Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Downtown, where the food is slop...

After attending some events at the Tribeca Film Festival this afternoon, I walked back along Chambers St. with a small crowd, mostly consisting of parents with kids and strollers, and we all know that parents with kids and strollers walk slow, and of course I GOT SOMEPLACE TO GO, PEOPLE, MOVE IT! Ahem. No, I didn't yell that out. Instead I did my duck, dodge, and weave technique that helped me get through high school and college hallways quickly and efficiently. I actually wanted to duck into the Taco Bell, but as I approached, it seemed empty, and the rule is that when a restaurant is empty especially around noon, it's not a good idea to eat there.

There actually aren't good places to eat in the Tribeca/City Hall area, which is dumb, because that's where a lot of businesspeople are, and the options are limited to fast food and delicatessens. So I went up a couple of blocks on Broadway to a Dunkin' Donuts sandwich joint, where my mother and I ate once, and got a nice turkey and bacon wrap.
After lunch, I went back down Broadway the way I'd came, all the way down to St. Paul's Chapel of Trinity Church. This is the little chapel that was directly across the street from the Twin Towers. It survived the collapse and became a haven for rescue workers, firefighters, and police officers, and everyone else who needed a bit of rest and hope.

Even though I had known about this church ever since I was a kid, I'd never been inside the cemetery gates before this day. Just never had a real reason. I was well aware, though, that the gravestones had dates as far back to the 1700s. I used to work in the Woolworth building about a block away, and whenever time permitted, I used to peer through the black bars of the fence to read the names and inscriptions on the old stones.

I entered the graveyard through its north side gate. There were people milling about on the pathways. There was a...something...displayed beside the rear entrance of the chapel. It was part of a massive tree trunk with some gnarled roots. I read the placard, which stated that this was the stump of a large, old sycamore tree that had been on the west side of the graveyard. The tree had borne the brunt of the collapse of the towers, and was destroyed by a steel beam. And the tree actually saved most of the old gravestones and the chapel itself from damage. Not a single window was broken. And I remember thinking on that ugly, ugly day, "What about the little church? What happened to the little church?" Surely it had been crushed or battered beyond repair. ...Nope.

The tulips were shades of bright orange and yellow, the grass was green with spring, the gravestones were rusty brown, gray, and white. They dotted the sloping land, some in pairs and clusters, some all by their lonesome. Some faces were worn away by time. Others were just beginning to chip away, still others bore quite legible engravings.

I wandered down one pathway that led to the west side. It rounded a bend, and there I found two more placards. One was for the Tree of Hope, a young spruce planted in the corner of the yard, looking all green and Christmas-y. The other placard commented on the sycamore, commemorated with nine white flagstones arranged in a square over where its roots had been for who knows how long. All I have to say is love your trees, people. Love your trees.

This was the lovely scene from the west side of the yard.

While wandering around, I discovered quite a few of these people had been Revolutionary War veterans, usually identified with a little brass wreath and an American flag. You can't help but feel proud when you see them.

What made me very sad, though, is that there are many babies and children buried here. This is one example of a gravestone marking the site of two very young children. The epithet reads: In Memory of Two Children of James & Catharine More. Ann died 25th July 1786 Aged 15 days. Mary died 1st June 1787 Aged 2 Years 9 Months & 11 Days. Some were marked 1 year, some only in months.

There was one stone that was of a man born in England and had died in New York at the age of 33 (I think it was 33...), and of course, the imagination runs wild. There were a few senators and doctors as well, and husbands and wives buried together like the Nesbitts.

Note the little sparrow perching on one of the stones. (I had actually witnessed two pigeons getting it on on top of a tomb, but I was too slow to get a picture. Plus it would've made me feel guilty.)

There was this huge obelisk dedicated to a one Dr. MacNevin, who was born in Ireland, came to New York, and became the "Father of American Chemistry." He was a pretty important guy.

Winding my way back around the rear of the chapel, I got a good look at the 9/11 memorial bell, which was donated by the people of London to New Yorkers on the first anniversary. Each year now the bell tolls 12 times on the date. I sat down on a nearby bench and had to collect myself before moving on.

I left the graveyard and headed further south on Broadway, and came upon another church, the actual Trinity Church. The graveyard to this one was closed, but it was much larger and more open to the afternoon sun. I took a few pictures like this one through the bars of the fence.

Now, my navigational skills in downtown Manhattan are nonexistent. All I know is Broadway, and if I stick to Broadway, I'm fine. Veer off Broadway, and I will get seriously lost. Because if you look at a map (hopefully that link will take you to a map of the southernmost tip of Manhattan island), it's like a haphazard latticework of side streets rather than a straightforward grid, and it's hellaciously disorienting. I can understand why back in the 1800s, this was THE most dangerous place to be. The fabled Gangs of New York roamed these narrow alleyways, robbing, killing, drinking, and whoring. Now it's the stockbrokers who do all that. HA!

I found myself on Exchange Place before I panicked and turned back north. At least I think it was north. I did find the New York Stock Exchange, which was dead on a Sunday. I didn't feel like taking pictures because there were way too many tourists around and I wanted to look like I wasn't lost.

There was an inordinate amount of construction going on. Well, not on at the moment, but it seemed that every street I ventured onto was caked with dust and debris and blocked off with orange cones and tape, with the occasional construction vehicle crouching on the curbsides like sleeping Transformers. I wondered when all this was going to be done. I also wondered where Denzel Washington made "Inside Man."

This was getting tiring and I was getting a headache, so I made my way back over to Broadway. And then I found a very familiar sight. YAY.

I showed this picture to my dad and asked if he recognized it. After a few moments of thought, he said no. NO?? After like 40 years of working in the building in front of which this giant sculpture stood, he didn't recognize it. Well, okay, it was a weird perspective, looking through the hole in the cube, but still. Heheh. That is 140 Broadway, by the way. It used to be Marine Midland Bank, which then became HSBC, which is now...named after some guy.

So, I made my way back up to City Hall, where at least two sparrows, a male and female couple, are living underground in the subway station. For real. They're the cutest things.

Well, that was my downtown adventure. One day I'm going to figure out how to get around there. It's one of the oldest parts of New York City if not the oldest, where people first settled, where immigrants first took root. It figures that I should see more of it, given my obsession with this city's history. One day eventually I'll make friends with its sloping streets and crusty old buildings.

(The full photo gallery is located here.)