April, 1963

I   promised everyone that I was really going to tell them about my trip to New York, and, as if it were really important and interesting, I am finally now about to get around. So this will try to answer your questions.


New York doesn't exist. To answer the question it was there, just the same as it always was but it still doesn't exist. It was bigger, perhaps bigger buildings, more people, more going on more often perhaps, but my main impression was that it was no different intrinsically from any other large city I've seen, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, Reno Las Vegas.

I   left suddenly, as you know, on three hours notice, and we drove to Detroit, then to Toronto and took a bus from Toronto to New York. I saw quite a bit while I was there, more I think than I've ever seen of San Francisco, perhaps not as much as I once knew of Reno, but I really saw very little of New York. I seemed always busy but I was very slothful and spent only a few hours each day if any actually out in New York. I stayed up late, but saw little of the night life; I spent money, but not on the shows, places to see, or the nightclubs. I was certainly not a tourist, and fel t pretty much as much of. a sightseer as I am here. All of which adds up'to, perhaps I just didn't get the "feel" of New York. But I am convinced now that New York, the New York in the minds of New Yorkers, the myth in the minds of those who haven't. been there, doesn't exist.


Mostly, I guess I saw a few people; Ruth Baron who has been a friend for several years, who was deep in the throes of finals at Columbia on quantum mechanics and graduate organic chemistry; Joan Sekler who was here last summer, who was busy writing a paper which was weeks overdue, who planned a large itinerary for me, and who showed me most of the things I saw; Sandy Brown, who was also in finals, but quite lighthearted about them almost purposeless about them, but her usual exuberant, persistent self, maybe happy a little deeper than we usually saw her; Ethel Lifschitz who was also here last summer at Stebbins, but I guess was outside the lives I share with most of you; Neal Felsen and a few others who had been here last summer. I spent hours arguing with Joan about socialism and capitalism, and time with Ruth and Sandy discussing our mutual friends.

I   saw many buildings, and I would' ask Joan "What is that building?" and she would say "Some office building" and they really did all look alike. I saw several churches which were spectacular: the Riverside Cathedral, St. Thomas' St. Patrick's, and St. John the Divine's, with all their unbelievable stained glass windows and sculptured walls; at the Riverside I went up into the carillon tower and saw the immense bells, the largest tuned bell in the world, to the second A below middle C, and the smallest, which I could hold in my hand, but I never did get to hear a concert on them. I spent several hours working on my musical compositions (what did I go to New York to do that for, you ask? why not). I spent part of each of four days in the Museum of Natural History which was one of the best things I saw in New York. It took me all that time to get through all four floors, and I never did get to the mineral exhibits. I liked best the animal scenes from Africa and North America, which were like scenes from real life; too much of the Museum is very scientific labelled un-alive mounted racks and shelves. But it would take a very long time to see a meaningful amount of the Museum; here I was just a tourist and only glanced at most of it. Anyway I can't just look at things for very long, I want to be doing something, or probing further. I passed through the New York Public Library, which was large but unfriendly, Grant's Tomb, where I registered a note of protest at such pompous waste, and the Staten Island Ferry, from which I couldn't see the skyline of New York because it was foggy that night. I found enough inspiration in the Whitney Museum of Modern Art to join as a non-resident member, and to wish to return to my art work with Professor Schaefer-Simmern. I went with Sandy to see the Cloisters, which are part of the Museum, but was disappointed to find it a dead cloister, with just more mounted exhibits and throngs of guards watching you. The building was beautiful and imposing, and the tapestries were breathtaking, but much of the exhibit has been imported, and is not indigenous, furthering the disappointment I felt. Nearby we accidentally wandered into a convent school which had a beautiful little chapel and a class of dancers which we watched.

