - that resembled like downtown Brooklyn. It was not easy until I get there. You know i was somewhat lost (of course) and wasn't sure what would come ahead. But walking a little further I found out Bronx is sort of a place for small buildings and residential spot. It really feels like we left downtown behind and went home. Although there is a lot of commerce, it can't be compared with downtown and this is also an area for large parks, so I decided going to 180th street to walk on the park. The trains here are much more over the ground and outside the tunnels, so I could take a look onto the roofs of Bronx meanwhile. I realize some more specific communities here like afro-muslins Sudan like women, afro-latin guys and girls, sort of Indian and Pakistan people over there too, not the tourist like people in downtown, but much more like settled people living there. Although I went until very far into the city, I haven't found the signs of degradation which are so common in the large cities peripheral areas. Even in it's edges, the city is still wealthy. After a while I took the 5 train back, and could see all that again, the train, the noise, the rooftops, people with their devices, and as the train went back underground I would even close my eyes and eventually be in my interior world again, while the train woulda shake on until Union Square.

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