Sequential experiences

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Downtown Manhattan as seen from the New Jersey Turnpike. Photo: JH.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020. Beautiful Indian Summer weather right now. Not hot or humid, but warm (72 degrees) with a cooler breeze passing through and bright sunshine to keep the mood. 

Yesterday was a school day in the neighborhood — at least for the private schools (such as Brearley). There is a cordoned-off pathway next to the front entrance, with the social distancing marks on the pavement, and two portable sinks with paper towels next to it for the girls to wash their hands before entering. Otherwise the energy is the same for the new year in school: light and bright and committed to the new.

The almost-Autumn weather prevailed throughout the weekend with lots of Sun and lots of huge cumulus clouds passing over and temps in the mid-to-high 70s. The streets are crowded once again with traffic.

Sequential experiences. There have been protestors’ marches passing by my block on the avenue every day about 7 in the evening for the past three months. They are coming from the direction of Gracie Mansion, the Mayor’s official mansion on 87th Street and East End. Sunday’s march, made up of about 20 people — men and women, some with strollers and even their dogs — who looked to be in their twenties, as well as a few younger, late teens. There are very few, if any, people of color involved, although the subject of the demonstrations is Black Lives Matter. 

They are very organized. There is always a leader with bullhorn chanting out the message — a question to the marchers. Their voices are strong and loud as they pass by, but they look peaceful, even casual, like people from the neighborhood. Yet there is also a militant vibe about them, as in the tone of the chanting. It reminds those of us who were alive and partook when the country was rife with Civil Rights and Anti-War (in Vietnam) demonstrations/marches by the thousands. 

This past Sunday night the protesters came through about six p.m. There have been these marches every day since it began. Initially there were hundreds — in the first couple of days — maybe even a thousand demonstrators — marching from 86th Street just south of Gracie Mansion  down the avenue to 79th Street and beyond.

A massive and peaceful demonstration on East End Avenue back in June.

The numbers dropped off noticeably during the hottest, most humid days of Summer. Now they number between 20 and 30 individuals moving on every day of the week. 

Sitting at my desk with my terrace door open, I can hear them from a distance of three or four blocks. Their gait is steady, and social distancing is observed by many if not all. But the rhythm is the same — drumbeats-loudspeakers-chanting — which grows louder as they approach, then pass by, and then in a minute or two it diminishes into the distance of the next couple of blocks. 

“Progress is a nice word. But change is its motivator. And change has its enemies.” — Robert Kennedy.

I went outside to watch. after they passed, I returned to my desk.  JH had just sent me the layout of Monday’s Diary — another Jill Krementz day of photographs from her fascinating archive. These were portraits of writers of the American century. That is Jill’s oeuvre, achieved over the past several decades. It has now become an important marker of the history of American literature.

I like to look at the subject of her work because they are basically caught in environments that often tell you more about them, such as their interests, and domestic life. 

Each portrait in this series comes with a personal quote from the subject. If you look and then read each, it draws you in and progresses, like a story being told, and holds you. By the end it’s a real artist’s triumph. 

Jill professionally started her career back in the early ‘60s working for Jock Whitney’s New York Herald-Tribune. That was the morning newspaper competing with the New York Times. It was believed that the Times catered to what were then called “Liberals” (not to be confused with today’s) and the Trib was for the “Conservatives” (again with a definition that been altered with use today). 

Whitney was a relatively new publisher-owner and the Trib had the new — the younger journalists who were just coming into their own. Its Sunday pull-out magazine was New York, which continues to publish all these 60 years later. Jill was among the new (ed. note: The Trib did not survive the newspaper strike in the mid-’60s.)

“If we’re going to solve the problems of the world, we have to learn how to talk to one another. Poetry is the language at its essence. It’s the bones and the skeleton of the language. It teaches you, if nothing else, how to choose your words.” — Rita Dove

All these years later, the archive of her work has turned out to be a compendium of the lives of many writers and artists of the 20th century. It is now history, and just from Monday’s piece the evidence is affecting as well as effective. It not only demonstrates her immense special talent, but also delivers a strong sense of the individual.

This past Sunday had been one of those down days for me
. Those long moments when you’re feeling mentally inert. A preface to depression? Always looking for a distraction to change psychic gears, I sat down at my desk to look at the Jill piece.

I was amazed that I fell into it, almost instantly, as if it were a mood changer. It was. I wrote JH about my experience later, and he replied: “… it’s moving and extremely uplifting; and full of wisdom.” Finishing it, I sat back in my chair realizing I’d been rescued, renewed, and grateful for that moment.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

Then: Just as I was finishing Jill’s piece (8 p.m. and almost dark), I could hear marching drums outside in the distance. At first I thought I was hearing things. And voices chanting? Really? In one night? 

Yes: I wondered: a SECOND protest? We’ve never had that before! The march through is never quiet because of the loudspeakers and with voices reverberating off the stone, brick and glass canyons of apartment houses. This second march, however had the same “construction” as the earlier one. There was the leader with the horn, and people running ahead of the group, as if clearing the way with glow sticks (pink in color). The small group was responding to their leader, although I couldn’t hear them clearly enough to know what they are chanting. Then at the tail end, as they had passed by, a young black man— maybe in his late teens — was carrying a large unfurled blue silken flag with the words large in a pinkish-red: “Vote Biden.” Aha!

The marchers moved along steadily amidst their marching noise (the chanting), and within seconds the noise had faded away (and I could finally hear the name “Biden” in the air). I’ve worked in several campaigns (all Dems) over the years — in my 20s and 30s — and marched in demonstrations of protest. They were deeply serious and they brought people together as citizens. The results of those efforts were not predictable, only hopeful. The results, in hindsight however, were noble.

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