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February 2010
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Wed, May. 13th, 2009 09:24 am
Ravished, in America, by India

I'm sitting with my ex-wife Shazna in the cafe at Kinokuniya, the new Japanese bookstore at Bryant Park. It's Sunday. I've just come down through a gorgeously sunny Central Park only marred by... the clothes. The shark-shaped bicycle helmets, the cheap-looking wrap-around "insect" shades, the terrible goatee beards, the reduced colour palette of whites, beiges and blues, the mesh caps and offensive running shoes. Americans dress, on the whole, very badly.

"I really enjoy coming here," I tell Shazna, "but I can't shake the feeling that Americans are living wrong. Their aesthetic of everyday life is simply incorrect. And I can't help feeling that the longer non-Americans stay here, the more they get absorbed into this wrongness, and start to see it as, if not right, at least acceptable and convenient." Shazna knows exactly what I mean. If there was ever a time when there were "beautiful Americans", it's gone.

When would that time have been? Well, perhaps when cowboy movies were all the rage. Or perhaps when the rock opera Hair introduced us to American hippy styles. Now, though, to "dress American" means to dress badly. I've been struck, this trip, by the fact that only people from the Indian subcontinent are impressing me. Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, south of the L train stop, is a sort of catwalk where you're probably going to see the best -- in purely visual terms -- that New York can offer. I did see some people in stunningly beautiful outfits: an Indian mother and her daughter, who had on a turquoise top and a bright red scarf falling across it. The colours were simple, bold and optimistic . Adjectives we might once have used about America we now tend to use about India and China. The pure sexiness of optimism, expressed in colour and form, is now theirs.

Outside PS1 in Queens I see another Indian -- Shazna says she's probably a Bangladeshi -- this time wearing pink and green, a combination filled with the freshness of spring. It's pretty much inconceivable to imagine a white American wearing that combination, and yet it's gorgeous. Somehow I find the colours in subcontinental clothes "chromatically trustworthy". They express not only positivity about the future, but a traditional culture thousands of years long.

I feel the same way about Indian music. The show before the one Aki and I appeared on up at the Columbia campus radio station, WKCR, was called Garam Masala, and consisted of such gorgeous Indian classical music that I asked Gerry not to play any of my music during our interview. I felt it would sound crude and shoddy in comparison to the glowing, throbbing drones, scales determined by the hour of the day, and divine voices in the Indian court music.

So, an emerging theme during this visit: I am totally impressed by people from the Indian subcontinent. These -- not hipsters, not Harlemites, not Japanese art students, not affluent gay couples walking little dogs in Chelsea, and certainly not the weary, nervy people I see on the streets of the Upper East Side -- are the people tweaking my aesthetic antennae here in New York. These are the people I'm noticing, and admiring. Make of that what you will; my conclusion is that I really need to visit India itself soon. Or, at the very least, Jackson Heights.


Wed, May. 13th, 2009 11:08 pm (UTC)
encore dejvu



Thu, May. 14th, 2009 10:04 am (UTC)

If you want to remain ravished by India, might I suggest you never go there? I simply can't imagine you there amongst the filth, noise, abject poverty and severe lack of hipster infrastructure.

Thu, May. 14th, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC)

Oh, I'm filthy and poor too!

ReplyThread Parent
Der Hut Geist
Thu, May. 14th, 2009 12:21 pm (UTC)
The nike swoosh

Someone once said to me was upon finding out i was an american "but, you don't dress like an american.". I was wearing brown pants and a red v-neck sweater. Not really interesting but also not a major athletic team. Point 1 to me, 0 to the nike swoosh. The interesting Americans are very interesting, the rest are a little boring.

i really feel americans in cities also fear drawing of attention to themselves, as personal space is so limited. We are also wusses. jeans and striped collards shirts anyone?

Ilona the Fickle
Thu, May. 14th, 2009 02:30 pm (UTC)
*sigh* IDK

Yesterday I was browsing through a discount clothing store. I overheard a woman exclaim, "There are so many sundresses here!" And it was true, lots of colors, mostly bright. Light-weight fabric, optimistic. And her shopping-mate then gruffly replied, "Yeah, if only I liked some of them," which made me turn my head to assess what she was wearing. She was hip, too young to be a professional, but saluting that style. Winter pointy black boots, black short-pants. Just generally dark and dreary, and trying to be snobby.

I used to take myself that seriously. But it is fun to have fun. And I looked at what I was wearing: unimpressive. I imagine that girl would enjoy herself at a campfire, but she'd have a hurdle of an ego to get over first.