August 9, 2015
⭐ Every day reveals new pockets in that extraordinary entity that is New York! Rather than go away for a week’s holiday, we decided to stay in New York to explore our temporary home. I bought tickets for Bargemusic in DUMBO, so last night, not quite knowing what to expect we took the ferry into the sunset and disembarked just below Brooklyn Bridge. The park was full of happy people, couples, families, friends in all shapes, colours and sizes.
Lots of kids and grown-ups were in the big square fountain area where walls of water rose and fell in what seemed to be an arbitrary pattern and created “rooms” for people to enter. Water walls shifted frequently. Some kids were soaked, others remained dry as they jumped about between the jets. Big and small, everyone was having a whale of a time. And it turned out to be part of Danish artist Jeppe Hein’s exhibit Please Touch the Art in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
⭐ And this was only the beginning. The bargemusic turned out to be an equally wonderful surprise, The St. Petersburg Piano Quartet exquisitely performing Desjatinkov, Mozart and Brahms. Some 100 people sat quietly in red plastic chairs like you see them in any diner, listening attentively as I have not yet experienced elsewhere in cacophonic NYC. The music flowed like liquid wrapping everyone gently into its embrace. The pianist played his Steinway grand piano with intimacy, precision and such ease, like were it an extension of his body. The slight rocking of the barge added to the lightness, and it was wonderful to be able to hear only the music and hardly any of the city’s normal insistent surround sound. The concert took place on the backdrop of sky and high-rises switching roles; as night fell the city sort of negated, with the darkening sky giving way to the sparkling high rises as they turned on their lights and dressed up for Saturday night in the city – a noisy spectacle which we enjoyed as we strolled back to Manhattan over Brooklyn Bridge.
⭐ The other day we rented a car and drove upstate, to Poughkeepsie, to see the FDR Presidential Library & Museum. Wonderful museum, and it was good to be reminded of FDR and his wife Eleanor’s true statesmanship, she, being to a large extent mother of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights. Interesting that a man who never really made a private career and whose life was mostly funded by his mother’s fortune had such an acute sense of other peoples needs, from the smallest daily struggle to war and peace. Eleanor Roosevelt was a beacon for equality.
⭐ We continued to Minnewaska and swam in the lake. There were lots of other people there and ample space for everyone; very much of a delightful break from the city. On the way back we had dinner in a pleasant old mill, which stopped milling generations ago. And on the way we got a glimpse of what America was, of the vastness, the space and tranquillity for free spirits to roam in.
⭐ Thursday we went to Governors Island, a peaceful place only seven minutes by ferry South of Manhattan. Here too, we found space and tranquillity – hadn’t it been for the perpetual sound of angry mosquitos, the far too many helicopters’ that I understand some chopper-loving mayor at some point freely issued licenses to. Anyway, a part from them GI is a wonderful place. The Dutch bought it from two Indians in the 17th century for two axe heads, a string of pearls and a handful of nails. They must have felt awful! (the Dutch). It used to be a fortress, and in 1988 the island hosted the last summit meeting between Mikhail Gorbatjov and Ronald Reagan towards the end of the Cold War. These days parts of it is open to the public, there are art installations, beautiful lawns, the old fort, well kept an also dilapidated houses with all kinds of organisations and associations. And rapper 50 Cents was rehearsing as we left the island. He was hosting some kind of party on the island that evening.
The most interesting and meaningful exhibition by far on Governor’s Island was the old house, which exhibited art created by prisoners, and informed on prisoners’ conditions in the country (more below). But meeting a reuniting ukulele band in Battery Park on our way back was quite something too!
⭐ By the way, when I huddled along with my TV set, trying to catch the attention of a cab driver, I saw a man informing about the benefits of healthcare, and I guess, also campaigning for Hillary Rodham Clinton. He was talking to this woman whose face was distorted with spite and hate. She literally hissed, ”I used to support her, but now I know she is an evil woman” – quite overwhelming, obviously also to the friendly campaigner who was prepared for opposing views but by the look of him not for the woman’s hateful outpourings. I had my own business to attend to, and didn’t hang around to hear more.
⭐ We had absolutely delicious sweetcorn the other day; little had I expected that the upcoming presidential election would sneak in on me there too; I am afraid that I can never eat sweetcorn 🌽🌽🌽 again without thinking of D. Trump(’s hair). Thank you, Jon Stewart.
⭐ This video (from 2013) in The Atlantic brilliantly explains my view of tipping, i.e. to insure promptitude!
⭐️ The prisoners’ art exhibition at Governor’s Island reminded me of the commercialisation of the American prison system. I hadn’t quite taken in the number of prison facilities in America that are actually outsourced to private companies. According to Rolling Stone Magazine, the two largest private prison operators in America run 124 prisons between them (with a total of 129.000 “beds”); strange way to make money if you ask me.
2.3 million people are incarcerated here in America, almost 1 million of them African American. Proportionally, in relation to share of the population, African Americans are imprisoned almost six times the rate of whites. America has the largest prison population in the world (but not the largest population), and the second highest per-capita incarceration rate (second only to the Seychelles).
The independent Vera Institute of Justice reports “that jails throughout the United States have become warehouses for the poor, the mentally ill and those suffering from addiction as such individuals lack the financial means or mental capacity to post bail.”
The director of Vera Institute recently participated in a study tour to German jails. The director was greatly inspired and speculates on how to change the American system of punishment from one of retribution and revenge to one that prioritises accountability and rehabilitation. More on his thoughts on the issue in NYT.