I have an acquaintance who is not very fond of Americans, seeing them as insular and parochial. He is American himself, born in Ohio, and currently lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
This acquaintance travels a great deal for his work and has visited exotic locales. Recently, he was in South America, and given the opportunity to visit this small village.
When he returned to NY, he could not stop praising the uniqueness of the residents of this village, and the talent of the local folk artists.
During coffee one afternoon near his apartment, he told me that he learned more about the meaning of life from speaking with one simpler villager than he did from four years at an expensive university.
“You should come to Queens,” I said. “There is this restaurant from that country in Jackson Heights.”
“Nah,” he replied. “It’s not going to be authentic.”
On the way home, I pondered his response. Why wouldn’t this restaurant in Jackson Heights, Queens be authentic? Isn’t it possible that the chef could be using the same exact ingredients he might use back in the old country? Perhaps he even comes from the village that the acquaintance visited.
And taking this idea of authenticity one step further, would the amazingly wise villager that this acquaintance met in Central America lose all her unique wisdom if she moved to Queens? Or is she simply more interesting living thousands of miles away in a remote foreign village than she is a mere fifteen minute subway ride away?
This is the view out of my bedroom window. A few weeks ago, the owner of the supermarket placed these flags up as decoration. My friend jokingly calls it “Ghetto UN,” because you’ll notice that outside of Old Glory, none of the traditional power countries are represented, bigwigs such as Great Britain, France, Germany. Instead, the display is an oddball mish-mash representing residents who now live in the area — from Iran, Pakistan, Israel, Korea, the Ukraine, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and other troubled spots in the world.
I’m not sure it is old authenticity. It is a new authenticity.