A Birthday

Washington Square Arch

It may not appear to be the case, but I have actually taken some photographs here during the day. The night ones are my favorites though. Its amazing because all three of them have been shot without a tripod. I’m not sure why I lugged that thing all the way from Seattle, but I suppose if the weather had been better and I were actually out on specific photographic missions, then I would bring it along. As it is, I’m kind of shooting when I’m not inside someplace warm and dry. And the truth is, the photography part of this trip is not the central part of the story. I came because of the results of my own photography work, which is not New York oriented. I simply do not know this city well enough to do it justice photographically. I’m not here long enough to get to know it, and that wasn’t the reason I came. I think that to shoot any part of the city would be a mission in and of itself. Walking around with my camera, I almost don’t know where to start.

Part of the reason I chose this image for tonight is that I spent a good deal of the afternoon and evening in Lower Manhattan. I met two of Charlotte’s good friends, students at NYU, under the arch, and they took me on a walkabout. In a way, it seemed perfectly normal to meet them here, as if we went for walks and ended up in tea shops all the time. But it wasn’t a normal thing. Its a new thing. I’ve never met either one of these girls deliberately anywhere. Somehow though, we’ve all crossed a line. With Charlotte’s friends being away from home and in their own environments, we see each other differently. What that difference is is hard to quantify, but its a new feeling. I’m not so much their friend’s mom, and they are not so much my daughter’s friends. Its not as if we are peers, but more like we are connected in another way that doesn’t have as much weight attached to it as “parent” and “friend of my child” or “teenager”.

When they left to go back to school I thought I might walk around a bit more before heading back uptown. They suggested the West Village. Now here is where my infallibly cock-eye’d sense of direction comes in. I’m not exactly sure where I went, and not for a million dollars could I retrace the route. All I know is that most often, I was thinking North was South and East was West. It was more fun when I just rolled with it and walked, yet I didn’t want to end up lost in the dark a long ways from anything familiar and not knowing how I got there. This required a lot of map checking under street lights and in front of store windows and retracing of steps. I finally made it back to the vicinity of Washington Square and decided I’d better make my way towards the subway. Not. I had my Norths and Souths flipped again. When I was out deliberately wandering, I wasn’t too surprised to find myself a bit disoriented. With West 4th randomly curving through the grid of narrow streets, its a bit confusing. This time, I actually have no idea how it happened. I would have sworn I knew where I was. The next attempt to take leave of Lower Manhattan is the one that once again brought me to the arch and when I shot the photograph posted here.

By this point in time I was tired and hungry and thought maybe I’d simply head back to my hotel and eat a pizza and have a glass of wine at the restaurant next door. En route to the subway, which I later discovered was also the other way from the way I was walking, I spotted a string of what looked like big Christmas lights wrapped around a wrought iron railing and thought I’d take a peek. There were some people headed down the stairs adjacent. I guess I was hungrier than I thought because my stomach had led me the wrong direction to go to the subway, but the right direction for dinner. Five or six stairs below street level, a hand lettered sign in the window said “Cash Only”. Another sign in the window said “Piadina”. Soon I was sitting happily munching away on a salad of pears and endive with parmesan cheese and a lemony olive oil dressing. By nine, when I left, the place was full.

All day, I’ve been thinking about Robby and feeling a little unsettled about the fact that today is his 17th birthday. I don’t like not being there for it. It was a school day, true, and he said it was fine, but I’ve never not been there for one of my kid’s birthdays before, it feels odd and I’m not sure I like it. I’ve been keeping my eyes open for a gift for him, but New York is not his city. He’s not really even a city guy and I’m not finding anything. I’m not really surprised. He’s not interested in stuff. As long as he has the gear to do what he wants to do, he’s happy. Still, I don’t like the idea of coming home empty-handed.

What I can’t get over here, is how fast the time goes. I’m not sure how one does more than a couple of big things in a day. Aside from my walkabout and visit with the girls, the highlights were the Rubin Museum – a fabulous collection of Himalayan art that also had an exhibition called Visions of the Cosmos, and the B and H photo superstore, where I tested out (read – played with) different camera and lenses.

Visions of the Cosmos… all I can say is that its a good thing that the video I watched returned to earth at the end. The exhibition itself is an incredible collection of images from telescopes, books by Copernicus and Galileo and old manuscripts by Buddhist, Hindu and Jain scholars from the Himalayan area. Looking at books by Copernicus and Galileo side by side with other more ancient and modern (relatively) texts with diagrams and drawings illustrating their theories on the nature of the Universe, I almost lost track of time. Fortunately watching the video was the last thing I did, and when it brought me back to earth, I pulled out my phone and looked at it, realizing that I had about 15 minutes before I was to meet Charlotte’s pals.

Tomorrow… well, since I’ve still got about half of what I thought I might do here left on my list, I think I’ll just have to see what the weather is like when I wake up and get on with it. I will have seen and done enough, regardless.  I’m sure that I will be reflecting on this trip for a long time to come and only in retrospect will its true gifts be revealed.

Now, lets just hope that the snowstorm that’s threatening waits until I’m on my way back to Seattle.


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