Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I Know a Place

This summer, back in Israel for the first time in three years, I visited in Jerusalem with an architect friend who is similarly fascinated with the mix of buildings, history and culture. After coffee in a retro café that used to be a bakery we explored the city at night, first on foot and then by car. Do you have time to stop? He asked. Of course I answered. We parked and paused at a lookout, below the road and reached by a small flight of stone steps, a balcony with a serene view of the modern city, the ancient city above at our backs. Jerusalem lights are modest by comparison to my home town; its buildings are low and its streets quite silent in the dark. We looked on in our own silence for a moment. How could you ever leave? I asked. We held another pause, heavy with love of place. My friend let out a soft sigh. You hit it exactly he admitted with a knowing laugh. He was about to embark on a months-long visit abroad.
Before I left for Israel in June I ventured down to the Meat Packing District, determined to see the High Line (www.thehighline.org) the week it opened, despite the rain that plagued the city for most of the month. It was love at first step, somewhat surprisingly. I had followed the evolution of the project from early on, skeptical even while intrigued by it. Years ago I went to Grand Central Terminal to see an exhibition of proposed designs for the site’ one was a fanciful swimming pool. I love my island, alternate universe that it is, and know more of its nooks and crannies than many of my fellow denizens, although I recognize the large band of New Yorkers who proudly display and share their knowledge of their own personalized city kingdoms. The High Line offered everyone the opportunity to journey to the new and magical within this beloved and well-traversed landscape. What a gift. I have been back a dozen or so times, to take in the views and show them to various visitors and friends. It is my favorite new spot, a landmark of 2009; I wanted to claim that I knew it well as soon as possible and have others equally in the know.
There are many unexpected, detailed pleasures to take in. One of my favorite elements is the combination of the commanding view of the Hudson with the more intimate peeks into the surrounding buildings; it reminds me a little of the odd balance of scale that one experienced from the outdoor deck of the World Trade Center. I also love standing at the point were the path turns parallel on 10th Avenue. Looking north one sees a long view up the Avenue while looking back south one can catch a perfect glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. The neighborhood is a great mix of New York’s old and new, the gritty outdated industrial markers adjacent to and intermingled with shiny new design and fashion outposts. Most delightful is the anticipation of the next stages of the project, with further stretches of the path expected to open in the next few years - as if one needed such a reason to keep coming back.
I grew up on the Upper West Side and more particularly in Riverside Park. The Hudson is one of my oldest landscape memories and it never leaves me, even when I neglect it. The streets and hills of Jerusalem are as well and do the same. The best places do that I think: they stay lodged within us even when we force ourselves away in order to have the adventures of our lives. Somewhere within we are always anchored by the vistas that shaped us. When we yearn for those places or wonder if they have changed we can at least visit in our mind’s eye.

©2009 Leah Strigler


Lucy said...

Yes, the High Line is shockingly wonderful, isn't it? Beautifully written post, again!

chayaruchama said...

Yes, even if they alter-
As they have inevitably altered US-
We can revisit them mentally, and emotionally.

Wonderfully said, sister mine !

A few years ago, my beloved DH made the error of double-tasking a planned trip-
And took me back to my childhood 'home', without asking first.

I walked with nightscape feet, as if in the Dreamtime, no longer possessed by my own spirit.

My mind guided my limbs back in time over 40 years....

The mind and the body remember the landscape, even if it is the landscape of tears.

Ask Leah said...

All too true, and a good explanation for why memorials are so important.