ok. I LOVE Central Park. I like the City.
and there’s more, as in the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, etc.
ok. I LOVE Central Park. I like the City.
sometimes it takes a bit of searching.
The New York Times, New York Observed
By CHRISTOPHER SOLOMON
“SIX months ago, I decided to move back to the East Coast from the West. This might not seem like much, but for me the decision was momentous: Thirteen years earlier, I’d struck out for Seattle — just about as far from family and familiarity in the contiguous United States as an Eastern-raised boy could get. Now I was turning around, leaving behind different friends, a different familiarity.
That day in 1995 when I’d pointed my battered Volkswagen toward the Pacific Northwest like some latter-day prairie schooner, I’d told my parents that a job awaited me there. But it was just as accurate to say that I went because of the mountains.
The year before, someone had shown this Virginia kid pictures of Washington’s North Cascades — ragged and uncompromising things of rock and fir that wore their snows deep into summer and held their feet in cold rivers. This was the West I wanted, the life I wanted, far from the quick wife/kid/cul-de-sac life the East had laid out for me.
Once I arrived, I discovered what I already felt to be true: I’m a mountain man. In the way that others need to live near the sea to equalize the saltwater sloshing inside of them, I grow dizzy if I’m too long without an uncluttered horizon.
“I’ll never move back east,” I told anyone who would listen, speaking in the absolutes of one who is in love for the first time.
And now, here I was, in a city I’d thought I’d never be, looking up at a thing I thought I’d never see: a mountain in Manhattan.
It was autumn. I was one month new to town, and indulging in one of the purposeless rambles around the island that newcomers enjoy but that longtime New Yorkers embark on only when disconsolate or drunk or unable to find the subway. And then, there it was: Rounding some corner on the Lower East Side, I came face to face for the first time with the Municipal Building.
The unexpected beauty of that hoary skyscraper, its blocky mass lightened by its Deer Isle granite, the cold November sun gilding the copper statue of Civic Fame against the blue November sky, stopped me. I felt the way I used to feel when I rounded a bend in the trail and confronted a peak I’d never seen before.
I’d returned east for the reason that so many over the past 150 years before me had packed their best suit and come east: I needed things I felt the West couldn’t give me. I needed the adrenal squeeze of this grasping, shouting, maddening city, this place where all lines converge, and at every convergence there’s somebody hustling, creating, working an angle.
I knew I’d miss the mountains of the West more than anything else, more even than friends or the amniotic comfort of routine. In Seattle, the mountains stand at every compass point. To drive over the city’s Aurora Bridge in the morning rush and see 14,000-foot Mount Rainier unveiled after a week of rain, its melted ice cream cone summit afloat on a raft of dawn-pink clouds, is to feel suddenly buoyant about the day’s prospects.
Seeing that first mountain in Manhattan, I flushed with the same delight, followed by something like shame, that this ersatz alp could give such pleasure. But I soon realized that whoever described the city as a concrete canyonland had his topography all wrong. We live in a little Himalaya.
And once you notice a mountain in this city, you begin to see mountains everywhere, much the same way that a new word, freshly learned, suddenly seems the favorite of every editorial writer. Walk outside in the morning and entire ranges have grown up overnight, massive tectonic surges taken place while the city slept.
One bitter cold December afternoon, I tumbled out of my fifth-floor walk-up in the East Village, looked north and found the top of the Empire State Building brushed with a rouge of alpenglow as delicate as any that night on the distant Monashees.
Other days I disappear from my desk for hours, zip on the yellow mountaineering parka that marks me as a newcomer and embark on an expedition. I walk past the Baruch College business school, whose sooty, sloping facade is a late-summer glacier slumping off the corner of East 24th Street and Lexington Avenue.
THEN it’s west to one of the benches in Madison Square Park, with their neck-craning Matterhorn views up to the great golden horn capping the New York Life Building. Can it be only happy coincidence that mountain climbers and architects share the same language to describe the objects of their passion, that both talk of slope and cornice, spur and buttress, fluting, pitch, spire?
Round another corner of the park, and the great limestone thrust of the Empire State Building strides into view. The city’s emblematic building doesn’t appear gradually, but stands apart, some sage zoning official having known that the very best buildings, like the most majestic mountains and most striking women, demand a little space to be appreciated.
My fellow New Yorkers see none of this. They walk with their heads down as if in prayer, worrying their iPhones. And so, among eight million, I am all alone in these mountains.
Of course, “alone” cuts both ways when you are a mountain man strange to a big city and away from your loyal mountains.
One Saturday night not long ago, in the meatpacking district, I passed up a birthday party of somebody scarcely known, too lonesome for the company of strangers.
I began to walk uptown in pursuit of a bright peak on the black horizon. A raw wind swept people into doorways and bars, leaving the sidewalks empty except for the solitary figure who pushed onward in a bright down jacket.
Finally, I stood at a corner staring up at the Chrysler Building, its Art Deco steel crown aglow in a fuzzy halo of its own bright creation. Sleet ghosted past the top as if spindrift carried off the summit of Finsteraarhorn, or Forbidden Peak, or the Gran Zebru, or any of a dozen other summits I had stood below, just like now, cold needling every finger yet still unwilling to move.
