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August 22, 2018


Thank you for these glimpses into your life and so many lives. What an unexpected strong upwelling of emotion as I read your post and looked closely at your photos. My father traveled from Minnesota to New York City and back with his father in the 1930s, when my father has just finished high school. My father brought my mother and me to see New York City in 1982 when I was 32 years old and had just finished college. Thank you so much for this reminder of how so many of us are connected through time and poetry and place.

Very beautiful, moving post, Beth. I was right there with you on that ferry.

This IS a beautiful post, Beth. It's interesting that you're reflecting on New York's timelessness rather than the characteristics, like energy, that people usually associate with the place.

Wonderful post and gloriously melancholy photos,Beth. Did you visit Teju and Karen in Brooklyn? That was such a great encounter (how many years ago?) when we all met up there for the first time.

I remember various arrivals in and departures from New York harbor by ocean liner from and to Europe, back in those days. Always a thrill. Airports and airplanes never ever provide that kind of thrill.

Ckassic Cassandra, dear Beth. Beautiful and illuminating.

Kia Ora Beth.... Ataahua e hoa! Your moments, words, and observations blended around Mr. Whitman. Perfect.

This is so beautiful, Beth. Thank you.

I arrived by propellor-driven plane, courtesy Icelandic Airlines (very cheap), but my wife and daughter arrived four months later by boat (ship would be more nautically correct) since she was bringing our possessions to the New World. Both were delighted to be stepping on to the US alive. The huge ship, the United States, had been ravaged by storms mid-Atlantic, the ship's bridge had been smashed by monster waves and the passengers - who included Gunter Grass - had been forced to help man the damaged vessel. My wife was very, very seasick.

But their travails were not over. The New York docks were on strike and there was no one to manage the two big trunks. Nor was there anything to eat down by the docks. My four-year-old daughter proved to be the saving grace: in a loud voice she said she hated America and wanted to go home. Even in hard-nosed New York citizens can be touched and a passerby mobilised a family member with his pick-up who transported my woebegone relations to the hotel I had booked.

Six years later we returned to the Old World. The children (we'd added one in the interim) went ahead by plane, supervised by a stewardess hired for the occasion. Our possessions had multiplied and included a car; my wife and I were compelled to go by ship. Another large ocean greyhound, the SS France, making its last transatlantic crossing and destined for the breaker's yard. The logistics of getting all this stuff aboard left me completely exhausted, beyond Walt Whitman or any other poet. Unable to reflect on what I'd learned in this very foreign country I was leaving behind. I stood on deck, wholly knackered, as the France made for the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Then I became uneasy. Surely the ship's mast was going to foul the underside of the bridge. Should I tell someone? In fact I was too tired to accept this imaginary responsibility. The ship glided east, cleared the bridge and a new part of my life began.

All things being equal I'd say you chose the better, more civilised marine option.

(I am not sure why an earlier comment failed to show up.) This beautiful post reminds me of the maritime aspect of New York City, one that is so easily lost amid the canyons cast by skyscrapers. Some visitors never see the river, let alone the ocean. Yet it is in the air, and when I get on the water, I am always moved and much closer to its history.

Lovely piece. Conjures up much of what I feel when I spend time at the water's edge in Brooklyn at our local Bush Terminal Park, and is beautifully blended with Whitman's reflections.

AM: Thank you for your comment. I'm glad this post seems to have stirred a lot of memories for different people, and appreciate hearing about your experiences and those of your father. We are connected through time and place - as Whitman wrote so eloquently.

Thanks, Martine.

Hi Peter -- well, from that distance, you don't feel the energy as much as a sense of coming and going, and with the Statue of Liberty and the changed skyline of lower Manhattan, there are a lot of associations and questions about what people must have felt seeing this particular view. I don't think the harbor is quite as bustling as when Whitman was alive, certainly not with small boats. It was actually pretty quiet and reflective to be on that Brooklyn pier.

Thanks, Natalie. Yes, we were with Karen but TC was in Norway. And I agree - it's not at all the same entering New York from the highway or air.

Thanks Dick, Robb, Rachel.

Robbie, thanks for yet another great story. I feel for your wife and daughter on their totally non-auspicious arrival after such a harrowing voyage! And for you, leaving so exhausted. I've never had the slightest desire to cross the ocean by ship, in fact I find the prospect rather frightening, and I have a tendency to get seasick. A ferry I can usually handle, though when they go very far into open ocean I take some dramamine!

Duchesse, sorry you had trouble commenting - I don't know why that happens form time to time. I agree -- many people never think of NYC as a major port or consider how close the ocean is, though most visitors do cross into it via a bridge or tunnel. But the coming and going are tied to its history, as you say. Thanks for this comment.

Brita, thank you - I'm glad to hear form someone who lives nearby and visits that pier often. And I'm grateful that what I wrote feels appropriate to you, since you know it so much better than I do. Thanks for writing.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.