Through all these things I was somewhat of a tourist, but I don't think I spent more than two hours a day on any of them. Perhaps the most enjoyable was the subway system; I quickly learned the basics about IRT, BMT, IND, and found myself helping people'to find which train and where. It is like an underground city: the large stations Times Square, Grand Central, Columbus Circle. And I enjoyed traipsing through the corridors changing trains, and -- well it's hard to say what I liked about it; I rode during rush hour, standing with no danger of falling because you were hemmed in by people; I rode at trick lock in the monnink (3 a.m.) when there were still masses of people; the middle cars are always fullest; and it is really impressive how easy it is to get anywhere in New York. There were mosaics for the station names and numbers, a degree of artistic application never found in modern structures. I walked around some downtown; herds of people, sky invisible, large stores, small stores, but basically it felt the same as in San Francisco. Then we went one night to a tiny coffee shop called the "Feenjon" in Greenwich Village where they were playing chess and folk music and we had a loud philosophical conversation about God and socialism and folk dancing.

But I didn't see Sandy very much, I only saw Ethel once, I didn't see Findlay Cockrell at all, nor my great-aunt in Boston, nor Sy Benton at St. John's College in Annapolis. I didn't see the Empire State Building, the Times Building with its lights giving the news, Rockefeller Center Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Statue of Liberty the Guggenheim Museum (except from the outside) nor the Great White Way or is it the Gay White Way? I didn't see more than part of the surface of the off-hours of Greenwich Village, and most of all I didn't see any of Central Park -- it was too cold.


How could I not? I didn't go to Michael Herman's Folk Dance House nor any other "folk dance" class but I went to Sonny Newman's Balkan group five times Columbia University, and Yale University, and Fred Berk's Israeli class for the last half-hour which was free. I taught an institute at Sonny's (Tresenica, Bavno, Ravno, Devojce Devojce, Oj Rasticu,
Red Boots, and Kamarinskaja) and did a little teaching at Yale and Columbia. After one of Sonny's classes we went to Jimmie's, a little Greek restaurant where we played the juke-box and danced and I think I liked that best of all in New York -- it was casual. They do many dances which we don't do, and we do many dances which they don't do, and there are differences in dance pattern and steps, to say nothing of style. Most of the girls at Sonny's had had ballet which showed; not one dancer had any of what we out here think of as Jugoslavijan style (and don't call me a pot talking about a kettle), Serbian and Croatian dances being done almost frantically. I suppose I tolerate such things on Fridays because some of you do dance ethnically, and if the others do not copy by watching I can't make you not dance the way you want. Ruth and Nannette from Los Angeles were the best Balkan dancers there, but they learned here. And so many kolos were done with simply wrong steps! and they are our most authentic dances. But I wore my belt proudly and danced and watched, and Sonny asked me several times to lead U Sest (Moravac).


The New York of the myth doesn't exist. People are much the same everywhere, bustling from one place to another, in their own little worlds at folk dancing and on the subway or in the coffee shops. Perhaps the women are somehow better made up, fancier dressed, perhaps those people you talk to are more positive about New York and issues and you than we here are about ourselves. Generally it seems to me that New York offers nothing that we don't have here, except for greater quantities of all night life; but the shows on Broadway such as "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Term of Trial" I found in San Francisco and in a little town of 1000 people I passed through in Nebraska. Everywhere you see the same advertisements, bloated blaring, blatant; everywhere the coffee shops and restaurants are the same, except for Horn and Hardart's Automat; everywhere big cars, candy bars, sensation newspapers (I felt completely cut off from all the world because of the newspaper strike, with no idea of the news of the world or even New York -- a sensation something like on the Sierra High Trip); New York is a place for mechanical living, for turnstiles, guards eyeing you everywhere; everything costs and costs wherever you go but worst for me was the feeling of not being able to escape the advertisements.

Perhaps I expected some kind of fairyland, which you might agree does not exist; but I did hope for something different, more different from what I am familiar with. Perhaps such a hope prevents me from getting the "feel" of the place or, indeed, anyplace.


I   guess people like things and places because theY're used to them, and not really because there are intrinsic important differences. I do not believe anyone could find peace in New York; he could only find motion, and I suppose you can take your pick. For peace I suggest Weaverville California.

So what? So I am satisfied with my trip; I can't say I loved it but I am sure that I would like to return to see more; but I offer one challenge to you all: Where can you find anything different? OK, Africa, Asia, South America or do I also have illusions about them?

(Written after staying for two weeks in New York
and driving back to Berkeley in 96 hours in February, 1963)

(originally published under the name of John Fitz)