Living fiction: impressions of New York

Last updated on January 22, 2024

New York Times Square

Sex and the City, Mad Men, Girls, Friends – New York is home to so many fictional scenes that I spent my time in the city suspended in a semi-dream state between fiction and reality. Visiting any iconic destination comes with it a sort of “picture book come to life” aspect, but things are rarely as you imagined – Stonehenge is smaller, the Parthenon bigger, and the context of sights can surprise you.

New York is somewhat different – it’s been bought to life from afar through so many moving pictures that the reality is already familiar. You walk in the footsteps of your favourite characters and the line between movie set and city is blurred. The street names ring bells from many corners of the mind, and it doesn’t seem absurd that Don Draper may be the man in a hat beside you, or that Carrie Bradshaw is just around the corner.

You feel part of a living set – a Disneyland for adults where days are spent spotting familiar landmarks and saying things like: “Oh look, that’s where Kevin met the bird lady” or “where Sally faked her orgasm”. Fiction adds an extra layer of sparkle to a city that already shines and beats in an alluring buzz.

New York is part of your memory’s fabric – planted there through scenes from screens and pages from books. And when you visit the city yourself, it’s where fiction becomes real life.

Some favourite New York fictional moments

I asked some of my friends who I travelled with what their favourite fictional memories of New York were. This is what they said:

“When I saw some maintenance guys being lowered into the sewers like in Ghostbusters 2 when they find the river of ectoplasm. One of them rather looked like Egon Spengler as well.” – Paul

“Every time someone said the word Brooklyn, I thought of Method Man.” – Max

“FAO Schwarz and Tom Hanks playing the giant piano in Big.” – Steve

“The strongest fiction scene of New York for me that I can think of would be KING KONG on the Empire State Building. When I first went to NY my friends couldn’t care less about the Empire State Building (expensive and waste of time) but I just had to go and conquer(?) it! I had to face my worst(?) enemy!

“I know it sounds dramatic but when I was little (from when I was 5-10) I had a few recurring dreams / nightmares, and one of them was King Kong coming after me and attacking my grandma’s house (a large high ceiling old wooden building). Occasionally the attacker was Godzilla but for some reason they never appeared together at the same time (I always hated ‘mixing friends’).

“Anyways, with this personal memory I remember waiting in line alone for a long ass time, paying 30 or 50 dollars to conquer the building / to remember my dear old friend. I know some people think it’s cheesy and too touristy but I thought it was definitely worth it – touristy stuff is the best thing to do when you’re a tourist!

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“Also, sewers and pizzas in NY reminds me of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – the coolest cowabunga heroes EVER! (I was born in April and April was the reporter so I think I wanted to relate to her – and I had a crush on Leonardo! Isn’t he sexy for a turtle?!)

“And Louis CK and the subway violinist busker scene in ‘Louie’ makes me laugh out loud when I see a performer in the subways!” – Rina

What are your favourite fictional moments in New York?

5 thoughts on “Living fiction: impressions of New York”

  1. I was in New York 12 years ago as a teenager with my family, but hardly saw anything because it was at the time of the big blackout that covered the whole northeastern USA and Canada. I’d definitely like to go back, and indeed can already imagine a lot of what the city looks like, even the parts I’ve never seen before. I think the same thing you describe here must be true for London for people who’ve never been there before…at least to some extent, though perhaps not quite to the same extreme.

  2. I went to the New York Public Library last year, partly because I’m a booknerd, but also because I love ghostbusters. While it’s completely understandable that the library has upgraded their equipment (with computers and such) since the 1980s I’ll admit I was a little disappointed I didn’t see an old fashion card catalogue while I was there. It was a little bit of a reality reminder that this was a function library, not a movie set.


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