Iyer, who chooses to live in Japan because he will always be an outsider there, he says...that's his favorite viewpoint as a writer about "far flung places."
His essay on New York City, written in 1990, is a little dated ( and how could he have possibly foreseen something like 9/11) but still essentially accurate--" a cultural pawnshop cluttered with bric-a-brac," and always, in memory anyway, a city in black and white, with something vaguely nightmarish about it....its skyline the inspiration for Fritz Lang's futuristic city in "Metropolis."
I think Iyer is wrong on one point: he seems to think dreams are impossible in New York-- whereas I, who live here, see it as a city of dreamers as well as doers... people who go on endlessly working as bartenders and waitresses waiting for their crack at Broadway ( or Off-Broadway); and, of course, these days, people filled with Greed and Ambition on a scale ranging from the ordinary to the $50 billion schemes of a Madoff.
And I live in a neighborhood where, contrary to what Iyer says, children are everywhere... including countless mothers and nannies with their cute blond charges. ( Iyer's essay was written in 1990, before gentrification had wrought its many changes on Manhattan).
One comment really resonates, though: " No one makes a mark on New York, and New York leaves its mark on everyone." Even in the post 9/11 world, in a city filled with yuppies and populated mostly with people from other places, this seems so oddly true...