The new food kiosk, Picknick, in Battery Park opened today, a beautiful day for a debut in Lower Manhattan. This eco-friendly food station (the seemingly plastic cups are made of cornstarch, among other recyclable items) is complimented by uncrowded tables, providing a great spot to see the harbor, Red Hook, and the Statue of Liberty.
I’m back in New York and I have a little story to share.
While I was in Mesilla, NM (see below), I was of course missing New York, but then not really — the beautiful adobe house I was staying in was huge and lovely, rundown in a charming kind of way, and ever so cheap (you see my point). So every morning, I biked a short distance to a coffee place, The Bean, and one day I noticed a book on one of the side tables, a slim little paperback titled, “Floating City,” which piqued my interest. It turned out to be a book of poems by a woman who had won the Walt Whitman award for new poets. Now, keep in mind I hardly ever read poetry, but I started reading this collection by Anne Pierson Wiese. Turns out she lives in Brooklyn and her poetry so absolutely captures the essence of life in the city — the small moments of beauty and tragedy, how the natural and the built environments can combine to create magic. So I kept this book with me (stole it from The Bean, I must admit), carrying it around in my bag for weeks, pulling it out at times to read a poem and just revel in this woman’s ability to remind me why I love New York so much. Here is one of my favorites:
Composed upon Brooklyn Bridge, July 6, 2003
How the city’s infinite motions seem stilled
in the sun’s horizontal blue gaze–her tips
and contraptions, her manifold upright lips’
lisp of steel and breath on sky, her curved sill
of shoreline, bridged and built as if the mills
of God have been replaced by quicker equipment,
her people heading home; now, before the dip
of the sun spills red, how this equal light wills
me to see the whole as one. For an instant,
her interlocking parts of bedrock and air,
asphalt and wind, metal and flesh, infant
cries of traffic and windows’ crowded state–
all these seem to pause and fuse, a jubilant
pair of mighty lungs with breath upheld in prayer.
I’m still in Mesilla, NM (see below, or click here to go to a flickr page with photos of this historic southwestern town), but since I wrote an article for the Times about how the long-time managers of the Chelsea Hotel were ousted, and all the coverage this has received around the world, I thought I would repost the story I wrote more than a year ago about Living With Legends, the unofficial Chelsea Hotel blog (which has been covering the hell out of this ongoing tragedy). Below are links to two of the stories I’ve written for the Times about the Chelsea (both PDF files), and a photo essay I shot at the Living With Legends blog party that took place on April 28, 2006 in a room where Thomas Wolfe wrote, appropriately for a residential hotel, You Can’t Go Home Again.
A Year in the Life (Chelsea PDF)
Changes at the Chelsea, Shelter of the Arts (chelseafinal.pdf)
Living With Legends Blog Party (photo essay on flickr).
I took the day off from writing to bike along a historic trail called El Camino Real, picking it up in Mesilla, New Mexico and taking it almost all the way to El Paso, TX. This path was originally forged in 1598 by Don Juan de Onate, who was ordered by the King Philip II of Spain to colonize the upper Rio Grande, now known as New Mexico. The route Onate followed became El Camino Real, “the royal road,” which up until then only reached what is now Juarez. It’s a beautiful trip, and I took some pics along the way. Click to enlarge any photos.
This was taken in of Mesilla (meh-SEE-uh, pop. 2,200), where many historic adobe homes and commercial buildings are still standing. Though Mesilla wasn’t founded until 1848, the area had long been the crossroads of the southwest until 1881 when Las Cruces (just a few miles east) offered free land to the Santa Fe Railroad, essentially freezing Mesilla in time (the historic square wasn’t paved as late as the 1970s). This turned out to be a good thing in terms of character and preservation. While the two places are separated only by railroad tracks, Las Cruces is a sprawling suburb while Mesilla is a historic, compact, walkable town.
The Mesilla Valley has long been an agricultural center, and further south along the El Camino Real, there are miles of pecan trees that shade the road, planted by W.J. Stahmann and his sons in the 1930s. Combined with land they purchased in Australia, this family became the largest pecan producer in the world. The climate is so dry that to water the trees, the ground is often flooded up to six inches, and as you bike underneath the canopy, you can feel a mist from the leaves perspiring.
I stopped at this overpass over the Rio Grande, which I’m told in the winter is completely dry from all the water being siphoned for agricultural uses. At first I didn’t notice the birds that were perched on a wire, but they noticed me, and began swirling about, as if to put on a show.
There are a couple of tiny little towns along this part of El Camino Real, mostly run down. This was taken in San Miguel, NM. But there is also a rich motorcycle culture here with a few lively hang-outs.
Last but not least, this was taken just south of La Mesa, with the Organ Mountains in the distance. The sad part is, El Camino Real is now on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of most endangered places because of Richard Branson’s Spaceport, which is set to be built north of Las Cruces. According to the Trust, “El Camino Real is considered by many to be one of the largest and most important artifacts of the Spanish Colonial era in the United States and one of the most valuable single markers of the Hispanic experience in the Southwest.”
Polis will return to its usual gritty New York content in Sept.
I will be in New Mexico for the entire summer finishing the book I’m writing, which was supposed to be done in February. I will have a nice view of the Organ Mountains (pictured above, click to enlarge) from the little bungalow where I’m staying. So don’t cry for me, New York City. See you in the Fall, with a new website and hopefully a big sense of relief.
The New York City Park’s Dept. recently completed a two year study to determine the cost v. benefit of urban trees ($5.60 for every dollar spent). So what is the calculus for steel trees? The sculptor Roxy Paine has three steel trees being erected in Madison Square Park. Not much carbon dioxide being removed from the air, but they’re lovely to look at — and that cost benefit-analysis is even more difficult to calculate (click to enlarge photos).
The sun came out in NYC. This is the view from the penthouse of the Hudson Hotel.