Canal Street, Manhattan
The music of the metropolis has been altered.Listen.
We once measured our days to New York City’s rhythms, keeping time to its idiosyncratic beat. But now the faint strains of Alicia Keys professing her empire state of mind come from some indefinable distance; wisps of “Rhapsody in Blue” float past in the evening breeze.
We are living in the echo — in the almost but not quite — of what had been our city life. It can be unsettling, melancholic.
East Elmhurst, Queens
Gradually, though, hesitantly, we are emerging from our pandemic cocoon, resolved to pick up where we left off — which is here, in this chaotic urban scrum so maddening, so magnificent.
The Hub, The Bronx
Where else can you pause just about anywhere — leaning against a street sign, sitting on a stoop — and have a front-row view to the tragicomedy of life forever unfolding on a pavement stage?
East Village, Manhattan
This is a rhetorical question, my friend. There is only one place.Here.
But as we and our city slowly reacquaint, let us hope that we have learned from these months of having our words filtered through the gauze of masks.
Now, perhaps, we will listen more closely. Work harder to understand one another. Revel in the bouncing-basketball beat of the city’s heart.
Grand Central Terminal
That heartbeat grows less distant, as certain realities of city life begin to return. This would include realities we never dreamed could ever — ever! — stir feelings of nostalgia. For example:
Had we ever considered the subtle reassurance behind a full-throated morning rush hour?
Sunset Park, Brooklyn
How its harried mornings suggest the hum of a sound economy; the pursuit of knowledge; the commitment to provide and be self-sustaining.
Jackson Heights, Queens
The rush reflects the cyclical process of communal replenishment, as workers and students scurry to offices and construction sites and classrooms — only to stagger home together a half-day later, thoroughly spent.
Lately, though, our muted rush hours are cacophonous in the wholesale disruption of earning and learning. The effect of this quiet is the opposite of calming.
Jackson Heights–Roosevelt Avenue Station, Queens
We find ourselves missing what we once loathed. Those car-horn bleats of annoyance. Those corner clusters of impatience, waiting for a green light. Those barks of “Excuse me!” that sound like the opposite of an apology.
Long Island City, Queens
Hudson Yards Station, Manhattan
We even miss, dare we say it, the subway. Those rickety escalators descending slowly, slowly, toward some hellish train platform near middle-earth, as Talking Heads lyrics loop through our minds: “My God, what have I done?”
7 Train, Queens
Someday, we will again be pressed against one another like cattle in a rail car, eyes averted, listening to teenagers share the inside jokes of adolescence, worrying that we will never again see daylight.
Canal Street Station, Manhattan
For now, perhaps, we can take one of the many available seats on the 7 train, or the B, or the E, and behind our masks, give in to the sweep and sway, the rocking, buh-buh-BUH, buh-buh-BUH, buh-buh-BUH.
Dekalb Avenue Station, Brooklyn
Give in as we reflect on the infrastructural wonder that is the subway system, which carries life to the city as arteries carry blood to the heart. It provides passage to those places — the open fields and quiet sanctuaries — that sustain the soul.
Prospect Park, Brooklyn
To the city’s parks. Where dogs share how-do-you-do sniffs while their owners engage in forced chitchat; where the unfettered air can flutter a bridal veil or grant flight to a kite.
Domino Park, Brooklyn
Citi Field, Queens
There are other kinds of parks as well. Among the many givens we now miss is the comforting knowledge that on nearly any summer’s day, you could lose yourself in a baseball park. If the Yankees were away from the Bronx, the Mets were likely home in Queens.
Yankee Stadium, The Bronx
Even when empty and silent — whether because of the off-season or a pandemic — these parks seem to retain the ruckus of thousands surrendering to a simple game’s pleasures.
Heritage Field, The Bronx
The somber analyses, the cheers of children, the roaring release uncorked whenbatmeetsball.
Kingsbridge Heights, The Bronx
There are also those parks of the intellect and soul, the libraries and museums from which we are, for now, precluded from freely wandering.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Manhattan
We are left to stand outside these institutions and recreate with our imagination the experience within.
Long Island City, Queens
The Town Hall, Manhattan
The inquisitive tapping on terminals. The practiced but beguiling patter of docents. The churchlike hush in the presence of art, antiquities and literature…
The Guggenheim Museum, Manhattan
Reminders that even in the bleakest of times, humankind has produced works for the ages.
East Village, Manhattan
The physics of the city prevail: For every morning rush hour, there is an equal and opposite evening rush hour. The pandemic-altered beat carries into the night, as we continue to adjust to the not-quite-right.
West Village, Manhattan
People drink and dine on the sidewalks and in the streets, turning corners of the city into proof that human beings crave one another’s company.
Crown Heights, Brooklyn
Finally, home. Above ground this time, with a taxi’s back window framing the city panorama. The bridges of yesteryear and the skyscrapers of yesterday, the human silhouettes in preferred or resigned solitude.
All of it, cast in the natural
unnatural light of Gotham.
More unnatural, though, is this cab darting east to west across 42nd Street — without once slowing for traffic. No further proof is needed of a New York City out of rhythm.
The music of the city has been altered, forever — for you, for me, for the taxi driver, for everyone.
Clinton Hill, Brooklyn
its new beat
is finally one thatwe can
Photographed by Todd Heisler. Written by Dan Barry.
Edited and designed by Jeffrey Furticella, Rebecca Lieberman and Meghan Louttit.
The New York Public Library and Mother New York provided the audio, from their collaborative album, Missing Sounds of New York.
Audio for the Clinton Hill photo provided by Chad Vill, featuring a recorded mix by Adil Rahman.