On the West Side, a new “Eiffel Tower” is Under Construction

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Here is a piece I wrote that expanded on an earlier post about the Highline in NYC. I tried to get this published to no avail. What do you guys think? Do you have any tips of getting freelance writing published?

On the far west side of the crowded island of Manhattan, where space is dear and lives are conducted in close proximity, an alchemy of sorts is happening: space is being created where there was none before. Or, rather, one type of space is being turned into another type. Out of thin air, the West Side will soon have a new park.

This park is the centerpiece of Hudson Yards, a $20 billion mixed-use private real estate development by Related Companies and Oxford Properties. In addition to the park, the project consists of 16 skyscrapers, constructed on a platform above the West Side Rail Yard. The crown jewel of the project is a 15-story climbable steel sculpture that has been likened to a “snakeskin tea cup”, a “garbage bin”, and a “huge bed bug exoskeleton”. The illustrations of the interlocking staircases rising around an empty middle space on Hudson Yard’s official website remind me of a honeycomb beehive. For now, it is simply being called the Vessel. The Vessel is the creation of Britain’s celebrated and sometimes controversial designer Thomas Heatherwick, and will add one mile of vertical climbing to the park’s 14 acres of public open space. Stephen M. Ross, the Related chairman who enthusiastically commissioned the Vessel, says “It will be to New York what the Eiffel Tower is for Paris.”

My friend recently proposed to his fianceé on the top of the Eiffel Tower. A woman standing next to them was so overcome that she started to cry, so she’s become a part of the story by sharing in the private joy of two strangers. Our lives have a funny way of unfolding in public places. Sometimes we plan for that, throwing rowdy birthday parties at restaurants, or planning an elaborate marriage proposal. At other times, life takes us unpleasantly by surprise in the middle of the street. Whenever this happens, it’s nice to have somewhere to go to ride the drama out. New York City is full of parks and plazas where residents can witness each other perform and endure life. Though these public places are ostensibly there for leisure and recreation, to be completely successful they must accommodate much more: in a city, public parks serve as a common ground for the community of strangers. Though we may not acknowledge one another, we know that we are seen. “Public space is for living. Its value must be felt with the soul,” says Enrique Penalosa, Colombia’s happy-city Mayor of Bogotá.

One way residents and tourists can find the Vessel is via the famous High Line, which enters from the south along a formerly abandoned train track elevated above the streets of Chelsea. It’s not my favorite New York City park, but I’ve certainly meandered its gardens of native plants and battled its hordes of tourists my fair share of times. I’ve also been on the High Line as life grabbed me and gave me a few unexpected shakes. I was there a few springs ago, surrounded by shivering, sobbing second graders. We had gone on a field-trip in the middle of a very cold snap, and we were unprepared. I stood there, immobilized by the huddle of my miserable students, and I couldn’t help the bitter laugh I let slip to the chagrin of a nearby tourist wearing a warm-looking jacket. And it was on the High Line where my boyfriend confessed one summer night that he’d cheated on me. I remember stomping heedlessly through crowds of people to cry dramatically on a railing overlooking the Lincoln tunnel traffic below, feeling comforted by the imagined support of sympathetic strangers nearby.

Journalist George Packer writes that there are two types of public space in the modern city. “The first thrusts people together in a public space, a hive of activity. Its essence is accidental and spontaneous. The second leaves nothing to chance. It tells people that they are subservient to the state and, in a sense, irrelevant to it.” As overwrought as the High Line is, it is the first kind of space: available for us to simply do things inside it. There, we are welcome to live our lives. Mr. Ross and Mr. Heatherwick profess that they hope for the same outcome with the Vessel. Though the cheapest of the new Hudson Yards apartments are priced at $2 million, the space is advertised as enjoyable for all. “Vessel will lift the public up,” states Heatherwick’s studio website. With its 2,500 stairs rising to a height of 150 feet, the sculpture will certainly do that for some. But only time will tell if the Vessel will function as a viable public space. Susan K. Freedman, president of the Public Art Fund, worries about the mess of High Line crowds navigating 154 flights of stairs. In 2015, 7.6 million people visited the High Line. How will these numbers function in directionless, vertical space? The most viable traffic-control solution is to have free timed and ticketed entry, but that will certainly reduce the number of spontaneous visitors. Marriage proposals can fit into a schedule, but it’s less likely that a person will use their planned time at the Vessel to answer a difficult phone call. And so the accidental and spontaneous part of public life quickly starts to fall away.

