Friday, March 23, 2012

"The Immigrants"

One of my morning exercise routes is along the East River from the Brooklyn Bridge to Battery Park, about a 3-mile round trip.  At the southern tip of Manhattan Island, Battery Park is appropriately named for the artillery batteries constructed there in 1683 to protect the settlement of New Amsterdam, later New York.  Sidewalks weave around the bases of monuments, statues, sculptures and memorials, each telling its own story of the city's history.  I rarely slow my aerobic pace long enough to read inscriptions, thinking as I pass by, "I'll do that another time," but never have.

Last week, however, faces stopped me. Faces pleaded for me to listen to their stories, to learn of their lives, to take a piece of their struggles away with me.  So I did.

The "Immigrants" freezes people in time, the minute their feet touch the soil of their new lives, then casts them forever in bronze.  The sculptor, Luis Sanguino, portrays the range of travelers who landed on the shore of New York Harbor between 1855-1890, when the southern end of Battery Park was a processing center, prior to the opening of Ellis Island. Among those Sanguino included in his work are an Eastern European Jew, a freed African slave, a priest, a worker and his family.

Through the lens of my camera, I tried to see more than the whole, to focus on one, then another.

Could I put myself in the mother's place, caressing her tiny baby, her husband carrying all they owned in the sack on his back?


                   Could I ever feel the depth of gratitude expressed by the freed slave or the praying woman? 

And the most haunting face of all, the priest, his mouth open and palm extended, as if asking, "Why?  Why was I forced to leave my own country, the country of my family, my faith?"  


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Haikus Harken Spring in Central Park

When we lived in Moscow, I began each season by writing haikus about Pokrovskoye-Streshnevo Park, across the street from our apartment building. "Haikus Written in Russia, But Not in Russian," I called them, since my Russian vocabulary, regrettably, never exceeded twenty words.  It seems only fitting that I carry on that tradition, beginning with spring, as it blooms its way across NYC.  

With the promise of an entire sunny afternoon in the forecast, I headed to Central Park with pen, paper, camera, and peanut butter and jelly sandwich securely in my tote bag. Entering the park on 5th Avenue, about a block down from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I began my search for Spring. I found her still waking up, still mixed in with remnants of winter, but catching up fast.

Enjoy the scenes and reflections, in lines of 5-7-5 syllables, a puzzle of words.

      perfect bouquet on
the edge of winter brownness
harbinger of spring

freedom, finally,
from slumber's boring stillness

inundated by
budding anticipation
no personal space

first on the runway
awash in layered splendor
"Petaled Petticoat"

overshadowed by Nature's
quiet beginnings

(I have started writing a monthly feature article for Downtown Magazine's online edition.  Online and in its quarterly print versions, the magazine highlights events pertaining to Lower Manhattan, where Drew and I live.  My articles center on historical stories from the earliest part of the City. Here are links to my first two articles, written for Black History Month and Women's History Month, and inspired by women who influenced history just steps from my front door!)

Elizabeth Jennings Graham - Lower Manhattan's Rosa Parks

Monday, March 5, 2012

Follow the Biscuit Crumbs

National Biscuit Company display - Chelsea Market
When I was growing up in Arkansas, buying boxes of animal crackers for $.25, I had no idea that they got their start in New York City.  Or, when I dipped oreos into a glass of milk while watching Saturday morning cartoons, the last thing I cared about was where they were invented.  It seems that my mother always had a box of Premium Saltines in the pantry, just right for smashing and sprinkling over bowls of chicken noodle soup.

As I learned this weekend, all of those childhood favorites were originally baked in huge ovens owned by the National Biscuit Company (now Nabisco in Chicago), in today's West Chelsea.  In fact, by the early 1900s, NBC produced more than half of the "biscuits" in the United States. Oh, to have walked along the street outside those bakeries, with smells of oreos, fig newtons, graham crackers, and animal-shaped delights overwhelming my sense of smell!

Today, other smells, sights and sounds entice visitors to Chelsea Market, which stands on part of the old National Biscuit Company Complex, from Ninth to 10th Avenue and 15th to 16th Street.

As soon as I walked in the doors on Sunday afternoon, I knew I would be there a while.  My first decision was, "Which bakery should I choose?"  Yes, bakeries are still there, four of them -- Amy's Bread, Sarabeth's Bakery, Ruthy's Bakery and Cafe and Eleni's New York.  No oreos, but cases filled with bagels, breads, muffins, cakes, scones, cookies. . .

I inspected them all, and the decision was hard; but Amy's had something I couldn't resist, a hazelnut sour cherry muffin!  Along with a cup of Earl Grey tea, and my book, I found a tucked-away table and read as I savored each bite and sip.

 The market retains much of the original structure, such as the factory floors and exposed brick,

with winding halls that led me from Anthropologie at one end to L'Arte del Gelato at the other, and more in between than I had time to visit.

Yet a grandmother always has time to look for one more fun item to share with her grandchildren; and among the teas, jams, chocolates and baskets at Chelsea Market Baskets, I found it.

The Original Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter Cupcake Kit

If there were only a bookstore nearby where I could get a copy of Peter Rabbit to read while those cupcakes are baking.

How convenient, one right across the hall.

Now, maybe a few boxes of animal crackers before I go. . .        

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Davy Jones

This posting has nothing to do with New York City, except that I'm here.  I sit in our apartment, looking at the Brooklyn Bridge through windows speckled with raindrops, listening to "Daydream Believer" on yesterday's NPR announcement that Davy Jones had died.

The summer of my 8th grade year floods back, when I bought my one and only Monkees album.

I was on a two-week family vacation, the kind where you ride in the car for hours, next to your younger brother, parents in the front, getting more carsick by the mile as you watch half of New Mexico go by. Quarters from my allowance jingled in my plaid change purse waiting for the perfect souvenir.

No one in my family could understand when I said, "That's it!  That's what I want!" holding up More of the Monkees, a souvenir I could have bought at home.  But there was Davy, and those other guys, looking right at me on the cover. I'd never heard of any of the songs listed on the back, but who cared.  I would have my very own picture of Davy Jones.

Of course, I couldn't listen to the music until we returned home.  The brown boxed record player waited in the corner of my room, the top latched down, with my prized Meet the Beatles album tucked safely inside. But I could look at the cover through the next 15 states, as it sat beside me on the seat.

There was a sweetness about Davy Jones, or at least the Davy Jones who smiled at me from the album, and who spoke in that irresistible British accent on TV.  He was like the cute boy in your science class, who all the girls had a crush on; yet he didn't seem to know it.

As I play the NPR piece again and hear Davy's voice sing those first lines,

"Oh, I could hide beneath the wings
Of the bluebird as she sings,
The six o'clock alarm would never ring. . ."

I, again, feel like the middle-schooler whose heart beats a little faster and who dares to be a daydreamer.


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