Transcript for the Piece Audio version of New York's Sculptured Sky
New York Sculptured sky
The newspapers tell us that flight delays are part of the itinerary for travelers in America this summer. So maybe I should have factored into our schedule the extra four hours spent in the San Francisco airport before leaving for New York. Luckily we had no one to meet us, no appointment early the following morning and could relax, read a paper and carry on knitting.
It was beyond midnight when we got a taxi cab at John F. Kennedy airport and headed out of the summer heat and into the night breeze. Tired, but not sleepy, we looked out at the familiar landmarks that we passed. We laughed, remembering forty three years ago when on this same drive I first saw the Empire State building and said it reminded me of Guildford Cathedral. Looking at the skyline this night it seemed to have softened and was subdued, as if the city is finally dimming its lights.
We drove on, into and through the midtown tunnel before a police road block and a detour. Earlier in the day old plumbing pipes had exploded in Grand Central Station. Subway lines were also closed as repair work was carried out through the night.
The next morning we were up early. The sun was shinning but the summer heat was not yet boiling up from the pavements. We hurried off to Third Avenue, looking forward to coffee at Pete?s Place. We crossed twenty first Street before realizing something was wrong. No open door, no light, no patron Pete standing outside, in white shirt, black trousers and hands in his belt looking this way and that to greet friends and customers. The doors were closed. Old paper notices were already faded and falling off the glass windows, something about the city and unpaid taxes. We cupped our hands shielding our eyes to stare through the window. The cafe was abandoned but not yet empty. There were upturned chairs, old wooden panels pulled off the walls, a coffee urn and a few mugs on the counter while a growing layer of dust and napkins was building on the floor. Our peering into the window brought a man and a woman, both who must have walked this Avenue during the preceding weeks. But they stopped to share with us the sadness at the passing of Pete?s Place. Two blocks up another small French delicatessen was also gone, churned under by a a city that is forever working to make cream into butter.
We walk on, circling around the small park, still looking for our morning coffee. Suddenly there is a skirmish. Under the scaffolding covering the sidewalk a young man in shorts and a vest is shouting furiously and running after a young waiter who is desperately trying to mount a bike that he has plucked from the sidewalk. The waiter can?t get on. He is flustered, seeming unsure of this stealing business and yet unable to resist the temptation of an unchained object. The bike?s owner catches up, grabs the bike and tears it out of the not too firm grasp of the thief. He is yelling like a charging warrior but the thief offers no resistance to the blows the owner brandishes and even lands on his body. They are both watching the few of us who are watching them. The owner holds his bike upright on the back wheel. The thief walks back to work. The show is over.
But it is a young woman, somewhere in her mid thirties who has fallen in step beside us that makes me think again of this scene. All the while she has been giving us a running commentary on the situation,
?That man has stolen the other man?s bike. They are fighting. The thief is a waiter on duty somewhere. I wonder where. He is taking a break.? She goes on talking, not wanting to leave us. She sees us as a safe, maybe elderly couple who need explanations. But her rapid words speak of the deep loneliness of a single woman in this city, who knows she may remain so.
Later, walking along 34th Street, I see fewer beggars than I remember from two years ago. It is the summer and there are more tourists than residents, and they have been warned to stay away from those for whom the street is their home. The street beggars sink low into the pavement, hiding behind what possessions they have, holding out a tattered cup to the passers by.
Af the end of a meal with my friend Tom and his carer Doris, we sit idly in the restaurant. The patron does not wish to appear in a rush to get rid of Tom bound to his wheelchair, Doris and myself. We have eaten early enough that he can afford to be gracious as we linger, still talking of this and that. We are also watching the cops who park their cars behind bigger vans on 36th Street. They are catching commuters heading out and calling home on their cell phones. It is an easier and more lucrative beat than the harder to catch red light runner or speeder in the city. Doris decides to take the subway and we will meet her at Penn Station. I walk fast but Tom has to slow his chair, which he propels like a fighter pilot. I have to give him a shove up the sidewalk crossings as he guides me through a section of Seventh Avenue I would not travel without his guardianship.
For ten days my husband and I traveled north. We visited the Peabody Museum in Salem for the retrospective exhibition of Joseph Cornell. The works and life of this strange but oddly fascinating man was small, enclosed, hidden away so that the viewer has to seek to find. The work spoke of a time in America that was full of loss, insecurity and fear.
We went on to the Skowhegan School of Art and Sculpture and visited young sculptors working in their studios. Much of their work was tentative, fragile but full of hope and searching for a larger projection. There was one Vulcan among them. Cameron left his studio and went into the woods. He found trees that had been felled in a recent storm. He pulled them loose from their entanglement and build new pagodas in the woods, well knowing the impermanence of his creation. His scaffolded trees would fall, rot and become homes for foxes, skunks and insects before crumbling to the woodland floor and rebirth.
Ten days later we returned to New York and the Museum of Modern Art beckoned. There was an exhibit of Richard Serra?s work. Here was Vulcan, a God of fire and workman of the immortals, pounding their armor and crafting their homes in provocative glory. In this show Serra?s metals are beaten and woven into huge cliff faces throwing us mortal viewers off balance, unsure of what is earthbound, heaven sent or for the souls below; leaving us unsure where to walk, when to stand and stare. The Museum?s cathedral scale is built to receive the works of such men. A place where art can be seen as magnificent, glorious and good and where steel can become not an accomplice to war but an idol of beauty.
This has been a letter from A. Broad.
Written and produced for you by Muriel Murch