Just below Hudson Yards in Chelsea, long-time residents have felt displaced in their neighborhood as bodegas and laundromats are replaced with art galleries and cafés, which are then replaced with corporate headquarters and luxury bakeries. Once popular hang-out spots have been converted into spaces that don’t serve lower-income residents and thus feel unwelcoming. With less space, the chance street interactions that make a neighborhood into a community become less common. Chelsea will soon have a new park, and at the center will be the Vessel. But the privately-owned-and-operated Hudson Yards will most likely become Packer’s second kind of public space, where entry and movement are controlled and monitored, and citizens are left feeling beholden to a highly curated experience. “You won’t have experienced 21st century New York until you’ve walked to the top of the Vessel,” said Ross at the groundbreaking of the project in April of 2017. New York City is a space that we experience together, usually accidentally and often spontaneously. The Vessel is a $200 million sculpture, and it will be crawling with tourists. That is not everyone’s New York City.

Recently, I visited the Hudson Yards’ construction site. The Vessel calmly waited, assembled but unfinished, in the center of the activity of skyscrapers rising all around. Red protective sheeting covered the guardrails, highlighting the shiny undersides of the soon-to-be famous staircases. I asked a security guard standing nearby what he thought of the sculpture. “I think it’ll be a great place for someone to jump off of,” he laughed. Maybe he’s right: One way or another, the public will find a way to live out their lives, in public.

I’m bad at Good-Byes

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“I’m no good at good-byes.”

Have you said this before? I certainly have. And I’ve chosen a life-style that, until recently, had me saying “good-bye” every few years as I moved my life around countries and continents. In every new city I fantasizing about starting a home there, but soon I knew (even if I didn’t admit it to myself) that I would be leaving. “Good-bye” became a part of every interaction, every experience, every home, even if the actual leave-taking was months or years away. When I finally left a place, I mourned the life I abandoned. I dreamed of a victorious return. But then I moved on. My real home was my parents’ home, and it was potent enough for me to feel content with my dozens of makeshift ones around the globe.

I’ve now lived in New York for longer than I ever lived anywhere besides my parents’ place. Time, relationships and maturity have helped me start a real home here, a home of good friends and layered experiences. I am making this home with someone else, and we have decided to leave it. The “good-bye” we’re planning is a temporary one (we will return!). Somehow, though, this leave taking is dredging my soul in an unexpected way. I’m just no good at “good-byes!”

We plan on leaving for 6 months. We will be traveling around the globe, together, being a home for each other in the midst of new places. But I am sad to leave what we have here: The home of our routines. The home of our proximity. Leaving is scary in a way it never was when I was in my twenties, when I hadn’t let myself commit to anything yet. “Good-bye” for this temporary leave-taking looks like a mishmash of hasty coffees and dinners with friends I only see occasionally. It looks like a party we haven’t planned yet, and trips, canceled and undertaken, to see my beloved parents and my far-flung friends. It looks like a real good-bye, a messy one. The kind I’m good at.

I feel like I am losing something because of this good-bye. We are losing jobs. We are losing that comfortable rut that we’ve carved to bind the weeks of the past with the weeks of the future. But these are things we want to lose: that it why we are making this jagged leap in a new direction. Is it possible this feeling of loss is simply a by-product of all of the bad good-byes I have said before, both the heart-wrenching and the flippant? Maybe there is a ghostly raft that floats deep inside of me of all the people and places I said good-bye to and left behind forever. They are mad at me for taking leave so dishonestly (“I’ll be back!”). This time I mean it though. I’m just no good at good-byes.

