It's always a pleasure to revisit the JP Morgan Library in Manhattan. Their priceless collections of Egyptian art, Renaissance paintings, Rembrandt sketches and Chinese porcelains to the soaring library itself never cease to inspire.
One of their current exhibitions (ends May, 2021) is a smartly-curated David Hockney show, "Drawing From Life." Aside from superb self-portraits, these works record Hockney's encounters -- over decades -- with four people very close to him: his mom Laura, London designer Celia Birtwell, lover & later his curator, Gregory Evans and print-maker Maurice Payne.
It's a powerful statement on the passing of time, of his willing sitters and Hockney's deep relationships with them.
When asked to sit for him later in her life, Celia protested. "I'm not sure, I'll look so old." To which Hockney replied, "Well, Celia, you're going to be painted by an old man, after all!"
Having a home in Pennsylvania as well as New York City, I know my vote would be better served in a swing state like PA. But, as longtime rent stabilized New Yorkers, we're unable to give up New York citizenship.
That said, today was our early voting adventure day in NYC -- a seriously dreary, cold, rainy pre-Halloween day. The experience reminded me why I love this country and why I will always love this City. Ghost Town my ass, Trump.
Our plan was to get to the Lincoln Center early voting site at 7:00am. We knew we had failed when we woke up at 8:30am. By then we needed some breakfast first. The rain was falling hard, but we found a place that had an awning and made camp. As we ate, the wind suddenly picked up, our masks blew off the table and the awning's ample reservoir of rain water sprayed over us.
We decided it was time to go vote.
We got to the site and found a line that wrapped around the entire block with seemingly no end in site. One of the enduring wonders of the City are those omnipresent Sidewalk Sheds -- temporary metal-and-wood structures that can sometimes feel creepy to walk under, and are absolutely everywhere. They aren’t pretty, but they do perform the important function of protecting pedestrians from crumbling building facades and other construction hazards above.
But even better, they are a godsend when it's dark & stormy. The entire city block was pretty much all under cover, making our wait far more intimate and dry -- no umbrella's needed!
The vibe was pure New York. The poll watchers were friendly, supportive and helpful. They knew how long the wait would be as we moved slowly forward and were very encouraging as the wind swept over us all. They also kept thanking us all for voting. The feeling of excitement, of doing something uniquely important and perhaps even historic started to creep over us.
The line was approaching another corner for us to turn, and it was a particularly dramatic wind-chilly moment in our 45 minutes-to-date wait. I was beginning to wonder if this was all worth it. We turned the corner to hear some '50's music. There, under the Sidewalk Shed, outside P.J. Clarke's restaurant, was a huge vintage jukebox and a long table decorated for Halloween with huge steaming urns of homemade hot chocolate (with marshmallows) -- and -- bags full of chocolate chip cookies! Not only was it all free, but the servers were young, adorable and they thanked us again for making the effort to vote.
I Love New York.
Our wait was just over an hour. When we got to the entrance door we were welcomed to the Emerald City at long last. Literally! We were told to follow the Yellowbrick Road once inside and all would be explained.
Inside, everything was amazingly managed and capably staffed. We had our "Fast Pass Tags" with us (we got them in the mail) with their scan-able bar codes, which efficiently sped up the registration process. We received our ballots, and filled them out in privacy booths. Seeing the Biden / Harris category was an emotional moment for us both. The pain and anger of the damage done to our democracy over the past four years flashed over me with a chill far more unpleasant than the dank weather outside.
And then, we went over to the many scanning stations to record our votes. We proudly popped on our WE VOTED EARLY stickers and snazzy rubber wrist bands. The rain had picked up yet again, but we both felt considerably warmer now and more impervious to the weather. We told the folks waiting on line it was well worth the wait, to hang in there -- buck up, there's hot chocolate around the next corner!
New York City, in times like these, really does feel like like One Big Community, one where we truly believe we are in this together. New Yorkers are a unique and diverse group, but when we need to rally, we always do.
In all my many years voting in NYC, I have never felt such an all-encompassing sense of urgency, camaraderie and emotion. There was another feeling rattling around in my head, one that I fought hard not to consciously feel. But, superstition be damned, I let it in. I felt something I hadn't felt once in any of the past four years.
I felt optimistic.
Michael and I returned to New York City from Chile on March 18th, 2020. We had landed there two weeks prior to two Il Chiostro workshops (painting & photography) that were to begin with a group of 26 people. I have previously posted about how we watched from afar as the virus quickly spread across the Northeast USA. Santiago was as-yet untouched -- it felt like a dark cloud was heading our way, but the storm had not yet hit us. It still felt normal there, in the old-fashioned sense.
As if we were trapped in a surreal alternate reality bubble, we continued to wrestle with whether the arts programs could still go on somehow. What was so disconcerting to us was that our bigger daily concern had been the ongoing student street demonstrations that were semi-violent at times...
