“Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans…” John Lennon, 1980.
The hotel was a modest affair, small lobby, small rooms, but always busy, and crowded at peak hours. Set in a long line of high rises and indistinguishable from the street, the well-worn hotel is average for the city. But location is everything and it’s the spot on the block that counts. Out the front door and half a block to the left, and Central Park beckons. To the left again and my sidewalk route is bordered by a long line of Gotham City iron works at its best, all in black, of course. Gargoyles peer out from a fence framework wrapped in dragons that extends around the base of the prominent Dakota Building. As part of my favorite walking circuit in NYC, I cross the street that runs between the Dakota and Central Park, and pay homage to Strawberry Fields close by, as I always do when in the Big Apple.
The monument to John Lennon is simple in design but powerful in meaning and in its reach through generations. Three wide sidewalks of Central Park converge on a circle, and set in the center of the foot traffic roundabout is a tiled mosaic, round and flush to the concrete, with one undying word spelled out in its center—“Imagine”.
As could be expected, there is always a guitar strummer singing that song from one of the many park benches lining the sidewalks here; “Imagine all the people, living life in peace”. Sometimes one can hear a mix of other Lennon-Beatle melodies as well, and the many visitors keep his coffer full.
The ubiquitous street musicians of New York are everywhere and usually a delightful addition to the cityscape. A favorite on this visit was a one- man junk- band that I happened across with my wife and New York family, well beneath the sidewalks at the Columbus Circle subway station. Along with much clanging and clatter, various melodies emerged from this cornucopia of sound as we stood in audience.
Circling around sidewalks and city streets on a later outing, my route brought me back to that everyday hotel close to Central Park. As I prepared to embark from the lobby on the elevator, one of the Latino hotel workers joined me. As the door closed with no other passengers, he began singing a seemingly personalized jingle– “There is a distance between us” dah dah dah, to which I humorously quipped back, “yea, there’s a lot of distance between here and the fourth floor where I am going!” Ignoring my friendly response, he again repeated the same refrain over and over in a somber tone until I jumped off at my floor. “There is a distance between us”— neither he nor I had any idea just how prophetic those words would become in a few short months. However, his lyrical message had nothing to do with social distancing, a term that did not exist at the time. What was the basis of his message, directed at me in sobering stanzas? It seemed obvious that the “distance between us” was an ethnic- racial reference.
But he did not know me. He did not know of my life long Spanish “brother” that began from a high school foreign exchange. He did not know that I was not a tourist here to take selfies at the top of the Empire State Building or in Times Square. He did not know that I was only here to visit my daughter, son-in-law, and their children at their apartment 2 blocks away, and he did not know that they both work tirelessly on behalf of the under privileged and abused peoples worldwide as careerists in the United Nations.
Besides riding on their successful shoulders in my many visits to the city that they are proud to call home, I have made my own in-roads into the art world of this beating heart of culture. Twice I have exhibited my work in the area’s only wildlife art museum found a short distance outside the metropolitan environs, and I am currently an exhibiting member of Manhattan Arts International.
As a member of the Artists for Conservation Foundation, I was awarded a grant for an artistic field study of rare or endangered wildlife in their habitat. A month long study of the world’s only freshwater seal in the remote reaches of Lake Baikal, Russia, ensued, and from that study came sculptures of the seals. That brought me to the New York areas wildlife art museum. A bronze seal that I created was exhibited in the annual “Art of Conservation” international art exhibition at the Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum, a short distance outside of New York City. Part of the opening night reception of the exhibit was a slide show presentation and my review of the artistic field study on Lake Baikal.
Back in the city, also during the opening weekend of the art exhibition, an inside tour of the American Museum of Natural History was arranged and hosted by the director of art exhibits and dioramas, who is also a member of Artists for Conservation. Many wildlife artists attending the exhibition opening were treated to behind the scenes work creating and maintaining the wonderful wildlife dioramas for which the museum is well renowned.
Another day and I find another opportunity to wander New York City sidewalks. Looking out over the streets from my daughter’s apartment window, a stately and monolithic appearing building has piqued my curiosity. Five floors down the elevator and I am off to explore this building and its neighborhood.
The historic structure, once a grand hotel, now seemed to be ground floor businesses and upper story apartments. However, the wide and elegant original lobby passed through the base of the wide building, and in the center were some interesting display cases reflecting the history of the former hotel. In the center case, baseballs were displayed. Baseballs? Well, not just any baseballs, these were autographed by Babe Ruth! According to some old letters also displayed, this was his favorite New York hotel, and other letters, photos and various memorabilia also attested to his games and stats and visits to the hotel.
I loop across Broadway and down Amsterdam Avenue back towards the apartment and find it refreshing to funnel into the constant street side motion, the movement of people fueled by their daily desires. Crossing the street I pass by the Beacon, one of New York’s magic music halls. Glancing up at the marquee, Bob Dylan’s name jumps out, due to perform in a week.
From Babe Ruth to Bob Dylan, from one sidewalk to the other—only while exploring the footpaths of New York City.
Where on Earth?! New York, New York, January 2020