It is an unpleasant and dirty city. Its impossible climate, the noise of traffic is madness. Its deadly competitiveness. But on one point there is no doubt: after being in Manhattan, no other place will be able to compare with it. If we follow the advice by John Steinbeck and Truman Capote, there is no better place to get lost than this island, which floats on the river’s dark water like a diamond iceberg.
There are many great reasons to visit New York, particularly around Christmas time. We delude ourselves that we know it because we have seen a thousand films, listened to the songs of Frank Sinatra and Liza Minelli and leafed through mountains of glossy magazines. Yet, there is still much to discover in the pages of the journalist and blogger Alberto Bruzzone, who has just published New York Tales (published by Internòs, 165 pages, € 15). This book is not a predictable guide to the metropolis where sleep is useless, rather it is an act of love towards it that erases the stereotyped image, replacing it with the original and truthful one. Even if the truth is different for each of us. The author, who is from Genoa like Cristoforo Colombo, writes: “Here in a single street you hear five languages spoken, you feel the scents of six cultures, you listen to seven types of music, you see hundreds of people, men of all races and of all colors ». Among the secret stories discovered and told by Bruzzone, one concerns the sparkling Christmas tree, which towers in the center of Rockefeller Plaza, in front of the famous ice skating rink. Well, the idea came from a group of Italian carpenters who worked on the construction of the skyscraper. On the evening of 24 December 1931 a foreman from Avellino (whose name we do not know) decided to bring a fir tree to the middle of the square to embellish it: all together the workers swept the esplanade, hoisted the tree and then, climbing the stairs from the four sides, they began to decorate it. They did not have garlands, balls or even colored lights. They used the ones they had on hand at the construction site: they hung the empty paint cans on the branches, the harnesses became flakes, the foil with which they wrapped the explosives to clear the ground was transformed into garish garlands. If a tree shines today at the Rockefeller Center it is because many years ago a group from Irpinia decided that it was too early to go home and that a touch of beauty was missing in that bare place. It is not only the most famous fir in the world (which this year will be 25 meters high and decorated with eight kilometers of lights) to create the atmosphere of New York. Christmas markets are scattered across the Seaport District, Union Square and Bryant Park’s Winter Village. The windows on Fifth Avenue dazzle those who pass, even the most distracted. The best? According to New Yorkers, those of Lord & Tailor, Saks Fifth Avenue and Tiffany’s cannot be missing. And Macy’s of course. Then there are the Broadway shows. In addition to the musicals already planned, in these days two great classics are returning as usual: Radio City Christmas Spectacular and Nutcracker by Tschaikovsky, with choreography by George Balanchine and interpreted by the New York City Ballet, one of the most important ballet companies in the world. To enchant are also decorations and lights. The most extravagant are in Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights neighborhood, where residents compete to see who goes the extra mile by turning houses and streets into castles of light. Bruzzone reveals a secret about Brooklyn: the bridge we all know, the one portrayed also on the packets of chewing gum, was finished by a woman, the engineer Emily Warren. She took over the project after her husband Washington Roebling, also an engineer, was struck by an embolism while diving in the East River to build the foundations for the pylons. Emily courageously took charge of six hundred workers, completing that masterpiece called Brooklyn Bridge which connects the two main boroughs of New York. She was the first, in 1883, to walk over the bridge on the day of the inauguration, while the mayor celebrated “an eternal monument to a woman’s sacrificial devotion and her abilities”. After Emily, Jumbo and his twenty elephant friends, seven tons each, crossed it: they had been borrowed from the circus and hired to do the loading tests of the deck. New York Tales is a kaleidoscope of discoveries, places and characters. Like Birdsill Holly, the brilliant inventor of fire hydrants and district heating that still today calms the cold of the New York winter; like Joseph Gayetty who gave us a great idea from his home on Ann Street: toilet paper on a roll. Like again Milton Glaser, the designer who conceived the I Love New York logo with the red heart, or Mr. Karl Pfizer who, together with his cousin pastry chef specialized in making pills less bitter, founded the pharmaceutical company in Williamsburg that today is vaccinating the whole world against the coronavirus pandemic.