My lost city:
February 16, 2005 9:59 AM   Subscribe

My lost city: Low Life author Luc Sante reminisces about a youth spent in the ruins of 1970s New York:

"... when I was a student at Columbia, my windows gave out onto the plaza of the School of International Affairs, where on winter nights troops of feral dogs would arrive to bed down on the heating grates. Since then the city had lapsed even further ... if you walked east on Houston Street from the Bowery on a summer night, the jungle growth of vacant blocks gave a foretaste of the impending wilderness, when lianas would engird the skyscrapers and mushrooms would cover Times Square."

Sante talked about the period a bit more in a 2004 interview with The Believer.
posted by ryanshepard (6 comments total)
It's always struck me as odd that some people seem to love New York City more the worse it gets. I grew up on the edge of Queens in the 60's and early 70's but I have none of the nostalgia that Sante has. Driving the Cross Bronx on my way home from college upstate was scary, with the hulks of abandoned cars alongside the road and burned out buildings lining the upper reaches on each side. Perhaps I was, and remain, an outsider.

But I have fond memories of many things: the Staten Island Ferry, Statue of Liberty, Shea and Yankee Stadiums, Museum of Natural History and Hayden Planetarium, Empire State Building and the World Trade Center, the list goes on and on. Sante doesn't mention any of these in the main link or in the interview.

Ironically, I'm going there this weekend, to visit my sister-in-law who lives on the Lower East Side. Her apartment isn't that expensive, by NYC standards, but it's also her studio and smaller than my living room. She's had to fight gentrification for years. I do agree with Sante that it's a shame that the trend is clearly moving away different economic classes sharing neighborhoods.
posted by tommasz at 10:38 AM on February 16, 2005

"The New York I lived in...was rapidly regressing. It was a ruin in the making, and my friends and I were camped out amid its potsherds and tumuli. This did not distress me—quite the contrary. I was enthralled by decay and eager for more..."

Boy, that is one bourgeoisie, decadent attitude. Say all you want about gentrification in upper Manhattan, but I bet everyone from Ivy Leaguers to homeless people is pretty happy that the days of feral dog packs are over, for now.
posted by insideout at 10:48 AM on February 16, 2005

It amuses me to read the word "dingy" as if its root was "ding," as on a car door or from a bell, and not "dinge."

I likewise enjoy pronouncing "stingy" as if it was a hornet reference.

This sort of trick helps me enjoy Luc Sante's writing.
posted by breezeway at 11:08 AM on February 16, 2005

Another "only in New York" story that rings hollow. Every major city on the east coast was a dying shithole in the 70's and early 80's. Boston was beyond shabby, and anecdotal evidence suggests that Philadelphia made New York seem like Geneva.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:23 AM on February 16, 2005

Sante is a wonderful writer; if anybody's curious about his name, he said in a comment to this LH thread:
my last name is pronounced SAHNT--it's not French but Walloon, originally "Zande," the Walloon for "Alexander."
posted by languagehat at 12:27 PM on February 16, 2005

Bit off topic, but there's a great line from S. Malkmus on the reissue of Slanted/Enchanted. After college, him and Pavement moved to Brooklyn. I don't have the disc with me, but the liner note goes something like "You have to remember--this was NYC in the early 90's, a much scarier place than it is now." (spoken around 2002)

And who can forget the great post-apocalyptic films inspired by a dying NY in the 70's? My favorites!


Warriors! Come out and play!
posted by bardic at 2:33 PM on February 16, 2005

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