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Posts tagged ‘Manhattan’

Urban Orchard?

Urban Peach Orchard

Urban Peach Orchard? ©JustHavingFun

People plant fruit trees because the blossoms are beautiful. They bloom in the spring about the same time as the early flowers such as daffodils and tulips. Fruit trees frequently make up a portion of formal plantings that bloom in sequence. Think of the cherry blossoms that adorn Washington, D.C.

As a child I learned how to identify plants by their leaves and trees by their bark in nature studies classes. I would spend hours hiking in the woods marveling at the diversity of species in my area. I retained these skills into adulthood and at some point became a gardening enthusiast. Although I lack a garden now, I enjoy looking at other people’s plantings. I like seeing how each apartment building distinguishes itself from the next in the foot-wide strip of soil between it and the pavement. Hence, I stop to “smell the roses”—or Rose of Sharon—whenever I can.

There are few fruit trees in Washington Heights. It is a Jewish custom to say a particular blessing over a blossoming fruit tree in the springtime, in the Hebrew month of Nissan (approximately mid-April to mid-May). Since most New Yorkers can’t identify fruit trees by their leaves and bark, lacking the nature studies classes I enjoyed, some Jews took it upon themselves to publish a map identifying the fruit trees in the certain neighborhoods! Some people even hang a placard from fruit trees with the text of the blessing to aid their fellow Jews. There is one such tree on Bennett Avenue across from the Mt. Sinai Jewish Center. I visited that tree and said the blessing at the appropriate time last spring.

I knew about this particular tree on Overlook Terrace without seeing it on a map. I’d espied it and watched the fruit all summer. It’s unusual to see fruit tree blossoms that actually come to fruition in the city. It’s even more unusual to see one of these trees smack dab up against a building, adjacent to a fire escape, hiding behind a hedge of exuberant Rose of Sharon. Peering at the tree, I spy little blushing peaches emerging from under the leaves! It lives! It is growing!! Next to the subway station yet!!!

There used to be farms in this part of Manhattan. Oh, it was long ago, but it is indeed documented. What would those farmers say about their acreage now? How could this tree happen to grow precisely here? Did an opportunistic peach pit grow between the hedge and the bricks? Not likely. Unsprouted peach pits that are hundreds of years old have been excavated from the trash heaps of Old New York. These hard hearts don’t sprout easily. Could someone actually have planted this tree? Maybe. There is evidence it is cared for: it is tied where it intersects the top of the ground floor window. There’s a scar where it had been pruned.

Will these peaches rot on the tree, get pecked by birds, or be plucked by the person whose window they cover? Someday I expect I will emerge from the subway station and see some nouveau urban farmer climbing a ladder to harvest the peaches. Straw-hatted and overall-clad, he will set each booted foot carefully on the rungs as he climbs. He will test the ripeness of each with a little squeeze. He will pluck each one and lay it in a wicker basket depending from his arm like in an old-timey painting. Thus he will reanimate the ghosts of long ago farms in this part of the island. A fanciful dream, but what a dream!

Up the Steps!

Fit Friends on W 187 steps

Fit friends on the steps at West 187th St.

I’m from the city that has the most “stair streets” in the USA, Pittsburgh. I understand their utility. Too steep for a street but gotta go there? Put in steps.

“On some of the steepest hills, steps even double as legal streets. Known as ‘paper streets,’ these staircases appear on maps as valid thoroughfares – an often consternating surprise to unsuspecting visitors.”(1)

I don’t have to like them, though. <grumble, grumble>

Like those in my hometown, the steps at West 187th Street are not for the faint of heart. I chug up and down them reluctantly, when I really need to… because I’m too lazy to walk three blocks to take the elevator. Despite being the venue for an art project commemorating the Revolutionary War—for which I fail to connect to the historical past—these steps harbor a pedestrian functionality. At best they are a shortcut from Fort Washington to the valley (Broadway) below. At worst they are an insurmountable obstacle. For the thousands (my guess) of people who use them daily, they are just another way to get from low to high or high to low without detouring south to the A train station to use the elevator or walking up/down the long, bleak hill on Overlook Terrace between West 190th Street to West 187th St. So you see all sorts of people there: old, young, pregnant, and occasionally those with shopping carts or strollers.

Among these (primarily young) people are fitness buffs, determined souls who actually decided to run up and down the staircases! I’ve counted the steps (135) and the landings (8) and usually cannot walk up the entire staircase without stopping for a breath about two thirds of the way there. HOWEVER, I have a new world’s record to announce: I walked all the way up on Wednesday morning without a break! After coming all the way down I stopped to photograph these brilliantly glowing young people(2) with their own camera when they were trying to use a water bottle as a tripod. Then I asked to take my own shot and use their picture in my blog. New friends. How happy they made me!!

