The Brooklyn Bridge is 129 years old, construction having been begun in 1869 and finished in 1883 (for the literary-minded– 1869 is the year Tolstoy published War and Peace). The bridge’s towers, dark grey stone rectangles, heavy in demeanor, march strongly upward as though wearing heavy boots to their vertical lookout. They are topped with caps. Two arches were built into the rectangular design, from a distance giving a hint of carving. The effect is similar to the crowning arches with keystones of gothic cathedrals. The tower tops sling lighter-colored cables down creating a lacy effect. Tan lamps on tall poles add to the complexity. There are so many cables attached to the towers that observing them, one might think of a giant loom spinning wool threads. At the tip top center, the American flag waves in the breezes.
On the pedestrian walkway/bikeway, a bronze plaque reads: Erected by the cities of New York and Brooklyn, MDCCCLXIX — MDCCCLXXXIII. It lists TRUSTEES of the project, too numerous to mention, and these ENGINEERS: John A Roebling, 1869, Washington A. Roebling, Charles C. Martin, William H. Paine, Francis Collingwood, Wilhelm Hildenbrand, George W. McNulty, Samuel R. Probasco, E. F. Farrington — Master Mechanic. A second plaque reads BROOKLYN BRIDGE RECONSTRUCTION 1954, Design and construction supervised by the Department of Public Works.
Good views of the Manhattan Bridge and the new Frank Gehry-designed skyscraper can be had walking the span of the Brooklyn Bridge, as well as distant views of the Statue of Liberty. Walking here was a truly international-feeling activity– so many languages could be heard, so many styles of wearing apparel, shoes, and purses, bags,
and totes could be seen. A light mood was shared by all who walked across a great American landmark.
In my post describing Memphis, Tennessee, home for the last twenty-six years, I mention “supremely urban” New Yorkers, in the context of whether they desire more contact with grass, tall trees, plantlife, and wildlife, or if they have made their peace with soot on the bottom of their shoes and buildings and skyscrapers dominating the landscape. Of course a recent surge in incidences of bedbugs in hotels, offices, and private residences could be counted as contact with wildlife, but . . . not really, just kidding! Having spent a week in Brooklyn visiting our son and staying at the nu hotel on Smith Street, not doing blatant touristy activities, but rather enjoying the unpretentious vibe of the borough, trying to adapt our Southernness to a neutral “don’t look or smile” while passing people in miles of street walking, I can say resoundingly that I like Brooklyn! I liked choosing interesting spots for lunch and dinner. I like that there are bars and corner grocers with fresh flowers at every turn. I liked having a chat with a butcher in a prime red meat shop in the Cobble Hill neighborhood.
Even with riding the subway trains and hailing high-cost rides from taxi drivers, I could live in Brooklyn. Brooklyn is the largest borough of New York City. So many people work in Manhattan, but can better afford to live in the middle-class borough. The neighborhood I prefer is Park Slope, but Cobble Hill, south downtown, and Carroll Gardens also had that comfortable vibe of the working middle class, those people on the street who seemed purposeful, sturdy in health, honest, and alert to creative possibilities. Young mothers stroll babies and young toddlers into the corner grocery for the few items that can be managed, while carrying an umbrella or jacket to accommodate weather changes. There seems to be an acceptance of casual dress in Brooklyn. Casual dress would contribute to energy savings through the day.
Our son, who lives in the Park Slope neighborhood, said that functioning in Brooklyn is hard. Feeling tired with sore feet when I heard it, I took it to mean that the barage of people wanting the same things you want means that a state of constant alertness must be carried in the mind to succeed in the day’s goals. The exception? Working-class subway patrons after quitting time: trains are loaded with exhausted workers, sleeping with head on lap, or head tilted against the seatback.
Next in this essay, having heralded the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, I want to depict the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens of Prospect Park and the Manhattan High Line,
places noteworthy for the international flavor of their visitors. Walking in these places, one can hear three or four languages or more spoken by patrons. I enjoy the idea that visitors from Europe, South America, and other parts of the world are sharing the experience I am having.
The month of May lent itself to sunshine and cool mornings and evenings. My husband and I happily walked tens of blocks carrying stuff, he a big Canon camera with a bag of lenses and a subway map, I a flat travel purse over one shoulder stuffed with a Lumix camera, bottle of water, Cocoon sunglasses (large enough to fit over eyeglasses), moleskin blank notebook and pen, lipstick, and of course our iPhones. I also tended to carry that third piece, so as not to feel chilled if a breeze came up. By the third morning starting out, I decided to wear Naot cork-footbed sandals instead of sturdy, black athletic shoes with SmartWool socks. The flatter, cooler shoe provided temporary relief, but the fact remained that older feet need horizontal rest in addition to orthotic insoles. It was during this middle part of our vacation that our son, a year-long Brooklyn resident, gave us that previously mentioned believable theme for us, ”It’s hard to live in Brooklyn.” He made breakfast for us in his flat, and we continued our walking as a threesome, which was our preference over the trains and cabs.
Off across Prospect Park and onto one of its trails we went, coming upon the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. We had a stroke of good luck– free admission for seniors on Friday. Our first stop was the array of cacti in the Desert Garden, and it was exquisite, as were the Bonsai trees in another part of the gardens.
Having visited these lovely, well-cared-for plants, I realized that keeping my own gardens, front and back of my own property in Memphis, was indeed something that matters.
In closing this writing highlighting our Brooklyn and Manhattan vacation of May 2012, here are some last images. We went to New Haven, Connecticut after the vacation, in support of a very special friend who was receiving her MArch from Yale University. I heard an influential professor of architecture at Yale University say this in his address to the graduates: Architecture opens people’s minds. An architect must be positive and open-minded. In all that it takes to get a building built, there is only one of all those doing the work that “loves” the building– it is the architect. I include some favorite skyscrapers of Manhattan: