I believe I could write a small book about the film You’ve Got Mail (YGM)-there is so much I love about it. My friends and I quote it to each other in varying applicable situations. "Hope your mango's ripe." "That caviar is a garnish!" "You are a lone reed." "Thank yer ladies and gentlemen. Thank yer." Norah Ephron’s genius writing puts into words things we all think and things we haven’t thought to think. She inserts the odd and funny stories that could only happen in real life into her movies. Norah Ephron (I'll refer to her by her first and last name so no one mistakes her for a 20 year old cocktail waitress) has a great ability to address the realities of life – even the hardest things – while continuing to see all the funny quirky things that we humans do, the complicated ways we relate to each other, and the things she finds charming and interesting. This, I think, helps frame the way she views New York City, and in turn the feeling she creates in YGM of a New York City neighborhood as a small town. That's what struck me in this year's annual viewing. Norah Ephron says she and many other New Yorkers experience life in their neighborhoods with this small town feeling. If you don't believe me, go to the special features of your YGM DVD and watch the film with her commentary. I certainly feel this way in my downtown neighborhood of Kansas City.
In Donna Tartt's book The Goldfinch, there is a passage in which a character is describing his impressions of a certain neighborhood in Amsterdam days before Christmas, “There was a…wholesomeness to the place, like a children’s picture book where aproned tradespeople swept the floors and tabby cats napped in sunny windows,” populated by “rosy housewives with armloads of flowers, tobacco-stained hippies with wire-rimmed glasses.” And in YGM, Kathleen Kelly’s journalist boyfriend defends her children’s bookshop as having a “Jeffersonian purity.” While it's not about the squeaky-cleanness of these descriptions of place, they do resonate with me. It’s about uniqueness, history, and the personality of a place. It’s how places and communities can be colored with the oddities and characters that you just can’t make up. I always want to live in a place where I can feel its personality. I want to be able to say to my pals, “This place is a tomb. I’m going to the nut shop where it’s fun,” because I know the guys working at the nut shop, and they tell funny jokes.
For me right now it’s the cracked marble tile in our century old walk-up apartment building and the pink light that emanates from the performing arts center. It's the man I often see in the expensive suit and knit hat who smokes his pipe while he walks home from work. It’s ducking under the yellow awning to pick up bread at the little bakery up the hill, meeting my husband at the end of the day for a beer in the cozy Austrian restaurant behind the train station. It’s the huge brass bell that jingles when I enter my chiropractor’s office next to the wine bar, and coffee before work at the café with the big windows where the baristas know our names. It’s the shopkeeper coming out of her store at night to show us her new twinkle lights as we pass by, the day of the dead street festival every October, and the jazz band that sets up on the sidewalk, complete with an upright organ, every first Friday.
And then there is the other side of a place’s personality, the vices and bad habits. There are people who almost run you over when you cross the street, and wake you up with their shouting match in the parking lot at 3 am, and weird smells that waft over from the Mexican restaurant (that happens to also have delicious tacos). There is construction, homelessness, and crime. But most of the time, people who live in a neighborhood care about what happens. They have a stake in it, whether they like it or not. They work to keep its integrity and sometimes have to accept the changes that are inevitable. In the movie they picket the chain bookstore and write newspaper articles to defend the local business. In my neighborhood they picket city hall when they try to pass silly policies, petition for lights under the overpass so people can safely walk to the restaurants on the other side, and send out notices when there has been suspicious behavior so we can look out for each other (luckily we've had no rooftop killers).
When you love the perfectly imperfect neighborhood you inhabit, even on hard days, a walk down your neighborhood streets can make you feel like that Cranberries song is playing, and you’re Meg Ryan in a turtleneck walking to your charming bookstore on a crisp autumn morning, “I hear nothing, not a sound on the city streets, just the beat of my own heart.”
PS. This is fun.
Photo found here.