 

Hidden Fountains in Manhattan

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The fountain in Samuel Paley Park, on East 53rd Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues.

 

If you walk around midtown Manhattan in the summer, you’re going to get hot. Not only hot, but you’ll get thirsty, and maybe those new shoes you bought will be starting to rub your heel the wrong way. If you’re like me, you might even be starting to get disgruntled with the hundreds of pedestrians around you, all of whom walk at a different pace, in a different direction, in groups or with phones held in front of them, stopping and starting and crissing and crossing unpredictably.

If you find yourself disgruntled, or in pain, or just hot, duck into one of the tiny parks  tucked into the cross streets of this concrete jungle. These little every-man’s spas often feature fountains, which offer their cooling spray and calming sound to the frenzied minds of city dwellers. Sit down at one of the cafe tables and relax for a bit. Kick those shoes off, if you must! The sound of rushing water kills the sirens and honking, the drills and the drones of Manhattan airwaves. You’ll leave feeling refreshed and ready to walk a few more blocks until you discover another secret fountain.

Beautiful evening

 

As beautiful as the view is, with its rosy sky, the people are even more beautiful as they walk, wander, run, amble, bicycle, blunder, chat, crawl, dance, dip, dart, sit, ski, slip, stroller and roll through the park this lovely evening.

While the lightning bugs fly in lazy circles under the trees.

Let Go!

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In the past month I’ve seen limpid lakes whose horizons stretched beyond the sky.

I’ve seen the lighters of 50,000 country music fans drifting in the darkness of Tennessee’s stadium.

I’ve eaten brisket, hot chicken, fried trout and fresh picked morels. I drank the cold  turquoise water of Lake Huron with my own two hands.

I’m back in New York, and last night was the best night of all.

At the Park Avenue Armory, Nick Cave’s “The Let Go” is an installation of strips of glittering mylar curtain gliding 100 feet long across an open dance floor. Cave envisions his art to be “a dance-based town hall—part installation, part performance—to which the community of New York is invited to ‘let go’ and speak their minds through movement, work out frustrations, and celebrate independence as well as community.”

Last night Cave and the Park Avenue Armory hosted the Let Go Freedom Ball where we could do just that, and it resulted in a remarkable night of glitter, dance and unbelievable costumes. Participants were invited to enter their costume creations in one of three categories: State of the World, Unlike Anything Else and Dare-Flair. Hundreds of ball-goers arrived in lovingly constructed creations: ball gowns fashioned out of plastic bags; Black Panther-style carnival costumes; sailor-with-a-disco-ball concepts; and really anything you could possibly imagine. As I danced in the revitalizing caress of Cave’s wandering curtain, I was “licked” by the giant tongue of a bouncing ball of gummy worms, and I bumped into a flock of women in futuristic silver outfits who were dancing on the other side of the shimmering strands of moving color.

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The night culminated with a ball-style competition where the costumes were walked, runway style, along an aisle cleared through the cheering crowd. Stylish neon monsters, glass mirror cyborgs, hyper vaginas and political witches each strutted their stuff to win the $5,000 grand prize in each category. Though the competition was fierce, I was struck by the positivity crackling in the air- though the New Yorkers pushed to see the show, they did so kindly, and they didn’t shove, which is the most I can hope for!

It was a gorgeous night of creative letting go. I’m so glad to be back.

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Exploring New York: The High Line

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I live in New York, and as much as I enjoy the idea of our many attractions, there are a few I rarely, if ever, visit. They are simply too popular to enjoy.

A good example of this is the High Line. This park was built above Chelsea on an abandoned railroad spur. The elevated track used to connect trains to the Hudson Rail Yards to the North. Now it is planted with native trees and bushes and offers a really lovely place to walk above the congested streets.