While my old knees won’t let me aspire to running up and down, and my lungs protest asthmatically, I can still aspire to climb and breathe freely! Care to join me?

 

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1. Albrecht Powell. Steps of Pittsburgh: Explore Pittsburgh’s Many Steps & Staircases. http://pittsburgh.about.com/od/about_pittsburgh/a/steps.htm, accessed June 6, 2015.
2. If you know these people, please shoot me an email so I can thank them again.

Blizzard ’15: Update

Service changes rule the System as the MTA normalizes service.

Service changes rule the System as the MTA normalizes service.

 

QUIET…

The City was silent last night. But for the sound of salt trucks and snow plows, an unnatural, yet welcome silence blanketed the City. Yes, a blanket. Puffy, white piles of snow mounded on the sidewalks, cars, trees, fences.

But now we’re getting back to “normal,” that is, what is abnormal: the busyness of the City. I hear distant sirens; is it some poor ill soul or a vehicular accident?

Restarting trains and buses, the MTA’s progress seems to be a health report of the City. The transit system is its pulse, its heart, and its medical condition is revealed in the transit schedule.  Right now, there are no buses on Broadway—at least none I can hear—and I usually can hear them.

The baby next door cries and quiets. A few children outside sparkle the air with their amusement. My husband, home from work, makes cooking and washing up noises from the kitchen. It is peaceful. An automobile drives by, its tires sounding slushy. Someone’s shovel scrapes the sidewalk.

This lassitude, this ease, this torpor, this languor, this lethargy, this tranquility, this calm—THIS is what it’s like to live “out of town,” i.e., NOT in New York City. Peacefulness. As much as I like the activity in the City, I miss the quiet of “town,” my type of normal, snowy day.

A snow day is rare. Rarer still is subway shutdown. Is the patient moribund? Or just having a heart transplant? I hope it’s the latter. NYC can do with a change of attitude.  A storm can take her to her knees but won’t take her down all the way. She’ll rise again, a remade entity, and wait for the next challenge thrown her way.

We’re safe, we’re warm, we’re well-fed. We’re grateful and taken care of.

Coolest Subway Stations?

Photo credit: Kristine Paulus  - , used under CC BY-NC 2.0

The entrance to Narnia a Hobbit hole? – Photo credit: Kristine Paulus , used under CC BY-NC 2.0

Did you know that the A train’s 181st Street Subway Station (IND) is on the National Register of Historic Places? I wouldn’t have known that had I not seen am New York’s article on the Coolest Subway Stations in NYC. So is the 190th Street Subway Station. Of the eight locales featured, the station entrances on Ft. Washington (181st) and Bennett Avenues (190th) ironically earned their attention in the company of the gleaming new Fulton Center station, where virtually every line converges, and the gleaming Smith-9th Streets station (F & G trains).

“The National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation,” states the NRHP website. Four local subway stations became listed in 2005. Including those mentioned above there are the 168th and 181st Street Subway Stations (IRT, 1 train). Renovation is ongoing in these stations (as well as the 191st Street station), restoring the old tile, upgrading the facility, and counterbalancing the lack of modern functionality of the early 19th century designs.

The amNY article only highlighted the station entrances and didn’t distinguish the relative pleasantness or ease of use of the underground facilities, both of which I find lacking at these stations. Still, it’s kind of “cool” to have my local stations called out for their art deco styling (181st) and Narnia-like mystique (190th).

I’ll want to explore this further.  I want to see the petition for adding the 181st Street Station on Ft. Washington (and not its art-deco counterpart at 184th St. and Overlook Terrace) to the NRHP, which is not on the website. What, actually, is registered? The façade? The peeling doors? The vestibule? The concrete entrance fronting the elevators?

We shall see, because there is a mystery to get to the bottom of, and I’m the person to do it.

The Cloud

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/f36/64094053/files/2014/12/img_60721.jpgWarm, gazing out the window, I watch the cloud that descended upon the city misting the streets. My cappuccino’s foam doesn’t quite reach my lips so I probe with my tongue. A wooden stirrer seems a better choice, so I reach for one and slide it into the cup. I savor the slightly piney tang under the pillowy mounds.

David Letterman grins down at us, his Late Show theater dominating the block. People rush beneath his gaze. I expected to see more shoppers, more people burdened by bags, but most seem to be the quotidian norm bolstered with boots and umbrellas. Traffic crawls by, wipers occasionally flapping to remove cloud bits from the windshields.

The mother next to me admonishes her daughters who are wearing matching headbands: braided red, green, and white metallic strands. “Eat something now,” she nags. “We have two hours until we need to be there.” One girl adjusts her headband. “Can we go by Rockefeller Center?” she asks. A homeless man taps on the window to attract attention. I don’t hear the mother’s reply. I’m transported into the cloud, dipping into my clouds of foamed milk, watching the slice of Manhattan sky I can see become more occluded by the cloud.

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