As I sit on the remaining edge of the huge St. George Hotel Pool I wondered about the guests who swam there and did they enjoy the water? My friend Michael’s parents got married nearby and spent their wedding night at the St. George, possibly taking a dip and having a drink poolside, near my spot. The olive green and black mosaic pattern ends at a new white tile wall where the pool has been truncated and replaced by the Eastern Athletic Clubs gym training floor. As I look up I notice the darker green irridescent tiles framed in metallic gold and black banding on the support columns. I closed my eyes and imagine the glamorous scene it must have been swimming here and relaxing in the world’s largest hotel.
At the water’s edge in the St. Goerge I began to wonder about all that happens along the shore and how water somehow touched every place we’ve visited this week. Could I swim out into the harbor over to Red Hook and the Mary Whalen, down to the Lehigh Valley to watch a movie, back past Brooklyn Heights where slaves built the foundation of Plymouth Church, onto Williamsburg waterskiing past the Domino Sugar Factory and finally onto Newtown Creek with its “15 feet of mayonnaise” at the bottom consisting of all the pollution, oil and metals waste dumped there over the years? I close my eyes and imagine all our sites connected by water, and in a way they are… All on the water. Would you rather be at the St. George having a smart cocktail or working on heavy industry along the creek in Greenpoint? Or at the Brooklyn Historical Society wondering if slaves had helped construct that building as well? Who built the foundations of modern New York and how were the materials delivered? Most likely along the waterfront. How has the water’s edge changed over the centuries in New York and what’s along the water’s edge now. New Yorkers are embracing the waterfront in ways that couldn’t have been imagined even 40 years ago. They want to be near the water’s edge to experience the city, framed by water reflecting on the skyline. How does being close to the water’s edge change our experience of the city? Both being in it and observing it. It is profoundly different when we’re at the water’s edge and creates a new perspective and conversation.
How does being on or in the water change our perspective of the shore and the city? Much as the view from the Brooklyn Bridge is different than the view “of” the Brooklyn Bridge. It all depends on where you’re standing and your viewpoint. Take a moment to contemplate and experience life from the water’s edge. Go ahead jump in and take a swim the water’s a perfect temperature!
Balloons and the Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge as an international icon was made clear yesterday by our two dynamic presenters and a walk across the bridge itself. Monumental. The view “from” the bridge and the view “of” the bridge from below allow two different conversations and perspectives. Spectacular. The Brooklyn side of the bridge is anchored in bedrock while the Manhattan tower side has 30 feet of sand as a foundation, then bedrock. John Roebling based his decision to not dig deeper on some sound calculations and evidently it worked out!
Domino Sugar Factory on East River Williamsburg
As Craig Wilder spoke about the role of slaves in building 19th century New York I thought of the Domino Sugar Factory and wondered if slaves had helped build the foundation there as they had at many schools and churches. How much free/slave labor went into Brooklyn industries? What was the role of slaves? Huge most likely. Slaves arrived via the water and escaped on the water via the underground railroad. Water and sugar. Sugar and the shore. Previously I hadn’t thought about all the physical toil, absent modern machinery, that it would have taken to build 19th Century buildings. Plymouth Church opened my eyes and started me thinking.
Aboard the Mary Whalen with Carolina
The Mary Whalen and the Lehigh Valley. One made of steel and the other of wood. Both painted red. Two strong willed personalities living in Brooklyn on their respective boats. Carolina greets Along the Shore participants at the gate of American Stevedoring in Red Hook Brooklyn and we make our way to the deck of the tanker Mary A. Whalen. Carolina, a former journalist who created photographic essays for magazines, now lives on board the Mary Whalen and is its caretaker. She is a strong willed and independent personality wearing red, white and blue striped pants and a red bandana to keep her hair back. At one point in the presentation she dons yellow and black glasses to read from a handout. Her unique floating home looks out to Governor’s Island and the Manhattan skyline. Carolina is at once strong and vulnerable as she tells the story of late-night visitor who surprised her on her boat while she slept in her bedroom. While the visit was completely innocent she now keeps the door locked at night. The boat rocks gently as we listen and tour the galley, engine room and captain’s quarters of the tanker.
David Sharps lives on board the Lehigh Valley just across from Fairway Supermarket on Red Hook pier. He’s a juggler and entertainer who now shares the boat with his wife and family. The story of the boat’s history came to life through his powerpoint presentation and narration.
These two strong personalities came to represent the life that is existing Along the Shore in Brooklyn. Just like their boats these souls anchor an independent existence in Brooklyn. They are quite possibly the two furthest things from a generic experience one can have. Engaging and full of life these two channel an independent strength of character that is both engaging and powerful and far from the mainstream 9-5 life. The word maverick comes to mind. In a generic globalized world meeting these two people made me feel better about the world and the people who live in it. Or at the very least two people who chose the road less traveled and are the better for it. An inspiring story.
Where do New Yorkers meet the water? How do they interact with the water? The end of physical land and beginning of dreams floating on water. Tangible examples of what makes New York unique and the strength of individual character.
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