A New York/Napa State of Mind

NYrows What's the difference between Wine Country and New York City?

The question isn't a set up for punchline. After spending a bit of time in New York again for the Vino 2011 Conference, I've been thinking about this question. Clearly there are many difference between, say, Napa Valley or Sonoma Valley and New York City. But I'm not thinking the key difference between New York City and Wine Country is the number of good Jewish delis, the number of taxis on the street at any given time or number of really old grapevines per acre.

What I've realized is that the fundamental difference between New York City and Wine Country is the density of sensory input a person must deal with in either locale and the impact on one's character and personality from having to confront more or less sensory input.

From a living environment perspective, Napa Valley just doesn't put much stress on our senses. The fact is, this part of the world is pretty nicely and easily ordered: Roads are relatively few. The primary landscape is simple, ordered rows of vines that appear largely the same from a distance. There are few enough people to not worry about hitting a person in crosswalks. Few buildings cause us to bend our neck more than a degree or two in order to gaze at their roof. There is little or no neon and not much actually blinks in Napa Valley to attract our attention. Basically, Napa Valley does not provide its inhabitants with a challenging array of sensory input.

I think this relative lack of sensory input on Napans has an effect on their character and disposition if they live here and experience a reduced amount of daily sensory input. I think Napans will tend to be calmer, experience less stress, be somewhat under-prepared for disruptions to their environment, and be likely to better appreciate the nuance of unfilled space.

New Yorkers, however, are a different breed. What strikes someone visiting a city like this is the great density of sensory input one experiences upon setting foot on the street. Cars moving in all directions and honking and stopping and starting. Angled planes of every measure constantly interrupt one's line of site as remarkable buildings and skyscrapers constantly arrange themselves where every one peers. The density and variety of sound that comes at a person walking down a street is without end. A combination of strange human mumblings, car horns, doors slamming, taxi whistles, music and more constantly blares into one's ears. Add to this the intensity of desire-piquing properties that one confronts as one store front after another presents you with clothes that must be worn, watches that must be possessed, shows that must be seen, bars that must be tried, restaurants that call to our stomachs, storefronts filled with gadgets that give us wonderful ideas for who we might be better people. The possibilities that might result from our desires being fulfilled are endless.

What happens when a human is forced to constantly absorb all this sensory input? Much, I think.

In the first place, I think a New Yorker is much more likely to possess a nimble mind created, partly, out of its practice of interpreting interruption and multiple sources of sensory input. I think a New Yorker is more likely to possess a cultured disposition by virtue of being exposed to a great deal more and widely expressive cultural experiences. But I think too that New Yorkers are likely to possess higher degrees of paranoia as well as stress—byproducts of minds forced to absorb and deal with and interpret higher degrees of sensory input.

I love New York. I want to go back…regularly. But there is something much more attractive (to me) of living in a place that is more well ordered (spatially and environmentally), that has much greater potential to induce on into calm moments, that puts fewer demands (sensory input) upon the mind—thereby allowing the inhabitant (if they are so inclined) give greater space to the unique sort of creative force that results from a somewhat less cluttered mind.

We humans are, of course, amazingly adaptable. Take a lifetime Napan and move them to New York and you will see quick adoption of the mental tools necessary to deal with a life of heightened sensory input. Arranged the opposite personnel shift and you'll see in the New Yorker lessened paranoia, lessened stress and a quick understanding (if not appreciation) of living in a place that provides fewer inherent demands on the mind.

Neither locale is better than the other. Neither produces better offspring. Neither is more beautiful than the other. But I do believe, given prolonged exposure, they will produce different kinds of people.


7 Responses

  1. Jeff - January 31, 2011

    Nice rumination on this topic, Tom. NY even compared to my small big town of Indianapolis represents a significant increase in sensory overload.
    I found myself getting in my car at the airport feeling relatively calm compared to the bustle of New York.
    As they say, great place to visit, wouldn’t live there.

  2. Thomas Pellechia - January 31, 2011

    Nimble mind, cultured disposition, paranoid: Tom, you nailed me.
    I ought to go back home from this quiet Finger Lakes…

  3. JohnLopresti - February 1, 2011

    I am glad that ThomasP compared upstate New York to Napa. In Napa I am sure a few interviews might reveal that citizens had migrated west for some of the same reasons TomW offered in the reflections on the NYC experience.
    Some of the excellent effects that emerge from New York have to do with abstraction, a human exercise rising above the density of the physical compactness of the metropolis. Art works, museums, jazz, obscure music of all sorts, even extraordinary access to handcrafts, all are part of the texture of New York. Wonderful writers and expressive arts people abound in NY, but also up the Hudson valley toward the lakes, extending even all the way to Napa, even if more sparse out west.
    It’s more difficult to overwinter grapevines of cabernet sauvignon in NY than Napa. The French hybrids and bird net of NY vineyards are absent from the Napa landscape.
    There is a place for NY. Keillor wrote an article in a difficult time in spring 2010 about his favorite spots to visit in NYC, incorporating current events of the time, there:
    And, if one chooses to visit Grenwich village and park a motorcycle while in an expresso cafe, it is important to remember motor vehicle regulations there concerning the precise number of permissable inches the curbside wheel must be from the sidewalk. There is a time for experimentation in NY but it is not when a traffic light is changing or a dignitary is in a hurry to drive its fast paced streets while you and your companions are mere pedestrians. Yet, both cities are pretty places and soothe the soul in their own way.

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