Sunday, October 5, 2008

Blogging Brooklyn Ferry

My time in New York City can be described as a journey, geographically if not literally, from the bottom to the top. My first home here was in Flatbush, Brooklyn, in a predominantly Carribean neighborhood (I was very young, and young men used to chivalrously walk me home from the subway at night upon catching sight of me, usually after saying something along the lines of "Miss? What are you doing here?"). I gradually moved north from there, making stops in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn; the Lower East Side; the Upper East Side; Manhattan Valley, as it was then called (I believe it's now being remarketed as "SoHa," South of Harlem, but it remains the scariest neighborhood I've ever lived in); a long sojourn in Washington Heights; an Italian neighborhood in the eastern Bronx, and, finally, the furthest point geographically north you can stand and still be within city limits. (I'm going to try to blog a little about my neighborhood before I leave it for good; I've always liked the outskirts of large cities, which seem to have their own cultures and characters, usually more like those of small provincial towns than the cities of which they're technically a part).

Yesterday I went to my sister's baby shower, which took place as far geographically south as you can stand and still be in New York City, in a little waterfront neighborhood at the end of Brooklyn called Gerritsen Beach. It's more than thirty miles away from my home, and it took more than two hours to get there by subway and bus. But the ride included the memorable Manhattan Bridge crossing; two of the train lines that serve the most marginal areas of the city actually cross the Manhattan Bridge overpass (above, seen from the Brooklyn side), and it's a thrilling sight to see the East River, Brooklyn Heights, the Brooklyn and Williamsburg Bridges, and the opening of New York Harbor in the setting sun from that high vantage. This is the way I used to go from my very first Brooklyn apartment (served, as it happened, by one of those marginal train lines), and I was flooded with memories of that long-ago time, especially of the glimpse of women at work at their sewing machines in small-time Chinatown sweatshops that I would catch after the train crossed the river, before it headed underground. Though the Brooklyn ferry is long gone, I was reminded of Walt Whitman's stirring words:

FLOOD-TIDE below me! I watch you face to face;
Clouds of the west! sun there half an hour high! I see you also face to face.

Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes! how curious you are to me!
On the ferry-boats, the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose;
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence, are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.

. . . . It avails not, neither time or place—distance avails not;
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence;
I project myself—also I return—I am with you, and know how it is.

. . . . I too lived — Brooklyn, of ample hills, was mine;
I too walk’d the streets of Manhattan Island, and bathed in the waters around it;
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me,
In the day, among crowds of people, sometimes they came upon me,
In my walks home late at night, or as I lay in my bed, they came upon me.

. . . . It is not you alone who know what it is to be evil;
I am he who knew what it was to be evil;
I too knitted the old knot of contrariety,
Blabb’d, blush’d, resented, lied, stole, grudg’d,
Had guile, anger, lust, hot wishes I dared not speak,
Was wayward, vain, greedy, shallow, sly, cowardly, malignant;
The wolf, the snake, the hog, not wanting in me,
The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous wish, not wanting,
Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, laziness, none of these wanting.

But I was Manhattanese, friendly and proud!
I was call’d by my nighest name by clear loud voices of young men as they saw me approaching or passing,
Felt their arms on my neck as I stood, or the negligent leaning of their flesh against me as I sat,
Saw many I loved in the street, or ferry-boat, or public assembly, yet never told them a word,
Lived the same life with the rest, the same old laughing, gnawing, sleeping,
Play’d the part that still looks back on the actor or actress,
The same old role, the role that is what we make it, as great as we like,
Or as small as we like, or both great and small. . .

No comments: