This is Paradise Valley. The country opens up. The river, like a silver snake, is on the right. Along its banks are narrow green trees. Beyond, the cultivated fields, then the hills, covered with dark pines, rise into the naked blue Absaroka mountains, their peaks still covered with snow in June.
There’s something about this arrangement of the parts—river, field, hills, mountains, sky—that all at once, around that bend, provokes in me a kind of insane happiness. It’s here that I throw off the rest of the year, here in this open place where the sky really is as big as the cliché, the mountains as wild.
So thrilling is this arrival, we look worriedly even for minute signs of change. There must be none. And, every year, at exactly the same moment, after we pass the little one-room schoolhouse, we put on Stan Getz playing “Spring Is Here.”
And then there is Manhattan. No other place on earth gives you as visceral a sense of arrival as New York City. You head into the city, you see it before you’re there, the skyline shimmering on the horizon, elusive, lyrical, boastful, exultant, that unmistakable city of dreams, the sound track, for me, always Frank Sinatra.
My friend Vladimir Pozner, a Russian journalist, lived in New York as a child. He was then banned by the Soviets from visiting it for nearly 40 years. In 1987, he returned. Arriving by way of the Queensboro Bridge, he glimpsed the city first through the struts of the bridge, like frames in a movie. A moment later, though, he knew it was real, that he had really arrived. Seeing the city, he felt then, he says, “As if my heart would actually stop.”
Like Venice, New York is entirely man-made, a work of human endeavor. Both are monuments to art, ambition, commerce, both fabulous, desperate, vain, sexy. Like Venice, New York is an island city, mostly water, and terribly fragile.
After 9/11, after the attack, after the Twin Towers came down, the gap was the first thing you noticed. I arrived back from London a few days later and I looked, as I always had, for the first glimpse of the skyline. And there it was, but with the hole in it, the hole in the middle of the world. In this way, too, the moment of arrival hit me, told me about the emptiness of the city, about something missing.
Like the city, I’ve almost recovered. I’ve recovered my joy in arriving, that heart-stopping sense that New York has me in its grasp as soon as I see it. I can hear Sinatra singing again.
Reggie Nadelson’s latest novel, Blood Count, is being published this month by Walker & Co. Jazz, a collection of photographs by Herman Leonard with text from Nadelson, will be published next month by Bloomsbury USA.