W. 187th Street stairs, looking east. © JustHavingFun
The autumn colors sing to my soul! I am certain this peek into the Creator’s paintbox carries me through the gray winter. It feels like fall came late this year. But while last week the temperatures were in the 40s, today it’s expected to hit 75. Crazy! I broke out my jacket, though, and put my sandals under the bed. The toes are getting cold so I know the oppressive heat is over. Gearing up now for the frigid winter seems more real day by day.
Speaking of crazy, there’s a certain pleasant vibration in my head that’s caused by the look of yellow maple leaves against rain-darkened tree trunks on a gloomy day. It puts me in mind of a long ago leisurely drive in the country near Poughkeepsie.
Brilliant gold maple leaves against dark branches. © JustHavingFun
The day started off as if it had a headache. First the sun came out, then it ducked behind clouds. A wind blew up and fallen leaves swirled like dancers. The sun’s rays through the clouds highlighted odd sights off to the side of the road: a patch of late-blooming chrysanthemums, a kitschy mailbox, a faded American flag left over from July 4th, nude fields, homes festooned with carved pumpkins. I drove over the crest of a hill and lo, ahead of me, was a spectacular stand of maple trees limned against the gray, brooding sky—a vision so powerful so as to remain with me these thirty-some years!
Enjoy the autumn. Savor the crunch of leaves underfoot. Cherish the colors. Memorize the scents. This may be your own dramatic memory in thirty years!
Photo credit: DNAinfo/Lindsay Armstrong
I disliked using the 1-Train Uptown because of the tunnel. Until a few months ago, it symbolized the Portal to Hell, how lost souls would gain entrance to the netherworld. But not now.
How it used to be: After exiting the 191st Street Station, the dark, dank, dirty and seemingly-endless long tunnel from the station to Broadway captivated my imagination. I envisioned the helpful city planners and happy artists painting beautiful murals several years ago. But we all suffered the reality of ugly black graffiti, stuck-on posters that someone burned while on the wall, and dirty ineffective lighting fixtures. I even complained about the illumination to the local precinct police. Tunnels don’t bother me; I’m from Pittsburgh, a city replete with tunnels. The specter of violence and/or unsavory occurrences spooked me although regular, law-abiding people traversed it daily. My mind simply worked overtime. I wasn’t scared, just leery (and lazy, weary of walking uphill once I exited on Broadway).
Now: The Department of Transportation replaced the lighting with brilliant and energy efficient LED lights last autumn. That transformed the tunnel. It’s still dank and long, but doesn’t awake my automatic dread response. I wish I had a bike or skates to float along its inviting length. Along with the platform renovations, LEDs make the 191st Street Station a safer and more desirable destination.
Public art waits to happen here. See DNAInfo: City Seeking Artists to Paint Murals for ‘Creepy’ 191st Street Tunnel. I moved to the neighborhood after the “new” mural was already blighted, so I never got to see it in its glory. Curse the taggers and graffiti “artists” who’ve already marred and mauled the tabula rasa of newly painted walls! I, for one, happily await new, creative artwork (not spray paint) that will uplift community spirit and beautify our corner of Washington Heights.
A shy fire escape in an air shaft, front of the building.
Artists love to exploit fire escapes. Their rhythmic linearity exercises the pencil and the shadows they cast grant opportunity for various kinds of shading techniques. They’ve been captured in dark, brooding graphite and charcoal. Ironwork spiders its way across building facades in cityscapes rendered in rich oils and pastels. Steel stairs march, ascending and descending with military precision, in photographic studies. I’ve also seen masterful watercolor studies where one might expect free-flowing splotches of color typical for that medium, but instead the paint flows, gracing the piece with an unexpected lightness.
The fire escape receives little attention until needed. We acknowledge its existence, but subconsciously, our brains edit it out when thinking about a building’s looks. They are afterthoughts, infrastructure, not noticed until they malfunction or allow burglars access to the building. Unobtrusive ones occupy negative space, and do not adorn the building proudly; gregarious ones stride across buildings they protect scoffing at the architecture.
Let us not overlook the fire escape as a stage. Who can forget the young love of Tony and Maria singing “Tonight” on the fire escape in West Side Story? And in real life in more recent times, the Highline Park Renegade Café was performed from the 4th floor fire escape of a West 20th Street loft.1 If you google “fire escape art images” you’ll find plenty to entertain you and get your creative juices going.
The noble fire escape. Let us never use it… for escaping fires.
1. ‘West Side Story’ Amid the Laundry, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/25/garden/25seen.html?_r=0, accessed February 6, 2015.↩