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March 2012

Encountering Ghosts


One of my favorite places in New York: the gardens surrounding The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, on Amsterdam between W. 110th & 112th. Although hemmed in by tall apartment buildings and the noise and bustle of Amsterdam, when you step into the gardens the surrounding city seems to magically disappear (as it did quite literally in these photos, snapped on a misty morning). It's a timeless, sacred space that welcomes matter what your spiritual beliefs may be.


I used to live just around the corner from St. John's, many years ago, when Ellen Kushner and I shared an old apartment in a gargoyle-bedecked building on W. 110th. Ellen was working on her first novel, Swordspoint, at the time; I was busy with projects like the "Fairy Tales" series; and we were writing Borderland stories together. In our thoroughly urban lives, it was a blessing to have this enchanted green space to steal away to when needed...particularly as the area was a whole lot rougher then: a colorful, lively, but run down neighborhood with an edge of danger.



Coming here now, I can almost see the ghosts of the young women we were back then,  sitting on benches tucked away in hidden corners of the gardens as we plotted out our stories, puzzled out our lives, poured out our hearts over various love affairs....



I suspect if I met that younger self now, I'd be proud of her and embarrassed by her in equal measure. She made a lot of mistakes. But she made some good choices too...particularly in her friendships.

And that's what matters most. That's what lasts. That's what makes everything else possible.


SJD8The Peace Fountain is by Greg Wyatt, 1985.

The High Line


I finally got to see New York's High Line Park, after hearing so much about its creation -- and boy, I sure wasn't disappointed. In the picture above (from the High Line's Picture Gallery ) you can see this remarkable ribbon of urban green-space snaking through the buildings of lower Manhattan, built on the bones of a crumbling elevated railway track that had been slated for demolition.

Untouched for many years, the track had self-seeded and turned into a meadow full of wildflowers and fauna. Two neighborhood activists created the group that lobbied successfully to turn the space into a city park -- choosing a design inspired by its former wild state. (Alas, in order to make the track strong enough to support the park, the soil had to be completely removed, then restored and planted anew. If you want to know what the track used to look like, check out Joe Sternfeld's photographs here.)

March is not the best time to see the High Line, but even with its meadows turned to winter straw, its wildflowers sleeping and  its birch trees bare, it's a beautiful, cleverly rendered space...reminding me a bit of Bordertown in its unusual mix of the urban and the wild. I fell for it hard, envy those who live nearby, and look forward to returning in greener seasons.









"New York remains what it has always been : a city of ebb and flow, a city of constant shifts of population and economics, a city of virtually no rest. It is harsh, dirty, and dangerous, it is whimsical and fanciful, it is beautiful and soaring - it is not one or another of these things but all of them, all at once, and to fail to accept this paradox is to deny the reality of city existence." - Paul Goldberger


New York moments...

Bryant Park Carousel 2

A bunny on the Bryant Park carousel.

Kossuth Memorial

Fresh flowers for a Hungarian hero.

The Flat Iron Building NYC

The Flatiron Building (where I used to work) against a clear blue sky.

Graffiti on the lower west side of NYC

Graffiti art on the lower west side.

The newspaper carrier

A small newspaper carrier on W. 28th Street.

Riverside Dog Park 1

The Riverside dog park. The canine politics involved as dogs enter the park, congregate, play, and leave again are fascinating and hilarious.

Riverside Dog Park 2

Riverside Dog Park 3

Riverside Dog Park 4

"New York is the biggest collection of villages in the world." - Alistair Cooke

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Above: Kate Rusby sings "Cruel," a beautiful Anglo/Scots folksong on the theme of love, exile, and parental perfidy. The performance was filmed in 2008 (and the other musicians are uncredited, alas).

Below: Martin Simpson sings "Never Any Good," a very moving song about his father. Filmed last autumn at the Cambridge Folk Festival, Simpson is backed up here by an all-star cast: Andy Cutting on concertina, Danny Thompson on double bass, and Kate Rusby on vocals. It's a lovely song and a lovely performance.