Special Entry – Post-break
(click for detail)
Saturday June 13, 2020
Saturday morning, I heard a gas-powered push lawn mower. Wondering where I am— without having left the island in five months—continues. The sound was from the front yard of The First Presbyterian Church on Fifth Avenue, just south of 12th Street.
I was heading to Washington Square Park to do a bit of work, eat a rhubarb pastry I got at the market, and drink tea from my thermos. The wait to enter the market was very short, and I was reminded (not that I had forgotten) that buying food directly from the people who produce it, without packaging, is distinctly enjoyable.
At noon a few guys were already playing jazz. Protesters rallied around the massive stone arch, which was originally built by a private citizen and his friends who lived across the street to honor the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration as president. The temporary monument was popular enough to become permanent, redesigned by Stanford White as a Roman Triumphal Arch and realized with white marble quarried up the Hudson. One of the large static stone statues of George Washington that is part of the arch was made by Alexander S. Calder, father of Alexander Calder who is often credited with inventing the mobile. Comparing the sculptures of the father to his son is as good a definition of change as I can think of.
The cops, as per the pattern of the last week, have moved further out of sight. They were in their cars, motors running and lights flashing, parked a few blocks north of the church along the west side of Fifth Avenue. It would take barely a noisy minute for them to arrive.
I perched on a comfortable south-facing wooden bench with thick slats worn smooth by use. To my left, a young woman (more than six feet away) from India was frowning and absorbed in her phone. Beyond her, there was a small group of young women chatting amongst themselves.
A guy with pale pink do-rag tied tightly and trailing down his back approached the young women with his black mask tucked under his chin. One woman popped up with her mask on her arm, they hugged. It was quick—only three percent awkward, nearly old normal. The man then shook hands with the other chatting women.
He stood and spoke with them until a second guy appeared. He wore two masks—a black one directly over a lighter one. There was no hugging or touching as he greeted the group. He was dressed in a dark suit—not something one usually sees in the park. Suits are less and less common in New York as the decades pass. More unusual was that the sleeves of his jacket terminated at least six inches above his wrists. Several inches of white oxford sleeve were visible beyond the stiff cuffs.
Later, as he turned to leave with the others, I saw his white necktie. Dark glasses and masks reduced my chance to guess where he was from, but I enjoyed watching his animated old-style wired earphones bobbing around his ears. There is always a lot to see in the park, and in this city.
Pardon me; it has taken so long to simply say that spring break is over. I wanted to set the current scene a bit.
The break passed both quickly and slowly—as time typically passes. Since the “special entry-mid” sent on May 28, things in America have changed again. This new change is as significant as when the pandemic arrived. The last weeks of March, brought more change more quickly than I have seen in my whole life. It seems impossible it could happen again, like having two “hundred year” storms in the same season.
With only a little distance we can see that everything is connected. I am not sure that this most recent motion toward change could have happened without the first chapter. In Japanese archery it is said that the release of the first arrow clears the space, reducing obstacles for what is to follow.
The Covid Entries will pick up where they left off after April 12th, barely one month into the pandemic’s grip on the city. It may almost seem quaint to look back at that time now.
In the last two weeks, I have continued documenting the boarding-up of storefronts in Manhattan, with an emphasis on Soho. The speed at which the boarding was taking place increased dramatically over four days in early June. A truly vast amount of plywood appeared in this city and in many other cities around the country. That is a lot of trees. Not long ago, they were alive, standing in a forest. They were cut by machine and trucked to mills where they were peeled (not unlike the precious rolls of toilet paper) into continuous bands of wood. These wooden ribbons were cut into pieces, stacked with glue between each piece, clamped, cured, and trimmed to become engineered wood — wood that can do what other wood cannot.
Today, Saturday, June 13, the majority of the plywood-covered storefronts—both decorated and plain—are still in place a week after the curfew was lifted by our “progressive mayor” by tweet.
The landscape changes daily; a few pieces of plywood come down while others are painted and repainted. Fliers announcing FREE plywood removal appeared and then were partially peeled off – not defaced. Within the last 24 hours, I noticed that the PG version of Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People” on Spring Street was gone. Painted over, just as Lady Liberty was painted over her predecessor—a large, black, possibly spray-painted, tag. That was in mid-May. The pumpkin curry-colored ground which Kendra Scott’s team chose probably set the tone for all that has followed. (Photos below.)
Covid-19 is expanding its presence across the country; nearly half of the states are showing an increased number of cases—some dramatic. About 800 people are dying each day. It’s hard to believe that 800 is the same number of people who were dying every day back in April, all within the 300 square miles of this city.
During our short break and this second change, the NASDAQ hit a new record high, surpassing even the cool February days when unemployment was below 5%. It is now being reported more definitively that, when the weather turns cooler, the pandemic will gain strength. We will see what other long-ignored issues may arise to take center stage—several possibilities wait in the wings.
Sooner than that, we will see if the protesting—with its sometimes dense groups (many in NYC wore masks) will lead to a new surge of cases. Or if the warm weather, which has turned some downtown sidewalks into non-distancing outdoor clubs, will affect the number of people who get sick. There is a lot of pent-up energy in the population.
The entries will resume on Friday with #27 on the new four-day cycle. In between we may send images from the “curfew period” and its aftermath. We will start this week by updating the “Easter Gallery,” with pictures taken after the curfew was lifted.