Friday, April 23, 2010

New York, New York

It's two days after our trip to Manhattan. In lieu of blogging from a café full of New Yorkers, I'm sitting here with Carol at the RMV in the Watertown Mall while she
waits to get a new license.

But I won't let the City fade. Cue the music: New York, New York, a hell of a town; the Bronx is up and the Battery's down; the people ride in a hole in the ground...

For me, New York usually starts in the train station of some metro suburb. Waiting for the train in Pleasantville, it was the same banked excitement as when I was a kid in Stamford, looking at the show ads: what was playing on Broadway or at Lincoln Center or the Radio City Music Hall (the Dalai Lama?). Then the train arrives. New York bound!

The conductors are the first New Yorkers: brusque, all business, click of their punch saying what's what. New York spools the train in, through the green purlieus and burgherly towns, enough of those, on to graffitied walls, tunnels, warehouses, bigger, closer buildings, the seats of commerce, bricked, blighted, neighborhoods, and black: belowground. Finally, Grand Central.

The Grand Concourse, meetingplace to the world, under the green constellations. No more giant Kodachrome showing a more colorful-than-life vista of Americana. But the big four-way clocks still summon all who need information. And the echoing voices of travelers coming and going still say, This is a Big City, kid. Don't get lost.

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D line to Grand St. Our goal, 108 Orchard, the Tenement Museum, created to remember that crush of humanity that filled these streets south of Houston St. around the turn of the century and may have included my grandfather, Meyer Novick, a tailor from Belarus. We booked a walking tour and went to have lunch at Katz's Deli. Fifteen dollar brisket sandwich! On the other hand, the best brisket sandwich I ever had, and we all dined on it, more or less.

Headed back for our 1:45 tour, "Piecing it Together," about the garment industry in these buildings. We crowded, twenty of us, into the narrow dim hallway of 97 Orchard St., which we were told housed 7,000 families from 20 countries between 1863 and 1935. The furnishings were unaltered. Two dark, barely visible paintings in ornate frames on the walls. The only thing we were allowed to touch was the bannister. It was a reddish hardwood, nicked and scratched, gripped and rubbed smooth by hands of every age and probably in every way, casually, angrily, wearily, thoughtfully.... Not to make too much of a bannister.

The tour was a little tiring. The docent talked a bit too long. But compared to a typical house tour, being held back by a velvet rope from a reconstruction of some landed gentry's well-appointed room, this was a moving change. The peeling layers of ancient wallpaper. The sense of exhaustion and the noise from outside. The crib in the kitchen and the dress model by the window. It wasn't a museum experience. It was life interrupted.

We caught a cab to the lower west side: 10th Ave. and W. 22 St. Had tea at the iconic, deco Empire Diner, due to close on May 15. Walked across the street, passed a mysterious helmeted accordion player, and climbed a metal stairway to the High Line.

Between 1934 and 1980, an old elevated railway, the High Line, used to run here from lower Manhattan to 34th Street, delivering goods to and from west side food factories (like Nabisco). Then it outlived its era and was going to be demolished. But cooler heads prevailed. In 2002, the city agreed to a proposal to preserve and convert the old el to a greenway. Designs were submitted, one chosen, and the result is this amazing lush walkway with miniature grasslands, a birch forest, gardens, flowers, blooming trees, art installations and wooden lounge chairs full of basking, reading, iPodding and iPadding New Yorkers, all under the benign gaze of the Empire State Building and nearer Chelsea buildings.

It starts at Gansevoort Street and bends past 14th Street to around 23rd Street, where, for now, the greenway stops and the future stretches ahead as empty track to, eventually, 34th.

This is a very fine thing for New York City. We all have a trackwalker in us, and it would please a New Yorker like E.B. White to walk a park that isn't sequestered from the city but passes through it, is among it, looking west to the busy Hudson, north to the Empire State, a modest thoroughfare that befriends the buildings and is a kind of pleasure cruise for the passerby.

In sum, a nice pairing of perspectives, the Orchard Street tenements and the High Line greenway, looking back and ahead.

* *

Oh, yeah. Wednesday: The NBC tour...Top of the Rock (70th story Observation Deck of the Rockefeller Building)...and a stroll through Central Park to the Conservatory Water (model sailboat pond), where the scopes are still pointed at the eyrie of Pale Male and Lola, the red-tailed hawks who have been nesting on a ledge at 927 Fifth Avenue since 1995. See them here.

1 comment:

  1. What a great, sensory-delightful description of your trip to the city. I feel as if I was right there with you. And I'm exhausted!