grey marble

July 23, 2009

It would be hard to say goodbye

Last night I stood on the end of Pier 45 chatting with L—, an Italian ex-pat I had just met. We were both taking a break from dancing. Tango music filled the space around us, and we watched the dancers as they made their way around the floor.

I asked him how long he had been in New York. Nine years, he told me. I asked if he would ever go back to Italy. No, he said. Well, I go back every year to see my family, but that's it. He wouldn't think of moving back. He said it's easy to stay in New York. He said it's difficult to leave and guestured around us. His arm swept up the sound of the river lapping against the supports, the sun setting behind New Jersey, the city skyline lighting up as if waking from an afternoon nap, and the music and the dancers before us. I look around us; I listened to the music; and I agreed.

Posted by eugene at

July 20, 2009

Russians in China on Staten Island

There's a Chinese garden on Staten Island. I learned about it earlier this year while researching botanic gardens in the city. I was tired of the crowds at Central Park. I was looking to find new sanctuaries.

We reached the ferry just as it was about to depart. We climbed the stairs and stepped out onto an outdoor deck just as the we cast off. The motion was subtle. I had to see the pier pushing away from us to become fully aware of our movement.

We sailed south, Ellis Island drifting into view and then the Statue of Liberty. Tourists crowded us and each other as they took pictures of the statue and of each other. A breeze off the water cooled our skin.

On the island we were the last to board a bus headed for the gardens. It wound its way around the northern edge, following the outline of the coast. It came to a stop right before the front gates and we alighted.

The grounds reminded me of a New England college or the Coast Guard Academy. We entere the first building before us to discover it was a museum. The attendant helped orient us and sold us a combination ticket to the museum and the gardens. We decided to come back to the museum. The day was too beautiful to waste indoors.

We followed the attendants instructions past the main buildings and around the parking lot to a series of cottages set along the western edge of the grounds. We stepped into the final one and through a small door into it's back lot. It appeared a though there could be nothing remotely like a Chinese garden from the immediate surroundings. We walked down a small slope and a white wall with Chinese architectural eaves came into view. A small waterfall provided a soothing aural backdrop to the view.

We walked around the perimeter of the building and found ourselves at the front door. Informative plaques hung from posts; an attendant had encouraged us to take them with us as we toured the garden. As we stepped through the threshold it felt as though we had gone a thousand miles, to Suzhou.

We spent some time reading the plaques and then slowly made our way around the ponds and through the rooms. We paused to watch the fish; they followed us, their mouths agape. In a corner of the garden, we stopped at a pavillion for moon viewing. We sat on the stone stools and looked outside the garden. The view suddenly brought us back to the United States. We thought about a bamboo grove that could block the view of the Western lawn and, just beyond the trees, a parking lot.

As we were about to leave we crossed paths with a Russian wedding party. The couple, their four groomsmen and two bridesmaids were lined up in a pavillion, the photographer shouting instructions from across the pond. The goom looked nervous. The bridesmaids were cheerful; the groomsmen mischievous. They took photos together and separately, each calling encouragement to the other as one of the bridesmaids admonished everyone to "Shut up!" to choruses of laughter.

It was a beautiful though somewhat strange backdrop to the very Russian wedding party. It seemed so removed from the place in which they were to be married, and at odds culturally. My friend challenged me to come up with better scenarios and after some thought I did (I'll share those when it comes time to plan my own wedding). She later challenged me to come up with riddles and pirate jokes.

What is a pirate's favorite type of tango? ARRgentine.

Posted by eugene at


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