This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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The real New York City

manhattanAs I stood by the DUMBO waterfront I tried to calculate how many people these huge boxy buildings on the opposite shore would contain, any given moment in time. This is the Manhattan skyline as as we know it. “As WE know it”. Because really, just 150 years ago it was like any old town. And just 500 years ago, when Europe was restless because of religious reformations against the Catholic church and Shakespeare wrote his famous plays, Manhattan was mostly swampland. With mosquitoes.

Times Square was a crossing of two rivers and a beaver pond. There were salt marshes and grasslands and forests, all home to turkeys, beavers, elk, and those mosquitoes. The area holding up the skyscrapers I was looking at was sea floor (much of lower Manhattan is landfill). This is the real New York. If this is news to you you might like this excellent article by the National Geographic.

My view of Manhattan is a fart in the history of time. Quickly formed, possibly also not very durable. And yet this is the “iconic” New York “we all know”. Hudson, visiting in 1609, knew the beavers. I doubt city kids today know beavers from anything else than school books (sorry, educational internet websites).

Were do New Yorkers go to rewild? Is Central Park enough or does one have to leave this once so lush and bountiful island?mannahatta.ngsversion.1502920743252.adapt.1900.1

Lower photo humbly borrowed from “Before New York”, National Geographic, September 2009

(New York, USA; April 2019)


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History underground

brooklyn-6When learning about a foreign city, one can go to history museums. Or art museums. Or the more random museums, like the New York transport museum, hosted in an old unused subway station. And learn how, long ago, subway trains had nearly stylish rattan imitation seats.

Or how, even longer ago, before there were subway trains there were streetcars, jam-packed with gentlemen in hot sweaty suits and ladies with two-meter circumference of crinoline squeezing together like sardines in a can. In rush hour surely the streetcar spilled over with skirt hoops and lace and top hats. brooklyn-5The most interesting detail of the Transport Museum is the advertising on the walls of old train cars. Much of it is from WWII, and the strangest references were made to the war. It is also a reminder of how the government raised its own citizens’ money to fight a war outside of US turf by issuing war bonds yielding less than the market rate of other reasonable investments.

Some lovely soul has also been fixated with turnstiles. Yes, turnstiles. There is a collection of probably every single model of turnstile used in the history of the NYC subway. And that is surprisingly many – we just do not pay attention. Someone more attentive did – and collected them all. 🙂brooklyn-4(NYC Transport Museum, Brooklyn, NYC, USA; April 2019)


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DUMBO

brooklyn-3There are photos of the Brooklyn bridge. And then there are photos of people taking photos of the Brooklyn bridge. Same goes for DUMBO beach and the Manhattan skyline. Some heavy cropping was required to weed out tourists in red and orange jackets, absolutely not suitable for being in the frame.

Photography is always reality enhanced. But the fabulous, urban views from DUMBO are real. And so is the lovely restaurant by the waterfront across the beach, with a glass of cool wine if you prefer.brooklyn-8(Brooklyn, USA; April 2019)


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In Brooklyn

brooklyn-2Brownstone buildings, quiet streets, tiny low-fenced gardens with wisterias and greens just like in small European towns, and people playing soccer in the park. Brooklyn is more like Europe than any other American place I have visited. And yet it is just a bridge away from the most American of them all: Manhattan.brooklyn-1But here, among the tulips and the hipster cafés and people walking dogs, I forget I am in the USA. If only for a brief while. Brooklyn, as an old Dutch colony, even still has a Dutch slogan on its city arms.

I am not friends with Manhattan. But I think Brooklyn and I became buddies during just one day. brooklyn-7(Brooklyn, NYC, USA; April 2019)


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About life, above NYC

The difference between these two photos is two hours of bittersweet life stories among three Cambridge alumni classmates. Up above the Manhattan skyline we made attempts to have a light, pleasant reunion after 8 years, but discovered time after time that life was not always light and pleasant.

Thankfully there was a delicious Korean BBQ dinner to keep us entertained among stories of weddings, losses, relocations, and bravely defeated illnesses.

“Life is bittersweet. And it is alright when it is more sweet than bitter,” another classmate of ours once concluded, with a sigh. Once upon a time I would have considered such an opinion a defeat. Not an acceptable goal for a good life lived. But perhaps he was right. The sweet moments are there to be enjoyed in full and then let go; and the bitter moments are for reflection of impermanence and the slow buildup of strength of character.

And so, up on the high floor above Manhattan, three (nearly old) acquaintances laughed and sympathized with life as the sun went down over the city.

(New York City, USA; April 2019)


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Big dreams from before

empirestateThe view from my hotel room window. If only zeppelins were still the fashionable way to transport through the air – then I might see the observatory in its originally designed use: a docking site for zeppelins bringing travelers in and out of Manhattan. Such a courageous space-age dream was built to come true, but never put to good use.

Instead, the Empire State Building is bombarded by dozens of lightning strikes each year.  It gets lonely and dangerous on the top of the city. But from down here, from my cozy hotel room in Midtown, I can look at the bright lights and think about those people who dreamed buildings such as this one into being, ninety years ago, when elevators changed the way buildings were planned, and decades before going to the moon was even a realistic aim.

(New York City, USA; April 2019)


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Fire island

longislandI have only seen the coastline surrounding New York City from the air, and each time there is something new to discover. Fire Island looks like a wonderful place to visit for long walks on the beach and adventuring out in the shallows during ebb. Lucky locals.

(Above Long Island, NY, USA; April 2019)