Friday, February 25, 2005

Mannahatta

Sunday was dark and Monday rainy, so I didn’t really see the Gates in all their shining glory until Tuesday morning. And my, were they magnificent. The sun shone through the orange (really, not saffron) fabric and they billowed gaily in the wind. I had to jump up to touch the fluttering fabric, and then I was surprised and delighted when the curmudgeonly old man walking behind me followed suit! Everyone, New Yorkers and tourists alike, strolled along like they had not a care in the world; people actually took the time to crane their necks up at the blue sky or down at the snowy white ground and think about how pretty all the colors are…it was quite a moment of harmony and really ephemeral beauty, because the Gates are only up for 16 days!

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The only irritating consequence (oh, you knew there was one) was that for the rest of the trip, my mom felt it necessary to point out anything orange in the city and comment that it was probably in honor of Christo. It finally got to the point where I had to exclaim, “I don’t think that person bought an orange car just because of the Gates!” but ah well. What an underappreciated color.

I also managed to finagle a swatch of the Gates fabric from one of the volunteers (two swatches actually; if someone wants one, I’ll mail it to you!), and I was affectionately fingering it all day… (Here’s what was in my jacket pocket after returning from New York City:)

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I feel like there’s a segue somewhere in there relating to the hot orange color, but all the same… Later that night we stopped for Chinese food and I accidentally chewed and ingested the largest, hottest hot pepper of my life. This is not exaggeration; I could feel it inflaming my ears (everything sounded like an echo), my mouth (I couldn’t taste anything for about a half an hour), and my nose and eyes (which were streaming and, according to my sister, my eyes were wildly bloodshot). All my skin was buzzing and tingly and I was red like a severe blush gone haywire. That was an experience.

On Wednesday, before we left for the drive home, we decided to go explore SoHo and Greenwich Village. That is where I want to live when I go to NYC. It was so quaint and separate from all the skyscrapers and noise of midtown Manhattan (um, I mean Mannahatta), and vendors on the street sold books instead of faux designer handbags. It was fantastic. Among other things, I saw The Bitter End and The Village Vanguard, two famous underground Village music clubs; St. Vincent’s Hospital, which is how the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay got her middle name; a big building covered in trompe l’oeil (!); and many a beautiful unrealistically-gnarled tree. Much coffee was consumed and I strolled around feeling very arty for no particular reason. ‘Twas nice.

(Speaking of all these fantastic images, I stuck a bunch of my New York photos up on my Flickr account; more perhaps to come later.)

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Yesterday’s title was from an early Dylan song (probably performed at The Village Vanguard!); today’s I snatched from a Walt Whitman poem of the same name. Here’s a bit of his “Mannahatta”:

I was asking for something specific and perfect for my city,
Whereupon, lo! upsprang the aboriginal name!
Now I see what there is in a name, a word, liquid, sane, unruly, musical, self-sufficient;
I see that the word of my city is that word up there,
Because I see that word nested in nests of water-bays, superb, with tall and wonderful spires,
Rich, hemm'd thick all around with sailships and steamships—an island sixteen miles long, solid-founded,
Numberless crowded streets—high growths of iron, slender, strong, light, splendidly uprising toward clear skies;
Tide swift and ample, well-loved by me, toward sundown…

I could never describe something like that. And now I refer to the city exclusively by Whitman’s moniker. On an utterly different note (well, still literary I suppose), Dorian Gray is fantastic. Oscar Wilde is so witty and acerbic and just completely wonderful; I’m almost done but I’m trying to read just a little bit at a time so it won’t end! (Usually when I’m reading a book I’ll underline and annotate bits that I like, but I found myself underlining so much that I had to give up—I’d might as well underline just the parts I didn’t fancy!) Here’s a bit to sate your Wilde hunger (hah):

“Conscience and cowardice are really the same things, Basil. Conscience is the trade-name of the firm.”

“He is all my art to me now,” said the painter, gravely. [How romantic!]

“‘A dream of form in days of thought’…The harmony of soul and body—how much that is! We in our madness have separated the two, and have invented a realism that is vulgar, an ideality that is void.”

“[He] began to smoke a cigarette with a self-conscious and satisfied air, as if he had summed up the world in a phrase.”

“The mutilation of the savage has its tragic survival in the self-denial that mars our lives.” [That is one hell of a sentence. And one hell of a way to end this post.]

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