Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Beginning of the End (of My View)

It's almost black and white out today. The clouds are so low and the rain is so steady, the sun's rays are muted and wan. The weather and my pre-coffee grogginess largely explain why, when I looked out my kitchen window this morning, at first I didn't understand what I was seeing.

But then I knew: It's the crane that will erect the 46-story building that will obliterate the skyline view that drew me to this apartment almost 30 years ago. I won't pretend I didn't know it was coming. I've watched the preparations for years — soil decontamination started when George W. Bush was still in the White House under enormous white tents that bore the AIG logo. But when the recession deepened and AIG collapsed, the tents came down and everything stopped. Although I knew it was false, I indulged the hope that the real estate barons would write off this monstrously out-of-scale building as a bad idea.

The vaguely greenish rectangle to the left of the crane is the UN tower. Immediately to the right, with its fantastic crown hidden in the mist, is the Chrysler building. Further to the left — out of the frame and obscured by clouds — are the top few floors and mast of the Empire State building; about five years ago the rest of it disappeared behind another new building only half the size of the one this crane will erect.

The lights and towers of the New York skyline have cheered me through happy times and comforted me at some of lowest moments of my life. On so many July 4ths, we watched the fireworks through that window. When my mother died, I stood at the window imagining her young and laughing, out on the town with my dad. Since 9/12/2001, I have said goodnight to the New York skyline every evening — a small ritual, but one that has become important to me. So I've decided to chart the progress of the new building, as well as my grief for my disappearing view, in occasional posts here.


I wonder what the terns will think.


  1. This is so sad, but I admire you for approaching it with your customary intellectual curiosity. The tern photo is extraordinarily poignant. What a uniquely New York City story. Thank you, Michele.

  2. This is so sad, just as Susan says. You have a beautiful view. Isn't it amazing how we can develop such intimacy with inanimate objects so out of human scale? I look out on the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, and I have a deep fondness for that huge steel structure, which I have come to view as a noble and vulnerable friend. If, in the evening, the string of lights on the bridge go on as I am watching, I allow myself a wish; so the bridge is also my genie. May it take them *forever* to raise the building that takes away your view. Your photo with the tern caught in turning flight is lovely.

  3. Thank you, Susan and Katherine. It truly is a New York story, and unfortunately it's a typical one. This city has always raced toward what's new; if we didn't have the Landmarks Preservation Commission (thank you, Jackie O), our history would be erased every decade or two.

    Katherine, "intimacy with inanimate objects" is such a great way of describing the feeling so many of us share about these huge structures. I think it happens when the people behind the buildings have a sense of history and permanence. The Chrysler is an example of that — all those crazy flourishes, the hubcaps and hood ornaments, way, way up in the sky. Most new buildings are trash by comparison.

    As for that bird, he wheeled in at the last moment and I raced to catch him. He's a good poser.

  4. I like this; it's fine and lovely and sad, but mostly what I like is your ability to wring out and examine and share, quite cleanly, your ever-changing view. Thanks, Michele.

  5. Thank you, Marilyn. I consider that high praise.

  6. It's not sad for the people who'll have work building it, or who'll have jobs in the building. I'm sure you'll be fine.

  7. I'm always happy when construction works have jobs, Anonymous. My husband worked in the building trades as an electrician until he had to retire, and we still have friends who build this city. My problem is threefold:

    (1) In my neighborhood, development has gone wild in the past ten years, with all of it catering to the very rich.

    (2) If newspaper accounts are correct, this particular building will equal the height of CitiCorp's tower, which is now by far the tallest building in Queens.

    (3) I will miss my view.

    If that bothers you, well, too bad.

  8. I so love the way your images and words work together. The crane is so stark and striking here. And your words of impending loss are perfect... as is, somehow the bird in the final image.

    You do a kind of magic here.

    I'm drawn to this story as it unfolds because I feel it speaks to how we let go, how we grieve, how we accept what we cannot change...

  9. Thank you so much, J. This weekend I'll take photos of the site as a sort of benchmark. Construction is just starting. Soon there will be a huge hole — maybe to China.

  10. I loved this post. I can feel the weather,the city, and the sometmes ugly march of progress clouding our view along with the rain.

    Thanks so much,

  11. Thank you, Jody. Your description, "the sometimes ugly march of progress," is perfect.