Monday, October 20, 2008


This morning, looking for an open branch of the Public Library (I need a quiet space to get stuff done), while also glancing up at the Empire State building, the flags on Fifth Avenue, and the lions of the main library, I fell. It’s not the first time that I have fallen in a city. Curbs and uneven slabs are dangerous for people who think and look in terms of photo angles.

My camera shattered and helpful Australians who had gathered to assist felt badly for me. I felt badly for me as well. My knee is just recovering from last week’s biking tumble. I’m feeling bruised.

As it happens, just this morning, I was thinking about taking care. I do know that I can be both over-attentive and under-attentive, all in one breath. At the b&b breakfast table another group of Australians was asking about safety. I mentioned always feeling safe in New York, even in days when I was in college, riding subways to and from work after midnight. Our b&b landlady confirmed that even in this still poor neighborhood of Brooklyn, she, too, feels perfectly safe. But really, her word is suspect given that she is going to Afghanistan next week to do a story on orphans, and this is not her first and only visit there, and my word is suspect because I also can be not careful enough. For example when mounting a curb on 4oth and Fifth.

Of course, people usually fear other people rather than their own lapses in judgment. The Australians were especially surprised and disturbed when they learned that nearly anyone can purchase a gun in this country. They probably weren't really worrying about tripping on sidewalks. Maybe they are better at navigating uneven terrain than I am

Today, Ed is again conferring with lawyers. We were late for his meetings because there was traffic down below, in the tunnels of the NY subway. The train paused numerous times and I remembered that feeling of irritation that comes to you in New York as you stand still waiting for others to move so that you, too, can get ahead in life. And in traffic.

Yesterday (Sunday), I dragged Ed through Manhattan once more. I proposed several escapes from the city, but he was nice enough to say it really did not matter where we went and I believed him. He has given up on the city and his radius of intolerance extends so far that any quick journey out of the center will do nothing to calm him.

In my youth, I had always hated Sundays in New York. It always felt empty and ugly then. But now, tourists and an influx of young families have given new life to the city on week-ends. As we made our way again to Central Park, we encountered any number of good people watching opportunities.

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But you can’t just hide in the park for two whole days. In my opinion, it's not beautiful enough. This time the park spit us out on its southwest corner and I gave Ed the choice of staying on Broadway or heading east. He shrugged. We turned east.

The high towers here are cool to look up at. Not all are boring, or even straight.

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We find ourselves admiring these two thin buildings providing the bread to the piece of salami in between (the salami being the Russian Tea Room).

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I lay down on the sidewalk trying to get it all in, but I fail, because the lens does not permit the joining of the red awning and the blue of the sky in one shot.

At times, the stuff on the ground is equally captivating. Somewhere nearby, there had been a costume party for dogs, and this guy was being wheeled home after collecting no prize at all. Perhaps feeling disappointed with his lack of success, he is now unwilling to pilot the plane home. His owner finally gives up. He knows he is almost home, she tells me. Home is the building right next to the Mercedes Benz dealer. Yes, that’s Park Avenue for you.

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We stay for a long time on 2nd avenue. No tourists walk on 2nd avenue and so it retains the aura of my childhood (helped by the fact that I lived right by it) – an empty wide street, with dozens and dozens of small neighborhood restaurants. One after another, none of them especially unusual or expensive. It’s like walking through a French city on a day where everyone has checked out with the flu or the plague or some such disease that keeps you off the streets.

Eventually I lead Ed to Tudor City. Even though it’s hard to hide entire neighborhoods in New York, few people knows about this place. It’s a bunch of blocks elevated above the rest, connected to the world with the two prongs of a U shaped street. Built in the 1920s, it was created with the hope of luring the middle class back into this part of New York. Now it faces the UN. Back then, it had the city slaughterhouses below it. The middle class can easily be bought off by decent housing.

These days, you can find quiet here. And views of the UN. And of 42nd Street below.

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Ed wants to linger, but I’m feeling cold. I’m often cold when the sun hovers just above my reach. We make our way to Grand Central where Ed proclaims that it looks the same (apparently the huge renovation efforts of the 90s do not impress him; a crowded station is a crowded station). And now I know we have done enough of Manhattan walking.

We take the train back to Brooklyn and get off (along with this well tended duo)…

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…just on the other side of Brooklyn Bridge. This is the spiffy part of the borough and only the most difficult to impress (Ed, for example) would not find it charming.

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The promenade gives pretty views of the bridge and of Manhattan. It is a pleasant place to finish up the day.

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The walk back to our own neighborhood is long, but it takes us through the gentrified neighborhoods – Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope -- and I am curious to see these well treated parts of a long-ailing borough.

We pass by many pleasant looking eateries and as I had hoped, Ed is tempted. We are intrigued by a place that brags about its cupcakes and posts a news clipping proclaiming it to offer the very best piece of chocolate cake in Brooklyn.

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We buy cupcakes for later and settle in for a dinner of soups and salads and sure enough, rosé wine for me and a lovely darkish beer for Ed.

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So ends our week-end. Today I’ll be flying home for sure and Ed will be flying home maybe for sure, depending on what the attorneys decide. I have a busted camera and a sore knee, but I really do have to admit that on balance, I sort of like this city. I gave it some good years and it gave me back an interesting take on life. It’s like having a very witty friend who doesn’t make things easy for you but keeps you amused nonetheless. Eventually you may get tired of the strain and stress of it all, but I’m not there yet. Stumbles and falls on crooked curbs notwithstanding.