I leaned against a standpipe for a little longer. After that I was better, and I turned left on 42nd and went into Grand Central and stood under the main concourse’s pale vault of night: I had a sudden, overpowering desire to see the stars.”
Christopher Solomon’s work has appeared in “The Best American Travel Writing, 2006.”
WOW, I couldn’t have said it any more clearly. Thank you Christopher Solomon. Keep your chin and your eyes upward. I’ll try my best to do the same.
Uptown is out of town but en route to VA from NY on Thursday evening, we turned to bid farewell to our adopted city and admire the Manhattan skyline from the Great Grey Bridge. Red, white and blue lighting atop the Empire State Building (ESB) caught our eye and we guessed the patriotic palette was in recognition of our athletes abroad.
Sure enough, this week and next, the Empire State Building (ESB) shines the flag colors of the top 66 countries competing in the games, based on the number of athletes attending from each country.
For the first time ever, the monument split the tower’s sides into separate colors and is lighting each of the four sides of its famed tower—north, south, east and west—in the colors of the participating countries’ flags.
Thursday night the monument shined bright in recognition of the United States and Chinese flags with red, white and blue on the North and South sides and red, yellow and red on the East and West sides.
The ESB lighting schedule can be accessed by linking here:http://www.esbnyc.com/tourism/tourism_lightingschedule.cfm
Colors are listed from bottom to top as they appear from the street.
If you happen catch a glimpse, here’s what you’ll see tonight:
North side: Czech Republic
West side: Russia
South side: Italy
East side: Nigeria
Spent yesterday morning in your part of town. It was a mom-day whereby I delivered the 10-year old golfer to his last day of golf camp at Chelsea Piers and headed to Pastis for a leisurely bowl of DEE-licious, creamy, rich (implied by previous descriptor) oatmeal with, get this, cooked bananas sliced lengthwise, adding dimension and more texture to my bowl. Think bananas sautéed in butter with honey and maybe a bit of brown sugar. Yummy.
I read the entire New York Times, it’s almost as thick as the Sunday paper, replete with travel, arts & leisure, business and so much more. The Metro Section is my favorite as of late and every Friday I continue to enjoy the back page of the Weekend Arts section, “Spare Time” with its listings of weekend highlights. So much goes on in this wild town and now that I’m developing the reporter’s eye, I so enjoy reading and trying to get a grasp on what’s happening throughout the City.
One of the most intriguing stories in the paper today was by Clyde Haberman. “Who Wants to Relive that 70s Show?” It’s a Showtime series about Studio 54 with NYC as the backdrop (no joke). This ought to be good and offer a glimmer into the City of my 70s childhood. The cable show will shed light on the City to which my father traveled daily, my mother visited weekly and I had the privilege to observe monthly.
En route to breakfast, I spotted a gathering of eight to ten traffic control people, most of whom were beginning their work day. One guy stepped into the intersection at 15th Street and Tenth Avenue only to yell at a woman in a silver Lexus Hybrid SUV, “Move over here.” No action on her part. “Hey,” traffic control guy yelled to Lexus Lady. “Move over. Can’t you see this is an empty lane?” Lexus Lady was turning north from 15th Street onto Eleventh Avenue and the traffic was in a tizzy.
I crossed the street, making my way to 9th Avenue, passed a police officer wandering toward the traffic controllers. “What’s happening?” I inquired of the officer. “Oh, some crane thing. They are installing a crane or something,” he said.
The crane “thing” is a big deal these days. As best I could tell, the crane was already in its place along Tenth Avenue. We, New Yorkers, recently learned that the City’s top crane inspector was charged for taking bribes to falsify inspection reports and then there was the story about the 14 out of 21 crane operators who obtained licenses despite failing their test but most importantly, the crane “thing” comes after fatal accidents on March 15 and May 30, 2008. Watch where you walk.
But, I digress. So there was Pastis, the crane/traffic excitement followed by a walk up Broadway with brief shop-stops along the way. The 14-year old is at sleep-away camp and given her request that I send a sweatshirt and leggings from her closet, I popped into Free People, the newest incarnation of the Urban Outfitters/Anthropologie family of stores. There’s another one in the works, Terrain, that caters to outdoorsy men and women… not sure this will catch on in the sophisticated, “fashion-forward” city in which we live.
As our friend from the Met’s Costume Council might say, “save those clothes for the mountains.”
Rather than walk the 40 plus blocks north on this sultry summer day as I’d originally intended, I hopped on the R train at 23rd street. Sat down and mulled over the morning.
While it’s nearly two years since we arrived from our beloved West Coast, I’ve got street-side entertainment everywhere I turn, Central Park to soothe my soul, and I confess, I still get a kick out of looking up at the Empire State Building looming majestically over the City. Seeing it in the distance orients me more times than not.
Earlier in the day, I’d admired the 102-story art deco skyscraper from Union Square. I saw her midday as I exited the R train across at Fifth Avenue, kiddy-corner to The Plaza. It’s crazy to think that I live the life that I do. But believe it I do and most of the time, it’s good. All of the time, I am grateful.
Can’t wait to see you next week.
It’s been a long time since the two towns got together.
Meanwhile, the ten-year old and I are hoofing it to New Jersey today to gather school supplies and button down school shirts. xo