On a nice day, though, it is unbearably crowded. People walking at different paces and in different directions push along under the shadeless sky. Performers, meanderers, joggers, sunbathers, selfie-takers, photographers with their models, Buddhist alms-askers, and food trucks create a impossible mix that is better avoided.

On a recent walk around the West Side, I wondered if I’d be able to get a better look at the Hudson Yards development project from the elevated park. On a cold but sunny spring day, the High Line north of 23rd street was practically empty. And the views of the city were exquisite: the parallel train tracks rising up into brand new skyscrapers gave me a lot to think about. Soon that development will offer a new touristic draw, so I recommend checking the northern section of the High Line before 2019!

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Trash

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Exploring the city, I attended an event during fashion week called 29 Rooms. Billed as an art exhibit, 29 Rooms showcased 29 artists, each with a small room to create an instillation in. At least that is the impression I got from my source. I was mislead.

The line outside of the “abandoned warehouse” curved around the block, creating the perfect visual of exclusivity. We moved quickly, though, and models in paint-splattered jumpsuits hardly glanced at me or my ticket as I headed through the doors and past the free Kind Bar table. The entire event was defined by long, slow lines, though I hadn’t realized that yet when I parted the hanging wall of plastic flowers that housed a perfume advertisement “installation.” The paint-splattered models weren’t effective bouncers, so I was allowed to cut that line without protest. Inside, 20-year-olds in the inevitable wide brimmed hat posed adorably in front of humongous fake peonies. I was to find this in each of the 29 rooms: an Instagram paradise of picture-perfect backdrops. Without a hat or a companion, I was ill-prepared.

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I soon became tired of the farce. It was clear that 29 Rooms was all about getting cute “influencers”-types to post free endorsements for 29 different products on their social media accounts. Casper, Juicy Couture, and Dunkin’ Donuts are among the advertisers. Planned Parenthood and the Women’s March were some of the activist partners that were featured. It was more than comical to me that these kids were willing to 1) pay to create free corporate advertising and to 2) wait for the privilege to do so. In fact, it was depressing. I left after half an hour, overwhelmed by the grime of having been used

I walked past blocks of littered Refinary 29 Haägen Dazs sample cups before I felt free of the cloying grasp of the event. On the Williamsberg waterfront, where a few Brown nannies tended to their white wards, I noticed a cookie crumbling on top of a broken traffic light. A smear of ketchup decorated a nearby lamppost. I wrote in my journal,

“Nothing in that refinery 29 exhibit was as beautiful or impressive as the foam popping effervescence in the greenish brown water. An oblong shadow of a ferry boat and the sun-rays sucked sucked underneath.”

I’m all for social media. But I hate to see people giving themselves away to corporate advertising. Some good things really are free: Don’t let yourself be tricked into being one of them!

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Photo Challenge: Tour Guide in NYC

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The quintessential NYC water tower, full moon above and the stormy day below.

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Most cities have their cliche’ed images, but the view of the home-towner shows us something intimate that we might miss otherwise.

My hometown of New York is pretty well photographed. Still, I’ve dug a little rut of routine and I love watching the city from here, me and the city changing together. Despite it’s undeniable urban grit, New York City is constantly interacting with the elements. That is when I find the city at its most beautiful.

 

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A sidewalk view of the storm day. I’m always looking up but it’s worth looking down occasionally!

NYC is famous for its theaters, and they are in full swing during these inhospitable winter months. My favorite is the MET opera, but the American Ballet isn’t too shabby.

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The theatre at the American Ballet.
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The winding staircase at the MET

 

It’s a remarkable city, for it’s frantic urban features, but also for the calm spaces that I find at every turn. There are many wonderful parks, but, predictably, my favorite is Central Park. I can’t wait for those magnolias to bloom again!

