Saturday, June 01, 2013


People seem curious to know how "New York" is, or how I feel about the whole thing. I don't really have useful answers to either of those questions. I have no idea how "New York" is beyond my tiny little slice of Brooklyn. I am gathering that New York is essentially preindustrial in that most people live in settlements whose geography is defined by the local river (I mean, easily accessible subway routes), and only a few people can afford to feed their mules enough to go any appreciable distance by land (I mean, car). While I am amazed at how much land-starved people can cram into walking distance (and am grateful for the chance to walk more), this seems distinctly primitive.

As for how I feel about the whole thing ... I need more time to develop feelings about this other than, "My little girl is going to miss me!" I am sure those feelings are there, but they haven't surfaced yet. Also, I have not really been able to complete the talismanic rituals that say, "I am here." My faithful desktop/gaming PC, Monica, arrived somewhat the worse for wear, with a cracked subwoofer, monitor that won't adjust, a RAM DIMM whose heat sink cracked off, and a case that is sufficiently battered that it won't close or hold my hard drives anymore. She is still operable, but kind of sad. As I write this, she is is supine atop my 40K models and missing her right side panel, like a surgery patient in stasis. I have been able to stock the kitchen, bring my Honor Harrington pictures out of retirement, and do those other such things, but ... no Monica. So I myself am a little bit in stasis still.

I do have some feelings, but they are mostly impressions. I spent most of the flight over devouring The Night Circus (which I strongly recommend to anybody who enjoys the fantastical, the romantical, or the fantastical romantical - to put it another way, it is the most Natalian book I have read in years), because ever since my sophomore year of college, "west" has been the direction to go. West is chasing the sunset. West is home. East is retrograde motion (though I did take some comfort in the thought that east is also greeting the sunset). I stopped reading to watch the landing out of a sense of duty. There is a moment in any landing that I have never been able to define in which the people and structures below stop being a mere representation of the ground, as you might find on a model train table, and become real - another moment, similarly indefinable, in which one ceases to be "flying" and becomes simply rather high off the ground. A gentle bump, a sense of incredible speed as the air brakes deploy, and then one is down with a finality so real that it takes the brain several minutes to catch up.

In my case, the sense of transmission was marred by my increasingly desperate need to pee.

It was raining when I arrived and wrestled my luggage into the back of a taxi. No city shows itself to its best advantage in the rain, so perhaps Brooklyn can be forgiven if its first impression was rather dismal. Years ago, I remarked to my family how much I hate the brick architecture that dominates the middle colonies, and I found my hatred intact. The red brick seems to suck the light out of even the sunniest streets, and with no unbroken surfaces even the largest buildings seem crowded and cramped. I realized on the cab ride over that it is not just the brick I hate - I also despise block house architecture. On the west coast (except for parts of San Francisco, which I also loathe), lots slope up away from the street. Here, the buildings tend to present themselves straight up and down right from the sidewalk, their baleful monolithic faces making even the broad Brooklyn avenues seem like the urban canyons I have assiduously avoided all my life. On my street the houses (I cannot really think of them as "apartments") at least have stairs that lead up and away from the sidewalk, which has an outsized psychological impact.

I do not intend to write much about my housemates, although I have only positive things to say.

I am very close to Prospect Park, but owing to computer-related issues and staying up practically all night to play the X-Wing miniatures game with my father I didn't get a chance to explore it until fairly recently. I went in search of greenery and a place to practice fencing between lessons (more on that later). I had a much more detailed running narrative in my mind as I wandered, but I'm afraid it has largely devolved into flashes now. I remember trying to remember the wretched east coast humidity and the heat of the sun - really remember, trying to place myself on Nova. The map of the park, glanced over and then ignored. The enormity of the tree branches - not the trees, but the branches, heavy and thick, arcing overhead - I finally understand why trees can be a symbol of strength and not just endurance. The rough-hewn ashlar wall that borders the park, good cover in a firefight. A playground near the 9th St. entrance that Meshparjai would like. The wide open spaces of grass beneath the trees that she might like even more. I pass couples picnicking on the grass, and think, I could bring Thayet here. More children than I have seen in one place in a long, long time. A little girl running through a shower of delicate golden leaves blown in the breeze.

Beyond the children is the so-called Long Meadow, full of actual baseball diamonds occupied by what appear to be pick-up games of baseball. People actually play pick-up baseball here? On the other side of the Long Meadow, inviting and mysterious trees. I wander through them, following the trail as it winds up and down hills. This would be a good place to run, I think. A man who can only run on flat paved surfaces cannot run at all. I relish the sense of being surrounded by trees filled with actual birdsong. I close my eyes and try to add the sounds of monkeys and tigers, again attempting to seize this moment for Nova. This is my life, now, and all life must eventually come to the story, to the game. Somebody has constructed a shelter beneath the canopy, lovingly piled branches against the spine of a fallen tree to form a sort of cave in which are three small logs, clearly intended as benches. It is not my space. I enter anyway and begin to understand how centuries ago people could fall in love with this coast, with its wretched waterlogged air and magnified heat and greenery that is resplendent even now.

There is a road on the other side of the trees, and I cross it. I am on a path again, one that climbs a small hill with three sets of quasimonumental stairs. Somebody put these stairs here with a foreign country in mind, I am certain in that moment. They remind me of Cambodia, not that I have ever been there. The long stone steps actually sag in the middle. Remember that detail. I take the first set of stairs two at a time. I am compelled to jog up the second and third.

I continue to wander and find myself back at the Long Meadow. This time I walk its length, past the baseball games and towards an even greater concentration of children. It must be school, I think, then realize no - these are summer camps. So this is how the children of the city enjoy their resplendent greenery. Near the children is a hillock, the top of which is too shaded for grass by a ring of trees that enclose the space. I remember the walls I excavated at Monte Polizzo and have a similar impression of sacred demarcation. Broken glass is ground into the dirt, but here - this is the spot. I have not yet taken up fencing, and I do not know for sure there will be drills I can do in the early morning if I do, or even if I will be able to get up in the early morning before work - but standing on this spot as the breeze blows back my hair I can see myself, patiently drilling in the morning gloom before the children arrive. It took me two and a half years to get any good at dancing, practicing four and often seven days a week - the only athletic endeavor to which I can compare. I mentally give myself five years to get any good at fencing, and smile at my own optimism.

I leave the ring of trees and wander through the summer camps. The children ignore me and this suits me. Past the picnic house I go, a great brick block in the middle of the park. Now I am on a pathway of grey hexagonal bricks instead of plain asphalt, and this pleases me. I wander until I reach Grand Army Plaza, then turn around to wander back through the park listening to worship songs.

I discover afterwards that I have explored about 25% of the park.

1 comment:

Miriam said...

Thank you for this beautiful narrative. I miss Prospect Park and (to a slightly lesser extent) Park Slope so dearly that to see it all again so clearly, through your lush writing, is kind of a thrill for me. I hope you'll also share, here, your impressions when you discover the climbable gazebo in the ramble, the trees around the edges of the nethermead, the "lake", the fireflies, and whatever else catches your eyes and your fancy.

I'm really sorry to hear about Monica. You seem to be taking the misfortune gracefully, but it's a serious loss and I hope the company who shipped it is honorable and covers the costs of damages.

I hope that in this in-between period, from now till the time when you start to feel more at home, that you find comfort among the newness.