Filthy Beauty

New York City is so beautiful it will break your heart and so ugly it can bruise your soul.

It takes a while to reconcile these truths. As a newcomer, I used to think, If only the city weren’t so disgusting, it would be a fine place to live. But I was wrong. I now believe the filth is part of the beauty. Or more accurately, both are equally important.

This is not a misguided attempt at romanticization … Oh boy, this taxi smells like shit! Only in New York! … Not every big city is this way. But this city is a constant reminder that humans are animals. Though we try to mask it with civilization and soap and money, if you put enough of us in a small space, our collective wretchedness is impossible to conceal. It gathers in forgotten corners and unswept gutters, in soiled subways and rancid alleys, multiplying until it spills into the streets.

Video/music by Travis Atria

And yet, just as a painter must use dark colors to show light, the filth here allows the beauty to shine. New York is beautiful because amidst centuries of grime piled on top of each other, the Empire State Building rises like a finger in God’s eye. It is beautiful because in spite of the festering trash heaps crowding the sidewalk, the Chrysler Building at sunset is a poem more lovely than any poet could write.

From the mighty columns of the Museum of Natural History, to the tree-lined canopies of Central Park; from the skyline rising over the spine of the Brooklyn Bridge to the brooding lions guarding the Manhattan Public Library — we have carved these breathtaking monuments out of pestilence, sludge, slime, ooze. They stand as proof of our will to survive, our power to create beauty under any circumstances.

Even in the darkest places, we create light.

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