Monday, April 6th, 2020
Week four of a pretty different life for many. New York City has transformed from the wonderful chaos of a Joan Mitchell or Jackson Pollack painting to the minimal order of an Agnes Martin or Barnett Newman.
Wisconsin postponed the date of its primary election twenty hours before Election Day.
The lack of planning in the US continues to impress me, as it has for decades. Today, the NY governor said the state now has enough ventilators, but, for the first time, I heard that there is “an unprecedented demand for pharmaceuticals.” Apparently, most people on ventilators also need to be sedated, typically for many days. Ventilators, ventilators, ventilators was all we heard for weeks. How did the people in charge not make the obvious connection to the need for drugs? Certainly not a team of experienced doctors at the helm. As a nation, we have come to either hate or distrust knowledge, science, and experience.
At 10:30, after another very full day of work, I went for a walk. Soho, sometimes called the Cast Iron District, is a delightful place to stroll after dark. As a building material cast iron is not as fireproof as masonry, but it is quick to assemble and comes ready-made with columns and ornamentation. Before steel became widely available, cast iron allowed for bigger spans — more open space.
A century after cast iron dominated, ragtag art dealers were attracted to the lingering open spaces. After they made money and moved out, the panache of a former arts district lured the design and fashion worlds; over several decades Soho turned into a “destination.” The cast iron facades allowed openings for huge sheets of glass which would have been unimaginable when these buildings were built, but are perfect for first world fashions houses.
I walk more slowly in Soho than other parts of town because there is so much to see here. The buildings are handsome, more differentiated than brownstone or brick townhouses. Underfoot many of the sidewalks are impossibly huge, thick slabs of light colored stone. The streets are paved with cobblestone, offering an additional taste of a time before concrete — the material of modern cities. If that is not enough to look at, the expansive interiors are well lit and alluring.
I heard cars in the distance, but I did not see one moving at any point during my entire walk. The warm evening air was welcome—soothing, almost reassuring. After about ten minutes, I saw a young couple walking their dog: the first humans I’d seen.
The experience of being in this city, especially at night, continues to startle me. It’s like looking into your refrigerator—a familiar place—and finding it to be totally empty. Not low on food, like it is time to go to the store, but empty. Not one egg, no leftovers, and no soy sauce.
But your view is not into a new refrigerator—it is still the refrigerator you know. There might be a jar of capers parked on the door, or some exotic oil in the back that you never figured out how to use. The stuff that never moves is there. The scene is fully recognizable, yet changed. It is the same place and a different place.