Saturday, September 29, 2007

Fall Foliage in New York City

Though some people may feel the need to head for New England to see masses of brilliantly colored autumn leaves punctuated by white church steeples, New York also has wonderful autumnal displays. In Manhattan's Central Park and Brooklyn's Prospect Park, we have Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux's legacies, and now, in Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan, we have another great landscape artist at work. In an exposed marine environment that must resemble in some ways his native Holland, Piet Oudolf has massed tall grasses and flowers to create a poetic, wild-looking enclave that is, in fact, carefully planned. Oudolf's garden is less than four years old and will only grow more lovely as it matures, but already it gleams. It's worth a trip to Lower Manhattan to wander along its serpentine paths.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Being and Doing

I've just returned from a few days in the Gaspe Peninsula at the eastern end of Canada's Quebec Province. "What did you DO there?" my friend, Tova, wanted to know.

What a New York question. We're always busy doing something here. In the Gaspe, although there were things to do, I realized that sometimes it's enough just to BE somewhere.

In Perce, a fishing village famous for its distinctive, pierced rock, which apparently migrated to its present position millions of years ago as the Earth's tectonic plates shifted and carried it north from the equator, I couldn't stop taking pictures. I walked out into a heavy rain to photograph the rock swathed in mist and the next morning I got up at 5:30 to photograph the rock at sunrise.

I also went on a whale-watching cruise in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. "I saw blue whales," I told Tova, "the largest animals on Earth."

"I'm jealous," she said. "I love whales."

Gloating only slightly, I laid on her that I also saw fin whales and a minke whale.

There were Italians, French, Swiss, Germans, Americans and Canadians in our little boat. After a blue whale swam close to us and then gracefully turned away, we all sat in complete, motionless silence. The sun was warm, the air was cool and the only sound was the lapping of the waves. For a few moments, all of us just WERE — human beings on a small boat in a grand and mysterious universe, midway between the leviathans and the stars.


Sunday, September 9, 2007

Another September in Lower Manhattan

As soon as Lower Manhattan reopened to the public after the destruction of the World Trade Center in September 2001, visitors started arriving. They're still coming.

At first the visitors left flowers, photos, candles, mementos and notes that they pinned to the metal fence surrounding the site. Now, they mostly look at the construction equipment and the few displays near the site, perhaps buy a booklet or a New York City baseball cap from a souvenir vendor and take photographs. But it would be a mistake to think that most of them are just gawking. A week ago, I walked by the World Trade Center site and asked a few people at random where they were from and their thoughts about what they saw there.

To my surprise, everyone that I happened to talk to came from outside the United States, with the exception of one man who was working at 2 World Financial Center on Sept. 11, 2001 and had brought his daughter and two of her college friends to see Ground Zero. I spoke to four Italians, a young man from Belgium, a woman from Spain and a Catholic priest from England.

The Spanish woman said to me in halting English, "The pain is our pain. In Spain, we had the same in Madrid on March 11 with the train that was bombed. We cried for the American people and we cried for the Spanish people, too. We are brothers because we’ve got the same pain." When we parted, she kissed me on the cheek.

And so another September 11 approaches. There will be speeches, the reading of the names, and there will be flowers pinned to the chain link fence. And visitors will continue to come. Should you be among them, be sure to visit St. Paul's Chapel on Broadway. The chapel was finished in 1766 and is Manhattan's oldest public building in continuous use. This is where George Washington worshipped after he was inaugurated as the first president of the United States on April 30, 1789.

Miraculously, considering how close it is to the World Trade Center site, St. Paul's survived the attack. In the aftermath of the destruction, the chapel was used by rescue workers as a place to eat and rest. Scuff marks from their ash-covered shoes are still on the pews.

Usually, the chapel is open from Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. On Sept. 11, the chapel will be open to the public from 8 a.m. for prayer and reflection.