27 February 2006

Bleak Street

Last night was the final installment of the BBC version of "Bleak House"; I ran home from my choir benefit in order to catch it (note to self: get Tivo already). I know I'm an anglophile, but I think one of the main reasons I love Dickens is that the stories are always so good. Of course he's a master of character development and description, too, but really, he's always got a half dozen cracking good plots going, nearly too many to keep up with.

But it was the Bleak House atmosphere I was thinking about on Saturday, as I walked in the West Village. What Dickens would make of our social scene in New York? Would he think it much different than the 18th century London he wrote about?

The Meatpacking District is hot these days. When I worked in the West Village in the late 90s, it was dominated by, you guessed it, meatpacking warehouses. There was, and still is, a great all-night diner called Florent, a couple of darkly lit bars, and a BBQ restaurant called The Hog Pit, but otherwise, the only people on the street at night who weren't wearing blood-soaked aprons were transvestite hookers and their customers.

No more. There's a Diane von Furstenburg store going up. Chi chi Belgian restaurant follows high-end housewares purveyor follows a Stella McCartney boutique follows a La Perla lingerie shop. You get the idea. But here's the thing: not only are the streets still rough cobblestones -- don't think you're making it across W. 14th Street in your Manolos, honey -- the odor of the dead animal carcasses still hangs in the air. I guess not all of the meat businesses have been run off.

Oh, isn't it cool? Isn't it just too edgy? The identical blondes in their identical shearling hats and spray-on tans, posing on the street corner, deciding whether to have a coffee at Pastis or buy a new coffee pot at Bodum. They're not interesting, but they have the money to spend here, and dammit, they're spending it.

Contrast them to the people on the opposite corner, at the car wash. A dozen Hispanic men rush around the Mercedes just out of the wash; another team is finishing up a Porsche. A duo of African American men in work overalls stops me short as I try to pass. "Don't walk there sweetheart," one says, pointing skyward to a crane delivering its heavy payload to the building right above my head.

There's a part of me that loves the juxtaposition of grimy workers and taut socialites. If class distinctions are going to be always with us, better they be out in the open.

1 Comments:

Blogger tammara said...

I managed to miss both this series and this post (what the hell?). I don't watch much TV, so this happens to me frequently - I figure out that something really cool has begun without me.

I too adore Dickens and would love to know what he'd make of our entire social structure, he not being a fan of unfair class divisions - of which we have plenty.

What did you think of the Keira Knightly P&P, btw? (I enjoyed it enough to but it, but I doubt anyone will ever top Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. He was so perfectly arrogant and sarcastic.)

7:03 PM  

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