But, finally, we realized that even if we could get the participants to Santiago, we very well might not be able to get them home! After that, things began to implode very rapidly -- and then, the Chilean President threatened to close the borders. We got the last plane out...
...direct to JFK Airport. Upon arrival, there was NO health check, NO temperature-taking, NO questions asked at Customs about where we'd been! NOTHING AT ALL. We were truly shocked, and were no longer surprised at how this virus had infiltrated the USA in plain sight. The very same day we arrived, we decided to get the hell out of Dodge and escape to Bucks County. We got the last (only) bus out at 4PM that day. It was near-empty, if sparkling clean. Bus service was ended completely a few days later.
Four months later, we cautiously came back to New York for the first time since that strangely-rushed pass through. Most of our medical doctors are still in the City, and all of our appointments from earlier in the year had been cancelled.
I have to say I was not prepared emotionally for my first encounter with the City I grew up in. I had been girded somewhat by news reports and from some friends about the eerie quietness, the attempts by some struggling restaurants to create a degree of outdoor dining normalcy and other retail store unsteady baby steps.
One of my doctors is located on First Avenue and 32nd Street. I decided I needed to walk home (to West 73rd Street/CPW), to drink in and photograph a diverse and objective glimpse of the current New York City pulse on a sunny, hot summer day, July 16, 2020.
What struck me immediately was the palpable lack of energy on the streets. There were people everywhere (99% were thankfully masked outdoors), and there was a decent amount of street traffic. But something was missing. That people-watching edge was masked, literally; people were not making eye contact; even with masks, they were moving away, not pushing forward. There was an unsatisfying, forced business-as-usual attitude that rang hollow and false. There was a sense of a distinct complacent sadness in the air, sunshine be damned.
I was then taken aback at how few businesses had returned to a comfortable sense of normalcy. Starbucks was a completely reinvented get in/get out experience; restaurants have built various-sized outdoor cafe areas (many covered) in former on-street parking spaces. Most of these did not give me any socially-distant comfort levels. Times Square was a distressing midday ghost town, and walking by all the shuttered theaters, I looked inside only to see one familiar theater lobby after another collecting cobwebs, peeling signs on the windows stating expired dates for a hopeful Broadway reopening... Oh, and a totally empty TKTS Booth -- its electronic sign a blank slate -- heartbreaking.
After a bit of peripheral musing, I had to admit to myself that there were an unusual number of homeless folks on the streets. Then...of course! All the homeless shelters across Manhattan and beyond have been closed due to the virus. Everyone is on their own.
On an up note, I was deeply uplifted walking up Fifth Avenue to view the (very popular) Black Lives Matter monument situated right in front of Trump Tower -- a forever bitch slap to our racist regime. May it keep him and his spawn away from New York City for evermore!
I so want to believe New York City will be back to as close to 'The Old Normal' as is possible. However, with the disgraceful lack of any national strategy, hence the virus spinning wildly out of control in other areas across our country, I fear NYC may not be out of the danger zone indefinitely. Rather, it runs a high risk of being dragged back into the fray by a regime that wants a healthy economy at the expense of safeguarding children and maintaining the health of American citizens...
I started this blog as a way to better document my travel photography adventures. This particular trip back home to Manhattan was so emotionally jarring because it felt like I was visiting a new, far less familiar place! New York City was not exactly what I had in mind to explore and rediscover four months ago.
In any case, here are a few more photographic documents of New York City in July, 2020, in The Year of Our Covid.
Stay safe, healthy, and, remain hopeful!
Those who know me from social media sites like Facebook know well that I tend to have opinions on just about all things happening in our world today. As an avid travel photographer, I get great satisfaction taking friends on the journey with me. A picture may indeed be worth a thousand words, but my driving philosophy is that words contribute a richer, more personal depth to imagery. It probably says a lot that I do not Tweet; it's far too easy to spend more time counting your words than focusing on their breadth and depth.
I have been thrilled and encouraged that followers have expressed an ongoing interest in following my photographic work (travel or daily life) and in reading my social posts.
While I try to keep my subject matter well-rounded, there is no doubt my posts are colored by today's twisted political scene, evolving world events and their impact on the world as I see it.
For me, writing is a highly enjoyable, therapeutic form of expression; communicating with those who agree, disagree or remain somewhere in between is equally important in today's divided landscape. My mantra is that you can easily under-communicate, but you can never over-communicate...
So, please join me -- when you're up for it -- for some photographic journeys, personal observations and an open, positively charged two-way dialog! Comments are encouraged and welcome.
Me on the top of Te Mata, a breathtaking mountain in Hawke's Bay, New Zealand.
I'm born and bred in New York City but have a cool log home to escape to in Upper Black Eddy, PA.