Sunday, November 4, 2012

Songs for a New York State of Mind

This morning I woke up at 5:57 to go running -- 30 minutes later than usual but just in time to hit the road with Sylvie, Anantara Bangkok Sathorn's Resident Manager, and her friend Andrew, an expat from Christchurch, New Zealand, who is training for the upcoming Bangkok Marathon. (One more for my collection of cool coincidences: The last time I went running with someone, last February in Melbourne, he was another Kiwi named Andy.)

"How far are you running today?" I asked my latest Kiwi-Andy running mate, praying for a nice low number.

"20K," he answered -- or 10 times around Lumpini Park. That's eight laps more than I usually do, but I figured that since the New York Marathon had been cancelled due to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, the least I could do to honor New York City's running community, of which I was never actually a part since I didn't start jogging until shortly after I moved to Buenos Aires in 2006, was to spend one Sunday morning training with a couple of marathoners.

I didn't have to worry about going the distance of Lumpini 10 times because Sylvie took us on a different route, which led us up stairs, down stairs and across bridges to a beautiful 1.8-kilometer lake I didn't even know existed, which reminded me of Albert Park Lake in Melbourne without the black swans. Four times around the lake, all those steps and bridges back, and once around Lumpini later, I bid Sylvie and Andrew farewell. They'd be finishing that final 8K without me.

I'm no quitter, but 12 kilometers is plenty of exercise on a scorching Sunday morning. How hot in therre was it? I bought an 8-baht bottle of cold water from a park vendor and drank most of it on the spot. After five minutes or so of walking, I went to drink the rest, and the water, which I expected to be tepid at worst, had reached a low boil.

A quitter I might be, but I'm still a survivor. It must be the New Yorker in me. We can pull through just about anything: grueling long-distance runs, 9/11, even Hurricane Sandy. My friend Lori, who lives in New Jersey, told me that in a way, Sandy was even more devastating than 9/11 because the damage has been so widespread. I've heard several pundits echo that sentiment over the last few days, and it makes sense. I remember how during the Northeast blackout two summers after 9/11, one night without electricity seemed to test the limits of what Lori, who weathered that storm with me, and I could endure.

It's strange how my value system has shifted in nine years. In 2003, my biggest concern was stumbling around in the dark, without AC, running water or televised entertainment. In 2012, I can't stop thinking about what I would do without Internet access. Before I began blogging in 2008, the Internet was a part-time pursuit that I resorted to when I'd exhausted all of my other spare-time options. Nowadays, if I'm at home, I'm generally plugged in, which is a good way for an expat to feel connected to things back home, but it also leaves me more vulnerable than ever to acts of nature (Hurricane Sandy) and chance (the 2003 blackout).

Sandy makes the summer of 2003's night of darkness seem like a flicker on the power grid. Nearly a week after it hit the New York area, some of my friends on Facebook are only now getting their electricity back. What surprises and impresses me most is how cheerful they all seem to be. They know all too well that it could be so much worse. In a way, I feel guilty for not being in the trenches with my former neighbors in the city that will always be home to me. Since I'm here not there, I'll pay tribute to NYC the best way I can, through songs.

12 Great New York Songs

"New York State of Mind" Oleta Adams I never cared for Billy Joel's original, nor Barbra Streisand's cover (from her 1977 Streisand Superman album), but Adams' version (from 1993's Evolution) gave the song a jazzy gospel edge, which for me at the time, made it the ultimate New York anthem...

"Empire State of Mind" Jay-Z and Alicia Keys ...until this one came along.

"Empire State" Fleetwood Mac The forgotten opening track on side 2 of 1982's Mirage, which I owned on vinyl and which used to sound so good blasting out of the dinky speakers of the blue plastic record player my mom bought for me the previous Christmas.

"New York City" The Cult featuring Iggy Pop I read an article last night which suggested that sixtysomething rock & roll icons like Pop continue to tour because they can't afford not to. I don't have any inside information on Pop's financial state, but I suspect that he still does what he does because it's what he loves to do most.

"Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" Elton John Gorgeous and stately, inspiring deep reflection and dark brooding, just like the city that inspired it.

"Spanish Harlem" Aretha Franklin The crown jewel in the Queen of Soul's glittering kingdom.

"New York, New York" Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

"Another Honky Tonk Night on Broadway" David Frizzell and Shelly West The view of the Great White Way (circa 1982) from Nashville.

"Nights on Broadway" Bee Gees And the view from Miami (through the eyes of three Australian Brits).

"Moments of Pleasure" Kate Bush Although I grew to dread blizzards -- or more precisely, their sludgey, slippery aftermath -- one of the things I miss most about New York City are those buildings that look like mountains through the snow.

"Walk on the Wild Side" Lou Reed The NYC that used to be. I'm thankful I got there just in time (in 1991) to experience the last few years of it.

 "I Love New York" Madonna Leave it to her to express my sentiments, exactly.

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