The Manhattan tribe I study lives in a state of ecological release. Basically, that means life is good. As is the case for the fortunate of the industrialized world, subsistence is a given — my tribe are not struggling to get enough calories for themselves and their kids to avoid starvation, not by a long shot. They are not at war (even when their country is). There is little competition for abundant resources. And they face no predators (now that Bernie Madoff is in jail).
Manhattan may be the exception to the adage "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." It's hard to come back to a smelly, noisy, cramped town after a beachy, rural summer idyll. Lots of us hate it — complaining about being back in town after time away away (in the Hamptons, Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket, most often) is a Fall tradition here. But distance and absence have certainly make the city look more fascinatingly strange, exotic and foreign to me after 11 weeks at the beach (don't hate me — I worked while I was there!) Manhattan and Manhattanites, now I see you as you truly are — a tribe (or collection of tribes) with rites, rituals and ways of being and doing that truly set you apart.
Manhattan is a town of tribes. And there is no tribe-ier tribe than the fashion tribe. They speak their own language, in which they express their own concerns to themselves and the rest of us who care (“Fringe is trending”; “Alexander Wang is the new Marc Jacobs”; “The yellow story is holding on”). They are migratory and exotic, traveling where their Vuitton luggage and schedules take them: New York City, London, Milan and Paris are the tribe’s habitus. And they live in another timeframe — for them, it’s all about Spring/Summer 2014 in the early days of fall. But as a New Yorker, I like to think they are somehow ours, that they live with us here and now, and always will.
The Manhattan tribes live by binary oppositions. French anthropologist Claude Levi Strauss suggested that, just like the indigenous people he studied in the Brazilian Amazon, we all share the same "savage mind" that creates categories in distinction to other categories (alive/dead; animal/human; inside/outside), thus ordering our experience.
On Labor Day weekend, a woman with kids is thinking Back to School. Or she's in denial about it.
Beach Magazine is running a piece on my fieldwork in the Hamptons and Manhattan in its current (Labor Day) edition. Check out the Brood column, all about the tribe of Manhattan mothers I study (and love) and my upcoming book, Primates of Park Avenue.
August is the laziest month. Dog days of summer. Lemonade and corn on the cob and lobster rolls. Lingerie trunk sales (okay, only in the Hamptons — my friend Blair invited me). Hanging out by the pool. Or on the beach.
Nearly everywhere you go, people have anxiety about what they eat and drink, and restrictions and beliefs that regulate how, what and when they ingest. Food laws are a cultural universal — but they vary widely from place to place.