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via Photo Challenge: Tour Guide

Up on the bridge

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We were in the middle of a cyclone bomb. The train was stopped high up above the East River, whiteness blurring above and below, the Manhattan skyline erased. I watched cars edge along through the yellow snow of the unplowed road that ran parallel to the track.

Down the train car I heard a thump. A man was on the ground, his face cheek-down in a puddle of muddy snow water. None of the other passengers moved, or even looked up: It’s the right thing to do in New York City. I often adopt this attitude, the aggressive thought that I have no obligation to bring kindness or generosity to any of the hundreds of interactions I have with strangers throughout the day. In fact, some strangers would be disturbed by unsolicited kindness. I would be.

Still, a sliver of my humanity protested at the man lying on the muddy floor of the D train. Helping him would call attention to myself. Helping him might get me into an uncomfortable train-bound relationship that I wouldn’t be able to get myself out of. The passengers on this car had already proven their unwillingness to entangle themselves in a stranger’s problem. Did I want to risk it with this man who was still lying face down in the mixture of snow water and city-shoe filth?

Before my American fear overwhelmed my humanity, I walked down to the middle of the car, where the man still struggled in his puddle.

“Did he fall?” I asked the bespectacled middle-aged man who sat nearby, reading the paper.

“He’s homeless,” he replied.

“Ok, and he fell.” I turned to the fallen man.” Are you ok?”

“Yeah I’m ok,” he groaned.

“Do you want to sit on a chair?”

He placed the palm of his hand on the floor and pushed himself up.

“You’re not from here.” The newspaper man was shaking his newspaper and his head at me.

“I live here.”

“Yeah but you’re not from here. There’s no way you’re a New Yorker.” His eyes burned at me from behind his glasses. He was furious.

I watched the fallen man pick himself up off of the floor and sit down on a chair. He had plastic identification bracelets on his wrists, and what looked like a bruise above his left eye. I walked back down to the other end of the car, glad to be away from both men.

I’m not a New Yorker. A New Yorker accused me of it, and he was right. He seems tired. Maybe he’s tired of battling to preserve his city against a daily invasion of millions. His New York is a clam shell at the bottom of the rippling river, shut tight and covered with barnacles. Inside of the shell, a dark pearl waits. Inside of the shell, is it empty?

Too Late

 

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I knew I would be too late when I made it down to the subway platform and saw that both of my train options ran local for the weekend. Still, I stepped onto the N when it arrived, because the car was half empty and I had gotten out of the house already, so why not go the whole way?

I squeezed in to sit next to a woman, bulky in her winter jacket and cumbersome with a shopping cart. A man who I didn’t bother to examine flanked my other side. I had to hold my book awkwardly away from my body and away from my neighbors’ eyes. It would be too easy for them to read over my shoulder, and this book was full of baffling dystopian sex scenes.

A conversation across the car penetrated my reading.

Two old women, with more colorfully patterned shopping carts, sat side by side, conspiratorial. The East Side of Manhattan framed them as we crossed the bridge.

“It was up the stairwell before anyone could get out. Twelve dead.”

“They left the door open.”

“The little boy was playing with the stove. It’s hard to keep an eye on three-year-olds.”

“Twelve dead. Such a shame.”

The fire in the Bronx. I’d read about it last night. On the coldest night of the year, a toddler, too young, twisted the knobs on his family’s stove and something caught. His mother quickly gathered her family and fled the apartment, leaving the door open. The fire, insatiable in the dry winter air, inhaled the stairs, rushing up to the top floor before many could escape. Outside, hydrant water froze in strips on the sidewalk. Survivors crowding the street, wearing not-enough clothes. Looking up into flames. Warmed by the destruction? How will the toddler survive this?

The train reached Manhattan and went underground again. I looked at the time flashing on the digital display: 11:55. Late, just as I knew I would be. Too late. At Union Square, vendors let the falling snow blanket their bread and apples in white. No use in hurrying, I wouldn’t be let in. Instead, enjoy where I did end up, on time, a snowy market on the last Saturday of the year.