Tag Archives: Manhattan

My own personal cherry tree

may not be the biggest or the buffest, but it is the best because I see it outside my office window every day.

It grows outside the municipal building in our village. I’ve been looking forward to the moment it blooms.

The cherry trees are not the only ones to boast the perfection of spring – window box planters down the street are filled with blooms so perfect they look like they’re not even real.

Why is it that trees that weep make us happy? Weeping willows, weeping beeches. I know that it is the pendulant cherry trees which I like the best.

In Branch Brook Park, in Newark, New Jersey, 5,200 white and pink trees burst into bloom at approximately the same time in April. That’s more than they have in D.C., and quite a bit closer to home, so we thought we’d go for a look. First, fortify with a “belly buster” hot dog from JJ’s food truck, the finest New Jersey has to offer in that department.

Clouds of blossoms appear everywhere you look. The park received its first cherry trees, called sakura in Japan, as a gift in 1927.

Branch Brook is an urban park. Roads cut through it, creating an interesting counterpoint between the natural, graceful trees and the hard-edged automotive energy. Reminds me of Central Park in Manhattan, probably because the hills and dales and automotive conduits were designed by Olmsted Brothers, the successors to Frederick Law Olmsted, the genius behind Central Park’s greenscapes.

Picnics under every tree. The Japanese call the practice of imbibing under a blooming sakura hanam, and the tradition goes back centuries, to the Heian period (794–1185).

Part of the modern tradition, posing for pictures.

Quilts of dandelions dot the lawns.

If you look closely, what I consider perhaps the cherry tree’s best feature: Its lenticel-scored bark. That’s how it breathes.

Cherry trees are not universally cherished.

I knew that protesters had chained themselves to cherry trees in a park on the lower east side, on Manhattan’s East River, so I went to have a look. NYC is shoring up the edge of the island to make it more flood-resistant, to the tune of $1.4 billion, and the sakuras, among others, would have to go. This conflict has to do with what needs to be taken away to achieve the city’s goal. Protesters are having none of it.

Taking the footbridge over the FDR to Corlears Hook Park,  I saw the classic sneakers hung over a wire –a practice whose meaning has been disputed. Gang activity, loss of virginity, mere hijinks?

In this case, it did not indicate anything positive. Everything had been bulldozed, everything was gone.

Early Saturday morning, a pair of protesters were charged with criminal trespass and obstructing governmental administration. The city plans to cut down 1,000 trees for the project. The irony of cutting down trees to fight climate change was not lost on protesters. It’s a tough call, certainly.

Back home, my own personal tree, the weeping sakura, though small, stood tall.

I felt fortunate that it wasn’t going anyplace anytime soon.

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Spring, season of music and madness,

is here. And magic. Trees are still budding out, but in planters on the street flowers bloom.

At Hekate, a “sober bar” on Manhattan’s lower east side, there is a little of all three.

The music is the band Maputi, with Nora Balaban on the mbira, Banning Eyre on guitar and Rima Fand playing violin. Traditional Zimbabwean rhythms, lulling, hypnotic. Trance music.

The magic, served up by a witchy wench of a bartender, consists of elixirs designed to elevate your mood.

I find The Healer refreshing enough to quaff in one gulp: Apothekary’s Blue Me Away, lemonade, seltzer and lavender simple syrup. Don’t try this at home. Or if you do, make sure you invite me over.

The madness? That would come at 1 pm, 7 days a week, when the wannabe druids “gather to listen to the trees” at Corlears Hook Park on the East River. “They are smarter than us! They have been here longer!”

But is that really so crazy? I’d like to join the assembly with a Healer in a thermos and Maputi rocking my earbuds.

Spring. It’s here.

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Kissing and strolling

once went hand in hand on Manhattan, especially on bridges. For a long time iIt was even considered especially good manners for a gentleman to kiss a lady while on a bridge. (“What happened on the bridge stays on the bridge”)

Reverend Mr. Burnaby, quoted in New York’s Morning Chronicle on April 19, 1803, said, “it is the etiquette for every gentleman in company with a lady to salute his fair companion when upon it.”

There were multiple Kissing Bridges because there were dozens of springs and brooks all over Manhattan that people and coaches and horses and carts had to cross.

At one point in our city’s history, ladies could expect to fetch up a kiss at the bridge at 32nd Street just west of Fifth Avenue,at 33rd Street and Lexington Avenue over Kip’s Run, 54th Street and First Avenue, and 50th Street and Second Avenue.

The custom stretched back before the American Revolution judging by an advertisement in the Weekly Museum in 1797, looking for a tenant for the season of a 10-acre lot “through which the Kissing bridge brook runs.”

The well-researched Hidden Waters of New York City, by Sergei Kadinsky, tells us that in an earlier century, even, kissing bridges were common, over bodies of water that had names like Old Wreck Book, Sunfish Pond and De Voor’s Mill Stream.

Does anyone else have a “comfort century” the way people now keep “comfort animals”? Mine would be the seventeen century.

I think you can tell how verdant and stream-flushed Manhattan might have been in those days if you look at what’s called The Castello Plan, a famous copy of the first street map of the island, drawn in 1660. As the city grew more developed, it seemed, kissing on bridges grew less important. Perhaps with more buildings, people found more private places to smooch.

Let’s think. What bridges are there now in and around Manhattan? You can visit the many bow bridges of Central Park, over one hundred, every one of which was designed by Calvert Vaux. Walkers throng the Brooklyn Bridge, which the last time I was there seemed weighed down by the padlocks that were hung as amorous tributes, with the key thrown into the drink a gesture toward the infinity of the couple’s love, but since cut off by the City). There’s Brooklyn, George Washington, and more, and a little farther up out of town, where I live, the Tap. Each of these could be repurposed as a kissing bridge, if we only had the romantic will.

Let’s try.

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