Free exploration rewards the intrepid with a sense of discovery and creative stimulation. Yet with the constant stream of reviews, recommendations and instagram posts out there telling us where to go and what to order, travel is in danger of becoming a predictable and well-trodden path that offers everyone the exact same experience. In the new book “I Am New York”, Carlo Stanga brings back the art of travel by taking us on a journey through its pages.
As a trained architect, the Italian illustrator is drawn to cities and the stories contained within every facade. Rather than telling you what you absolutely “can’t miss” when you’re in town, Stanga draws out New York’s multiple personalities and its layers of emotion. Through his hand, painstakingly applied lines fuse together to form powerfully defiant buildings that seem to say, “nothing can knock us down”. Car silhouettes are ever so slightly curved to show them bending around buildings and snaking through traffic. Stark shadows recall the strong midday sun, heightening the sense of drama that accompanies any walk through Manhattan’s lively streets.
We step back in time through the city’s history, from its sale to the Dutch in the seventeenth century to the 1800s, which Stanga describes as the city’s period of adolescence. Surrounded by water and constrained by the newly-introduced grid system, New York was experiencing growing pains. The only way was up, and with the invention of the elevator, the sky was the limit. Stanga points out the various architectural revival styles that feature around Wall Street, today rubbing shoulders with more modern additions.
The city’s iconic water tanks get a special mention. In Carlo Stanga’s mind, one becomes a secret swimming pool, complete with bright pink inflatable. Throughout the 60 or so pages packed with visual delights, Stanga manages to convey a striking sense of scale whilst embellishing every spread with authentic little details that anyone who’s either been to the Big Apple or watched an episode of Sex and the City will recognise. Lamp posts covered in stickers, the elegant roof cornices atop SoHo’s 19th century facades, the rat racing across the subway tracks before the train pulls into the station. But there’s no shortage of unexpected discoveries, too. Who knew about the cemetery that lies beneath Washington Square Park, or the books buried underneath Bryant Park?
Stanga makes a point of pausing to remember 9/11. In place of the two defining buildings that once punctuated the cityscape, Stanga points out the various monuments that stand “clear and strong” in their place; the Freedom Tower, Ground Zero, St Paul’s Chapel, the Oculus, the Museum, and the “never ending tears” of the plunging Memorial pools.
Perhaps the most captivating image for me in the whole book is an overhead view of a typical Summer’s day in Central Park. Sun worshippers are spread out on picnic blankets, engrossed in their books or electronic devices. Dogs sit attentively by their owner’s sides, begging for attention. A drone passes overhead, unnoticed. In my mind, it sums up the New York experience perfectly: that of being alone, together. Or, as Stanga puts it, “millions of people…whose distinct beliefs make a shared way of living.” Look closely and you may spot a pink flamingo taking part in the action, too.
There’s a declaration at the beginning of the book, which is typical of the lovingly brash New York state of mind: “My name is New York and I am the most exciting city in the world!” When seen through Carlo Stanga’s eyes, it’s hard to disagree.
Words by Zosia Swidlicka