The park wasn't here when I left for London in September, but when I came back to New York and took the same walk down North 6th Street to the waterfront, it greeted me with a happy shock--a spectacular view of Manhattan.
This was the Manhattan of dreams, film stills. Uninhibited by construction or obstruction, simply the panoramic, self assured fullness of the city. The sort of sight that takes one's breath away regardless of whether it's a first discovery. Across the glistening dark waters of the East River there glittered the city, its unmistakable silhouette, a living beckoning postcard, like the thrill of a first touch, the first skip of a heart soon to be in love.
The park itself is a bit unusual. On a Saturday afternoon drenched in sunlight and so vibrant with picnicking hipsters and thiftsters of the flea market next to it, that barely a petal of the green grass is visible, and the silver and metal planked pier that stretches into the river are fitted with bodies pressed against the railings, photographers snapping away. The park was built in conjunction with the East River Ferry, which serves as a tourist friendly, if still a bit of a locals' favorite, escapist indulgence, an alternative to muggy dark subway tunnels with a view worthy of the more expensive far, traveling along Brooklyn to the southmost tip of Manhattan, or to that strange suspended bit of hospital land of midtown and First Avenue.
The crowd at the park is a strange mix--there are the happy, well established residents of the glittering (if rather generic) stretches of luxury waterfront condos, and the slightly less groomed faces of the surrounding Williamsburg locals, then the prim and proper sets of Jewish families, or loud and gleeful neighborhood teens, who called the area home before the underground Duane Reade and the chain of major banks opened their glass doors. There are fishermen with tanned, hairy arms at the far end of the pier, poised for their silvery prey, enamored couples with an arm tight around a waist or shoulder, scenes befitting a movie romance, and the trotting of an array of dogs, glad for a new playground.
At night, regardless of the stifled air of the New York summer, out by the water there is the most exquisite of breezes, that ruffle skirt hems and whips strands of hair, pure, sensual pleasure against bare arms and legs. Especially lately, there are these perfect evenings that whisper of fall, the rippling of the water and the thousands of tiny golden specks in the buildings of that awe inspiring view, the glimpses of blinking headlights in the shift of the traffic....it is a perfect wonder, even with the distractions of everything around it.
I've taken friends here, dates who were near strangers. But it is not a place that requires company. Lately, when I come, I am almost always alone. One evening there was a flash flood warning for New York, and the night before I woke up to a small pool of rainwater in my living room. But that day the rain came in sprouts, strong, but reasonable, and the gray sky outside awaited, alluring in its promise of coolness. I took my umbrella (from the 40's, the lovely faded peach and cream patterned thing I bought at an antique market in London), my iPod and walked to this same park, this same skyline that was transformed, the park quiet except for the steady platter of rain on ground, nearly empty but for a few scattered wanderers.
The city was shrouded in a gray mist, so still, magnificent in its grimness, its watercolored calm. The rain soaked the swaying edges of my long black skirt, but I was happy. I walked down the piers where the wind flipped the waterdrops sideways, where the whole city stood before me, and I took it in for my pleasure alone. I listened to the cooing of Fred Astaire, those aged yet timeless, enchanting melodies that carried me away from where I was, when I lived, and even, who I might have been. So happy!
Tonight, it is nearly 11, on a blessedly cool night, and I walked to the park through a different route. Perhaps because I remember the dulled, cloaked wet city of last time, but the lights seemed especially dazzling, a great shock, yet an assurance, a relief.
New York is rarely as beautiful from within as from afar, and I've been thinking a lot about at least a temporary goodbye. Its endless delights never stop, but perhaps my appreciation of them dampens. I barely notice the shops I once found so charming in the East Village, and though the dazzling costumed affairs of weekend nights still excite me, in my mind I'm already elsewhere. Paris, with its uniform apartments and tree lined parks, London, with its history in every white lace curtain, dainty tea set, rich in its (and mine) memories.
Yet it is this same unwavering painting of glamour and life, this same beautiful view before me of the city I live in that allows me to escape. It is the possibilities in those real lights at the tops of buildings, the distant yet pressing reminders of a hundred different worlds within one, coupled with the darling kiss of water tainted air on skin, the seduction songs of ages past, the familiar ease of forgetting that makes everything okay, if only for the precious mindless moments I spend here. New York, New York, sung, worshiped, by a thousand brilliant minds and voices, so vast and sprawling, here, simply still, and always, beautiful.