Camus and New York

Albert Camus once wrote a short essay titled, The Rains of New York, that was published in 1947. Those who know Camus and his work are aware of his ties to Algeria and his affinity to bare nature (and powerful, blinding suns). This affinity to nature was challenged in the demanding city of New York. He feels the skyscrapers as constricting walls and fears the never ending cement pathways. It takes the cry of a tugboat to remind him “that this desert of iron and cement was also an island.”

He feels completely out of his element in New York but feels somehow drawn to it. “New York affects me […] like a foreign body in the eye, delicious and unbearable, evoking tears of emotion and all consuming fury. Perhaps this is what people call passion.”

New York is nothing without its sky. The buildings are impenetrable walls and the streets are an impenetrable floor – it is the sky that gives New York its beauty. Camus takes delight in the early mornings and early evenings when the colors of the sky strike the “gigantic tombstones,” the “square prisons” – the skyscrapers. He does, however, fear New York rain. “New York rain is a rain of exile” because it removes the sky from New York. The searching rain drops drive the pedestrian back into their gigantic tombstone.

“I loved New York, with that powerful love that sometimes leaves you full of uncertainties and hatred: sometimes one needs exile.”

Growing up in a small town in the coastal mountains of California I can relate to Camus’ reaction. I’ve never been to New York but after I left my forest encrusted town and moved to the land of suburbia I found myself asking, “how does one get dirty here?” And here in Heidelberg I miss the ocean – I can only look at the river with disdain and disappointment. Sometimes one needs exile.