Sunday, August 25, 2013


I’ve lived in New York for 3 years and 235 days now, and still the city reaches out and surprises me every day.

This morning's greeting from the Hudson River.

It's partly a numbers game: With so much time spent on the street, you have a 90 percent chance at any moment of bumping up against the beautiful or the strange. 

I may be over-sentimental—my father once described us as "a family that cries at Stop signs"—but I find myself constantly moved by humanity. The old man in a white undershirt, bent at an almost 45-degree angle over his walker, his young female caregiver's hand hovering behind his back. The baby crawling on chubby knees over the grass at Hudson River Park. The owner guiding his three-legged dog through a crosswalk.

But even the city's inanimate features—the geometry of it alone—can yank me to a halt. 
Lower Manhattan
Ninth Avenue, from the Apple Store

East 32nd Street

And the art. It's frigging everywhere. It's in the places you expect it, of course; like MoMA, where Robert Rauschenberg's "combine," Bed—created from pencil, paint, pillow, sheet, and quilt—demonstrates his philosophy of "acting in the gap" between life and art.

But it's also in places you don't expect it. In fact, the amazing thing about New York is the amount of art that exists in the gap between life and Art. 

It's in subway stations.

It's on West 21st Street, where this fantastic creature greeted us from the side of P.S. 11.

How could a child not learn great things after walking through these doors each morning?

And clearly, they have.

There's also art in the middle of the lawn in the middle of Governor's Island in the middle of New York Harbor, where head in the clouds, made from 53,780 recycled plastic water and milk jugs, invites you to step inside and think awhile...

...and where antique French carousels carried children and parents into the past.

The past is a constant companion here. You can time-travel while standing still. 

Walk down a side street, and you may find yourself peering through bars at a tiny Jewish cemetery, sandwiched between brick buildings that loom on either side.  

This is the Third Cemetery of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue Shearith Israel—the oldest Jewish congregation in North America, established in 1654, according to Tablet Magazine. (Also from Tablet: The Second Cemetery, tucked between brownstones on West 11th Street in Greenwich Village, sits next to a building that once housed a Civil War tavern known as The Grapevine, where Southern spies would eavesdrop on Union soldiers—hence the expression "I heard it through The Grapevine.")

I think of these men and women who've slept here for hundreds of years while Sixth Avenue and condominiums and Trader Joe's have grown up around them. Wouldn't they be surprised, just as I'm surprised every single day, by what New York has to show. 


marilyn said...

Ominous and beautiful hand! I do love how you see it all. xx

Sue said...

I'm going to revisit this post when I have more time to reflect. For now I just need to say how much I love the description of your family as one that cries at stop signs. I get that.

Sue said...
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Susan Champlin said...

Thank you, Marilyn and Sue. And M, I love the ominous blue hand, too!

Ann said...

I love NY. I love this....from your fantastic creature to architecture that yanks you to a halt!

Susan Champlin said...

Thank you, Ann—and when are you coming back?!

Barbara Hammer said...

Great writing and the opening architectural photo_until I panned down to the American flag_was breathtaking, Charles Sheeler-like. Thanks! Barbara

Lesley said...

Haven't been here in a while, and look what I've missed! Wonderful, reflective, touching pieces, oh sister-in-law...

Susan Champlin said...

Barbara, I'm honored to be in the same sentence with Charles Sheeler—thank you! And thank you, Lesley, my dear sister-in-law. You haven't been HERE in a while, either, and I look forward to your return visit to NYC.