Spirits of Place: New York City

I begin to write this with my suitcase open on the bedroom floor, my laundry from a previous trip only just washed and put away, about to leave for two weeks in another country.  The irony of writing about a beloved place while getting ready to leave it is not lost on me… and yet it is not ironic at all, but part of why I love this city so very much — so much that I’ve set an entire series set within the city limits, the Retrievers/PSI novels.

New York City is a heartbeat, driving us.  It calls her own to her, and owns you, forever after.  You could be born anywhere in the world, but if you’re supposed to be here, you know it.  Your first visit, you can feel your body and your brain come alive.

[conversely, if you’re not meant to be here.. .you know that too.  This city exhausts and depresses some folk, even those born here.  It’s not for everyone].

New York City is, in fact, made up of five boroughs, each with their own distinct personality.  Some people are born in one part, stay here there entire lives, and never feel the need to go elsewhere.  But for most of us, New York City is made of constant changes and visitations, discoveries and returns, traveling from one aspect to another without pause.  We are a city of travelers, be it cross-city or around the globe, always in motion even when we’re standing still.

I live in The Bronx, the northernmost borough of New York City.  At the beginning of the  20th century, it was farmland and country houses for wealthy Manhattanites.  In the mid-century, row houses and apartment buildings lined the streets, and then came the crime and the “Bronx is Burning,” heavy Italian accents, and the Yankees, and all the other clichés that come with The Bronx.

When I moved here from New Jersey (by way of Connecticut), people outside the city were confused.  Why The Bronx?  Why not the hipper Brooklyn, or the culturally diverse Queens, or the holy land itself, Manhattan*?

But I look out my window, and I see 50-year-old trees and handsome stone walls, graceful pre-war buildings and grassy slopes, a bustling downtown filled with Kosher delis and Greek take-away, a fabulous Italian bakery and a martial arts dojo, as well as pizza places and a local vet, a dressmaker and a fishmonger… and a 24/7 subway that connects me to every other part of New York City, for a single fare.

And, at night, I can hear crickets chip and sirens wail, see an occasional dawn-patrolling skunk outside my window and watch fighter jets pass overhead (I could live without the skunks and the jets, actually, but that’s life for ya).  I hear English spoken, and Spanish, French and Hebrew, and the occasional smattering of something I can’t identify, as children race past.  It’s all about co-existing, the constant change and turnover, new beginnings and carried-along history.

And so tomorrow I will pack up my bags and hit the airport, and have a lovely time visiting other places… but when I come home, I will crane my neck for that first glimpse of the skyline, my beloved George Washington Bridge, and sigh in relief that I am home..

New York City claims you, but she is not a jealous lover.  She lets you come and go as you please, and welcomes you back, when you return to where you belong.

And, for extra points, can anyone tell my why it’s Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn.. but The Bronx?  (no fair Googling!)

*Nobody asked why I didn’t move to Staten Island.  Sorry, SI.


Laura Anne Gilman is the author of 8 novels set in New York City, including the forthcoming PACK OF LIES (PSI #2 – February ’11), and also  the forthcoming WEIGHT OF STONE, Book 2 of The Vineart War (which is NOT set in NYC).  She knew the first time she came into NYC with her parents as a young girl that she would live there, some day.  Learn more at www.lauraannegilman.net


About Laura Anne Gilman

Laura Anne is a recovering editor-turned-novelist, with an Endeavor Award, a Nebula nomination, another Endeavor award nomination and a Washington State Book Award nomination under her belt. Her most recent series is the award-winning "Devil's West" trilogy, starting with SILVER ON THE ROAD, and her same-universe story collection, WEST WINDS' FOOL, AND OTHER STORIES OF THE DEVIL'S WEST. The novella GABRIEL'S ROAD was published by Book View Cafe on April 30th, 2019. Her Patreon, featuring original fiction, writing advice, and original Rants, is at https://www.patreon.com/LAGilman Learn more at www.lauraannegilman.net, where you can sign up for her quarterly newsletter.


Spirits of Place: New York City — 13 Comments

  1. I love the ferry too: cheap cruise! (Actually, although it’s not cheap, the Circle Line trip around Manhattan is =wonderful=). And I know why Ter Broncks is Ter Broncks, but I think I have an unfair advantage and so I’ll stay out of it.

    I also know why Flushing is Flushing, but that’s beside the point.

  2. I took my son to NYC this past holiday weekend, because he has never been there. The first thing we did was to take one of the circle cruises — it was great! (And you can get half-price tickets via Groupon…)

  3. This is just simply lovely, as well as true.

    I know why it is The Bronx, too, but I was born, raised, educated, and still live here, in a house built in 1927 (or 1911, the records are unclear).

  4. It seems most likely that the Bronx was named for Jonas Bronck, the first Dutchman to live in the area. But I don’t remember any of the research books mentioning why “The”. At a guess — it flipped constantly, from wealthy to poor, well-to-do immigrants fleeing the inner city to very blue collar. Were there people who were saying “You’re moving to The Bronx?” as either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on when the question was asked?

  5. I visited Paris this summer, and the steep inclines and staircases of hilly Montmartre reminded me of… the Bronx! I spent the first 12 years of my life there and it will always be a part of me. You have captured it well, and I love the photo! Thank you.
    –Mary Cronin

  6. lovely to read, and true. I was born, raised, educated and still live here (in a house built in 1927, or possibly 1911, the research is inconclusive) so I know why it is The Bronx, but it would be unfair to tell.

  7. Greetings Ms.Gilman and all,

    Identification leads me towards that moment you stopped everything in order to relate to us the authenticity of your personal relationship with NYC, also known as passion and pleasure that leaves you coming back for more! And yes to Ms kimbriel’s commentary…the Bronx River, hence Bronx was named for Jonas Bronck’s the land owner.

    Speaking of land, just as it enjoys summer rain, I received a nourishing and entertaining experience from reading “Spirits of Place: New York City.” Spiritually, I enjoyably visited NYC as I read , and thats coming from a native New Yorker…now living further South. Thank you and may your ink overflow with continued creativity…God Bless us all.

  8. Now that is a lovely picture and certainly nothing I would have connected with New York. Hope you have a great journey and return!