In a recent interview regarding his new film Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen said that his movies aren’t meant to portray a city realistically. “I wanted to show the city emotionally, the way I felt about it. It didn’t matter to me how real it was.” Indeed, the cities of Allen’s films have always been romantic avatars rather than gritty recreations—be it London, Barcelona, or even New York. Beirut’s Zach Condon, too, has made a career of just this sort of quixotic re-imagining. He sings about Germany (“Rhineland Heartland”), Mexico (“Guyamas Sonora”), and, of course, France (“My Night with the Prostitute from Marseille,” “Cherbourg,” “Nantes”) with the same wide-eyed idealization that Allen captures in his films. “East Harlem,” like songs past, is full of nostalgia, romance, and wonderment. Written when Condon was only 17, “East Harlem” could have been about anywhere in the world. The point is not the location at all, but the wistful feeling that Condon dreams up from fragments and snippets of experience—an East Harlem remade as Balkan love song.
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