Tuesday, February 3, 2009

density and diversity

recently i heard someone commenting on cities in which they said that cities are places with "density and diversity."  it's not difficult to understand this.  certainly in a place like new york, there is a tremendous packing of people in a small area.  in manhattan, the density is just under 70,500 per square mile.  that's amazing!  you can see why central park is so important to this city.  it's included in the square mile count of manhattan, of course.  if it wasn't there, the density would be over 75,000 per square mile.  there are some larger cities, but i'm not sure of any that have a density like that of manhattan.  

and the diversity is no secret.  there are over 170 languages spoken throughout the city.  one hundred seventy!  i took some spanish when i was in grade school.  some dutch while living in the netherlands.  a little latin in high school.  struggled through greek and hebrew in seminary.  not really sure if i'm doing english the justice it deserves (i don't even use capitals).  that's only six.  it's fun to stroll the streets or the parks and hear such a wide range of tongues.  it's rich.  

in the last week, i've enjoyed the diversity that this city provides in live entertainment.  several days ago i enjoyed my first trip to the metropolitan opera and a performance of rigoletto.  this is verdi's tragic story of the court jester and his daughter, gilda.  she is clearly a christ figure as she willingly gives her life for a wretch of an unfaithful man.  great singing, music, and unbelievable sets.  the creativity displayed on stage from verdi's writing and story telling to the vocal ability of the performers, and the set designs was staggering.  all that creative power right there in one place!  i really was moved.

and this week, live jazz.  three men on stage: piano player, bassist, and a percussion maestro who had what seemed like 50 different percussion devices (he appeared to use them all at some point through the evening).  this was a much smaller venue but the creativity was equal to what i saw on the met stage.  these three collaborated right before our eyes in ways that had never been rehearsed.  this is, of course, one of the joys of jazz.  it's fresh every time.  were they to play the "same" songs again, they would have similar melodies but would be very different.  and there is no way that the percussionist could duplicate his performance from one concert to the next except in terms of overall musicianship.  truly amazing to watch him maneuver his four limbs to play so many shakers, cymbals, bells, beads, bowls, boxes, and pots in such a short amount of time.  

this is the fun of this city.  diversity is healthy.  even the trinity, as our theology makes clear, has diversity within its unity.  there is a unity that new yorkers feel.  i'm sensing it, even though i can't claim to be a part of it, yet.  but i sense it and that's a start.  it's a desire to be good at something.  to care for others.  all those negative stereotypes of new yorkers being cold...i haven't seen it.  everyone is helpful.  even the crackhead on the subway will smile a toothless grin and give you directions for which train you need to get downtown.  and in a weird way, there is a unity in competition.  mainly that everyone is competing for a limited pot of dollars.  while competing, things can be rough.  but in conversation off the field, there is unity in the pursuit.  

tim keller said that culture is born in the midst of this combination.  like taking the raw bits of physical material and reorganizing them into buildings and streets.  this work of architects is a piece of our culture.  or composers taking the raw units of sound and duration and reorganizing them into music.  or the colors that are smeared on canvas or paper or a wall giving us the beauty of visual art.  because of the sheer numbers of people rubbing their ideas against one another and putting their personal touches on creative work in a city that never sleeps, these bits of cultural birth are constantly taking place.  

that's life in the city.  and now i'm in the milieu...what will i give birth to? 

1 comment:

manitoumarblehead said...

i love this post. thoughtful and inviting. a great take on the melting pot of ny. i always enjoy your thoughts on life in the city. thanks and keep em coming. btw capitals are waaay over-rated.