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Anna Quindlen

On New York's Metabolism:
To me, there is no place else in the world. There are other cities I like, there are other cities that I find exciting, but my metabolism is the same metabolism as the A train, and the elevators, and the way you walk on the streets, and that kind of thing. It's the metabolism of a person who wants to get things done and do it now. And that, I think, accounts for some of the captains of industry and titans of publishing and people who do the best paintings or write the best songs or that kind of thing. I mean New York is in our bloodstream.

On Being A Woman In New York:
I think one of the things that's not frequently commented on is that this is a great place to be a woman. I mean, this is the home of a career girl. There is a different expectation frequently for women who dared to come to New York City from other parts of the world. New York was so outside the pale in many ways that you could become a suffrage leader or a union organizer or a political force or somebody who would be out working every day. I think that the city has been particularly hospitable to women in that way. There was this possibility of charting your own course in a way that no one would take notice of or care much about. That was enormously liberating for an entire gender that had been used to being very carefully watched over and circumscribed in their movements. So that I think that there's a sense of possibility that anonymity has historically given women in New York that's in many ways quite different than for men, and has often provided opportunities that we might not have had elsewhere.

On Getting Out:
Many Americans came here as poorer people and they settled in centralized ethnic and racial ghettos so that the dream became to get out of there. And getting out of there meant going from the center, outward and outward and outward. So that if you map certain American cities, the first generation will be here, the second generation will be in a part of the city more distant from that, and the third generation will be at the nearest suburb. Then, after the third generation you start to see the generations that come back. It reminds me how my father looked around one day when we were sitting on the stoop of my building and said, "you know, your grandfather worked hard all his life so none of his grandchildren would ever have to live on a block like this." But I think the hostility is because of that sense of getting away and that it's harder to accept the idea of going back -- that you can see the city as a repository not only of your past, but of everything that was bad in your past, of yourself before you became who you wanted to be. I think that's foolhardy. But none the less, it's part of Americans' love/hate affair with the cities. And especially with New York City.

On Neighborhoods:
When you fly into New York City and you're circling over La Guardia you look down at what's before you and you think, "I can't deal with this. I just can't deal with this." So that people who came to settle here looked at the ways in which they could make the city accessible, livable, cut to their comfort level. For some of them it was the parish. "Well I don't really live in New York. I live in Saint Christopher's." For some of them it was the block, you know: "We don't like the boys down on 17th street. We just stick to the guys on 19th street." For some of them it was the stoop, and the stoop on this side, and the stoop on the other side, but you always have to cut down the enormous to the possible. I think with a city as large and nutty as New York is, you have to find the small bites that make you able to chew up such a difficult meal. And that's really what those neighborhoods are to people and are to this day. If you meet somebody and they know that you're from New York, they don't say, "Oh I live in New York City." They say, "I live in Carroll Gardens," or "I live in Greenwich Village," or "I live in Riverdale," or "I live on Belt Parkway," or the Concourse -- things like that. And it's to give a sense of being anchored in this vast sea of people.

On What Makes A Good New York Politician:
There's plenty of room in New York politics for idealism because New Yorkers are very idealistic people. This city is an ideal as much as it is anything else. An ideal of a melting pot, an ideal of disparate parts together, an ideal of rich and poor. So that you can have idealistic politicians but at a nitty-gritty level, you got to make those subway trains work on time. So there's this sense of accommodation and back-scratching that takes place down there that's very much part of the ethos of the place. It's also a place where, at least in recent years, the politicians have come from the people. There hasn't in recent years been the tradition of the patrician politician. Of course, the most beloved mayor of the 20th century is the zenith of that, Fiorella La Guardia. And so there's the sense of, "He's a guy like us so he knows what needs to be done. Yeah, yeah he's got big ideas, but what about that garbage." Don't forget that what really did in the last great patrician Mayor the city had, John Lindsay, was that he didn't understand that you had to plow the streets in Queens. Ed Koch knew that you had to plow the streets in Queens. Mayor Giuliani knows that you have to plow the streets in Queens. You see, and that's the sense that you're in the leadership of a very, very grand place. But it all comes down to the streets in Queens really.

Anna Quindlen
Photo: Joyce Ravid
Quindlen is the author of several novels, including her recent BLACK AND BLUE (1998, Random House), OBJECT LESSONS (1991, Random House) and ONE TRUE THING (1994, Random House). Her NEW YORK TIMES column "Public & Private" won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992, and a selection of these columns was published as THINKING OUT LOUD (1993, Random House). She is also the author of a collection of her "Life in the 30's" columns, LIVING OUT LOUD (1988, Random House), and two children's books, THE TREE THAT CAME TO STAY (1992, Crown Books for Young Readers) and HAPPILY EVER AFTER (1997, Viking Penguin).