Saturday, April 23, 2005

The view from Brooklyn Heights

I've been visiting New York City, the place where I grew up. I decide to take a walk to the Promenade in Brooklyn Heights, never having been there before.

When you approach the promenade you can't really see what's in store. You walk down a normal-looking street, spot a bit of blue at the end of the block, make a right turn--and, then, suddenly, there is New York.

And so it is for me. I take a turn, and catch my breath: downtown Manhattan rises to my left, seemingly close enough to touch, across the narrow East River. I see skyscrapers, piers, the orange-gold Staten Island ferry. In front of me, there are the graceful gothic arches of the Brooklyn Bridge. To my right, the back of some brownstones, and a well-tended and charming garden that goes on for a third of a mile.

I walk down the promenade looking first left and then right, not knowing which vista I prefer, but liking them both, especially in combination, because they complement each other so well.

All around me are people, relaxing. Lovers walking hand in hand, mothers pushing babies in strollers, fathers pushing babies in strollers, nannies pushing babies in strollers. People walking their dogs (a prepoderance of pugs, for some reason), pigeons strutting and courting, tourists taking photos of themselves with the skyline as background, every other person speaking a foreign language.

The garden is more advanced from what it must be at my house, reminding me that New York is really a southern city compared to New England. Daffodils, the startling blue of grape hyachinths, tulips in a rainbow of soft colors, those light-purple azaleas that are always the first of their kind, flowering pink magnolia and airy white dogwood and other blooming trees I don't know the names of.

In the view to my left, of course, there's something missing. Something very large. Two things, actually: the World Trade Center towers. Just the day before, we had driven past that sprawling wound, with its mostly-unfilled acreage where the WTC had once stood, now surrounded by fencing. Driving by it is like passing a war memorial and graveyard combined; the urge is to bow one's head.

As I look at the skyline from the Promenade, I know that those towers are missing, but I don't really register the loss visually. I left New York in 1965, never to live there again, returning thereafter only as occasional visitor. The World Trade Center was built in the early seventies, so I never managed to incorporate it into that personal New York skyline of memory that I hold in my mind's eye, even though I saw the towers on every visit. So, what I now see resembles nothing more than the skyline of my youth, restored, a fact which seems paradoxical to me. But I feel the loss, even though I don't see it. Viewing the skyline always has a tinge of sadness now, which it never had before 9/11.

I come to the end of the walkway and turn myself around to set off on the return trip. And, suddenly, the view changes. Now, of course, the garden is to my left and the city to my right; and the Brooklyn Bridge, which was ahead of me, is now behind me and out of sight. But now I can see for the first time, ahead of me and to the right, something that was behind me before. In the middle of the harbor, the pale-green Statue of Liberty stands firmly on its concrete foundation, arm raised high, torch in hand.

The sight is intensely familiar to me--I used to see it almost every day when I was growing up. But I've never seen it from this angle before. She seems both small and gigantic at the same time: dwarfed by the skyscrapers near me that threaten to overwhelm her, but towering over the water that surrounds her on all sides. The eye is drawn to her distant, heroic figure. She's been holding that torch up for so long, she must be tired. But still she stands, resolute, her arm extended.


At 3:46 PM, April 23, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You really have a gift for expressing things in such a way that your reader can't help but experience a very emotional the time I got to your last paragraph, my eyes were blurred with tears...and I am soooo not a New Yorker. Yet, as you shared that walk with all of us,I felt so connected to that amazing city and all the people who see it's beauty. And, of course, the scar in our psyche that that empty plot of land represents is almost impossible to put into words and yet, it's so important that we never forget.

At 4:11 PM, April 23, 2005, Blogger VietPundit said...

Doc, reading neo-neocon's blog has become addictive; anything you can do for me?

At 6:53 PM, April 23, 2005, Blogger Pancho said...

Did you know Patty Duke, aka Patty Lane, and her cousin Kathy when they lived at Number Eight Remsen Drive, Brooklyn Heights? :>]

At 7:39 PM, April 23, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Get a grip. We are so soft in this country. I originate from the UK where the IRA bommings were and still are a regular occurance. Grow up America ! Life goes on and while your Boo-booing, the planet is being raped, the social security safety net dissmanteled, and the american competititve advantave exported to a comunist country China.

At 7:51 PM, April 23, 2005, Blogger Unknown said...

Your posts convince me, neo, we are all on the same journey. Now that the WOT has quieted down some, the sadness over 9/11 we have held at bay comes creeping back.

I just viewed the excellent Frontline/Helen Whitney documentary, Faith and Doubt After 9/11, and highly recommend it.

Yes, "get a grip," the world experiences many deaths every day. This does not minimize any one of them.

At 5:43 AM, April 24, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So you have proved that you can go home again! :)

At 10:13 AM, April 25, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The world experiences many deaths each day.
What we're talking about here is three thousand murders in the space of a couple of hours.
There's a difference.

Richard Aubrey

At 1:15 AM, December 22, 2005, Blogger mbabbitt said...

I lived on Remsen St with my brother in 1974 and 1975 at the top of a brownstone and we used to walk the Promenade often. We were young and really did not fully appreciate the view. The Twin WTC Towers were always there in view and so when 9/11 occurred (I was in the Portland,OR area) I was devastated as if a part of me was surgically removed. I had been up to the top of the tower once but to see them everyday must have become integrated in my consciousness. I too became a neo-con after 9/11. Now I find the liberalism I was so loyal to as a silly quasi-religion of light and love divorced from reality.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Powered by Blogger