New York Visit, Part II

Dawn came at 11 am or so as we left our queen-size coffin and checked our bags in the basement of the Hotel Pennsylvania including our umbrellas as the forecast listed the chance of rain at 20%.  Oops.  We first head south to near the World Trade Center site which was still a seeming pile of rubble like every other construction project in America and here I found comfort.  While the destruction of the plaza was an event of such enormity the numerals of the date are their own memorial the site itself was being consumed by the American industrial beast with a determination that makes me proud.  The area around contains parks, restaurants, business complexes, and a coast whose inspirational view of New Jersey.

Heading east we hit Trinity church, burial place of Alexander Hamilton, James Watt, and Roger Morris.  The stained glass of the apse were exceptional in the small church and the ancient graveyard felt like it was stubborn in its stand against the encroaching modernity of Wall Street.

Trinity Choir

Apse glasswork with Suzie for scale


Wall Street was busy as befits Wall Street as it is nearly impossible to pass it on a vehicle with all the inter-building pedestrian traffic and this only clears up as one goes from business hub to the ring of aspirational stores that ring NYSE, the Treasury Museum, and the Federal Reserve.    The New York Stock Exchange had before it the largest American flag I’d ever seen and I had to climb over many European tourists to grab this shot of the tenderness of the symbol of liberty on the stone symbol of capitalism.  I think they make a good couple and would survive poorly with out each other.
NYSE Flags

We headed again East to have lunch in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge in the rain.  Roebling’s foresight in creating a bridge vastly larger that what was required has allowed his great grandchildren’s generation to see something transplanted from another world.  The bridge is sturdy in a way that was alien to both then and now using more materials than anyone thought necessary but without the advances of structural steel and engineering that allow for the almost gossamer radial span bridges that would come 80 years later.  Vendors were selling almost name brands at almost discount prices as tourists queued up for a boat tour.

Brooklyn Bridge

Next we went north through Chinatown with its legion juxtapositions.

Heading west towards the Canal Street subway hub led us through market stalls where I could identify only a 3rd of the fruits and vegetables and shops with more gold and silver in them than seemed possible interspersed with one-off branches for banks whose home business was from 20 different countries.  Both of these being stores of value that have in their own way become traditional.  I wonder what layer of meaning lied buried under my ignorance of Mandarin and Cantonese.

The subway ride north was steamy as the water absorbed in the rain combined with sweat when exposed to the perpetual warmth of the subway terminals to create a steamy cloud of unwashed humanity.  This smell goes between comforting, disgusting, and funny depending on one’s mood and disposition.  We got off north of central park and began walking west to the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, the Episcopal seat of the Diocese of New York.

New York buildings possess a grandness to themselves but the cathedral possesses a sense of grandeur that is something apart.  Most big buildings are surrounded by other big buildings gradually dwindling in size but the cathedral has gardens, sculpture, fountains, sheds, convent/monastic structures, and educational facilities.  The trees are much larger than those that normally line the street so the steeple always looms with no obvious path through the grounds until you find the massive doors.
Vagrant outside St. John
The inside is vast enough that there is something akin to mall walkers that walk around the nave without entering the church proper whose whose surface area is 121,000 square feet.    The ceiling rises 120 feet in some areas which creates a sense of cloistered openness as if one is in a grotto surrounded by miles of rock as the mishmash of Gothic, Byzantine, Roman, and more modern elements come through as veins from some architectural quarry held up by the 8 main granite pillars that plunge over 70 feet before striking bed rock.  The doors have a set of prayer candles near them that had prostrations in a dozen languages for everything to solving world hunger to the lose of a cat.  The celestory is magnificent and the glasswork was awe-inspiring even when the building was wrapped in the inky greyness of the day.

I had dragged Mike and Suzie 30 blocks to see the church and after some time in it, I think we all found the trek worth it.  St. John’s the Unfinished again inspired in me a notion of the numinous for the second time in my life.  THe first time was tinged with a sense of the divine, this time a sense of humanity.
Candles and John the Divine

Our final stop was a Hungarian pastry shop where gruff 20 somethings read Camus next to MacBooks.  I had a poppy seed pastry and we unleashed a flurry of text messages to our respective parties when a clock check indicated we need to leave.  We made the southbound Northeast Corridor train with little time to spare and sunk into our seats with a sense that had escaped, not in the sense that we were being held against our will but captivated.  We would return.

The evening wound down in Princeton over dinner with a friend consisting of brick oven pizza and artisanal cheese.  How can I refuse something with “artisanal” in its name?

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