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Reaching the Clouds

by mana on September 16th, 2011

Reaching the Clouds

Reaching the Clouds; Photo by Chez Mana

New York is a place like no other. It is shaped by people from diverse cultures that have converged, driven by their historical struggles and in search of their individual freedom, constantly striving towards a vision they can never reach. I started discovering this city during my recent short stay, beginning each day with a view of the Hudson River from my apartment in Manhattan. Looking at the sky with the buildings in the background, I thought of the movie Man on Wire. It tells the story of the French funambulist Philippe Petit, who committed the “artistic crime of the century. “ He walked on a wire 1350 feet above the ground while 100,000 New Yorkers watched. After many years of planning, problem solving and practice, he realized his dream of reaching the clouds, expressing himself in a unique and astonishing way.

In the evenings, friends filled my apartment while during the day the cultural treasures of New York stimulated my senses. As I visited the world-class museums and attractions, one theme ran through my mind. New York, and all of humanity, has been shaped by individual realities and the struggle to express the emotions within them, which come to life through movies, musicals, architecture, and other types of art. The result is an aesthetic culture which conveys the struggles of people in such a poetic way. It is our duty not only to nurture this aesthetic but to democratize it and make it available to all people, since it helps us to live our lives in a more connected and optimistic way.

Dining room of Morris-Jumel mansion

Dining room of Morris-Jumel mansion; Photo by Chez Mana

I began my explorations with a visit to the nearby Morris-Jumel Mansion in Washington Heights. This Palladian mansion was the place for fashionable parties during the decade before the Revolutionary War. George Washington used it as his headquarters during the Battle of Harlem Heights in the fall of 1776. The young Continental Army repulsed a much stronger British force for their first battlefield victory under Washington. In later years, Washington dined there with his Cabinet, including Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams.

View of George Washington Bridge from Fort Tryon Park

View of George Washington Bridge from Fort Tryon Park; Photo by Chez Mana

Further uptown, the beautiful Fort Tryon Park filled my day. This park is a country jewel inside bustling New York with views of the George Washington Bridge, trails for jogging, a beautiful garden and the Cloisters.
The Cloisters

The Cloisters; Photo by Chez Mana

The Cloisters is the branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe from the Romanesque period to the Gothic era. Its collection includes architectural fragments shipped from Europe by the Rockefeller clan that have been incorporated into the fabric of the neo-medieval building in a manner suggesting their original functions and situation. An amazing project fulfilling the dreams of one man that is now available to all, its peaceful setting is a sharp contrast with the busy city all around it.

Continuing on to Harlem was quite fascinating. Harlem today has rebounded from its past decline and once again resembles the vibrant cultural scene of the Prohibition era. It offers a well-preserved architecture of brownstones and fantastic nightlife. Although jazz originated in New Orleans, it reached its height here thanks to radio, recording, music publishing, and the way the clubs circumvented Prohibition. Today, I found that there is still great music at The Shrine and the Lenox Lounge, which occupies a gorgeously restored 1939 art deco bar. In the back, its Zebra Room is where Miles Davis, Billie Holiday and John Coltrane all performed. Next door, you can even try President Barack Obama’s fried chicken at the Red Rooster restaurant.

Inside the Cloister

Inside the Cloister; Photo by Chez Mana

Two performances that I saw brought the struggles of people in other times and places to life in the context of New York. With some Trinidadian friends, I saw the movie The Help, which depicts the complex relationships of class and race in Mississippi during the civil rights era. The Broadway musical Billy Elliot, which won 10 Tony awards, portrayed the dilemmas of a young man whose ambition to become a ballet dancer fits awkwardly in the working-class English mining culture in which he lives. The general mining strike of the 1980’s and the extinction of this way of life form a backdrop to his story.

A visit to the Bronx, one of the country’s poorest urban areas, showed a conflicting landscape. The Bronx contains one of the five poorest Congressional Districts in the U.S. while the Bronx Zoo is the largest metropolitan zoo in the United States. It houses more than 4500 animals, all well taken care of.

In contrast, Soho offers high end boutiques and is a playground for the young and the rich. The Housing Works Bookstore Café, an attractive two level bookstore and café carries second-hand books and gives all the proceeds to support services for people living with AIDS. It is a pleasant place to browse or sit and think about living life in a poetic way.

It is the search for the expression of individual realities and the human struggles to express those emotions that shapes the different parts of New York. And in that sense we all are New Yorkers. No other city epitomizes that expression of the human spirit better than New York.

From → Musings

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