Monday, February 27, 2006

Hat trick

My normally easy Sunday 12-mile walk was grueling, made so by the frigid cold and gusty winds.
I love the cold, I revel in it, but the conditions were so severe that I almost turned around and went home.
But I was on a mission.
I wanted to buy a hat in Harlem, and not just any hat.

The winds raking the George Washington Bridge and the Hudson River path were especially harsh. The temperature was in the low 20s but the wind made it feel like it was in the single digits.
I didn't see any of the homeless people who sometimes camp beneath the bridge.
This is the familiar view of the GWB:
But there's another aspect to the bridge, one you would never see unless you were on foot and knew where to look.
The homeless seek refuge under the approach ramp on the New York side. It was deserted Sunday -- in this weather, anyone sleeping there runs the risk of freezing to death. But you could still feel the despair in the air, which cut to the bone just as mercilessly as the cold.
Underneath the bridge
a world of broken spirits
tucked away, unseen

My walk took me past the Cotton Club, at 125th Street and 12th Avenue. I wanted to stop in to ask vocalist Pamela McPherson-Cornelius if she liked the photo of her I posted last weekend. (I was prepared to run if she didn't.)
But there was no show going on. The place was deserted. Outside, leaves blew in tight little circles by the front door.
At the Cotton Club
is that Duke Ellington's ghost
in the pinstriped suit?

Now I could focus on finding that special hat.
I walked down 125th past the Cotton Club, past the Apollo Theater -- where Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown and so many others of electrifying talent brought down the house, the place where stars are born and legends are made.
I was headed toward 125th Street and Lenox Avenue, the heart of Harlem, just a couple of blocks from the Apollo.
I've wanted an old-school wool Kangol-brand cap for a while now.
Tastes in North Jersey run toward the provincial, however, and they're very difficult to find there.
But in Harlem, a friend told me, they abound, plentiful as manna fallen from heaven.
At 125th and Lenox (now called Malcolm X Boulevard) is a hat lover's nirvana.
When my friend told me about this shop, I asked him for the street address.
He didn't know.
Then I asked him how I'd recognize it.
"Believe me," he said, "when you get there, you'll know."
Now I knew.
Big glass windows opened onto a shop filled with rack after rack and shelf after shelf of every kind of hat imaginable, and some that were unimaginable.
It seemed like half the world was in there shopping.
And there, in the center of it all, was the object of my quest: a navy blue wool Kangol, as old-school as Run-DMC and as stately as a touring car.
With my purchase perched atop my head, I made my way back to the Hudson River path.
On the way, I stopped for a few self-portraits with some friends, the stars of posters that served as a thought-provoking backdrop.
Back on the desolate river path, the wind-whipped debris sand-blasted my face. I wondered if I would run into Mr. Driftwood.
I passed a couple of his sculptures that had been knocked down by the wind or vigilant park guards, and an interesting artistic statement consisting of eggs that suggested he was working in a new medium.
About a mile farther down the desolate path was Mr. Driftood, working away.
I asked him about the eggs. Turns out they were put there by one of his fellow artists, with whom he enjoys a friendly rivalry.
We talked about my hat adventure.
He asked me if I had eaten at Sylvia's, the world-famous soul food mecca that's just a stone's throw from where I bought my Kangol.
I told him that I hadn't, but plan to once the weather warms a little.
"Oh, you should," he said. "Sylvia's from my hometown, Monks Corner, South Carolina. Lovely woman. Lovely woman."
We chatted just a couple more minutes. Just standing there, nothing moving but our mouths, we were absorbing the full force of the wind and the tip of my nose was becoming frostbitten.
Mr. Driftwood returned to his work, and I headed down to the East Village for a beer and some hot miso soup.
Then I began the long, cold walk home.


Beth said...

i can't believe you walked yesterday. i was wondering if i'd see the monday morning walk post. nice hat!

mrsbeach said...

Hello Michael
thanks for the walk. The hat looks great on you. I enjoyed the pictures. The broken spirits under the bridge brought me out of a huge pity party I was wallowing in.
I see the spark of light.

Michael said...

Hi Kim,
Yeah, Sunday was tough. But come the dog days of August, I'll be praying for this weather again, so ...

Hey Beachy,
Thanks, and I hope all is continuing well for you and yours.

Green said...

It seems to be so cold there. Do you still have snow in NY in March?
The hat you chose was wonderful, nice on you!

Michael said...

Hi Greensleeves,
Thanks for the kind words on the hat! Yes, it can snow here in March. Last year, it snowed in April, but just flurries that didn't accumulate.

g said...

Excellent photos of the GW bridge. The first was the classic look and the second held so much power. Black and white was definitely the way to go with these two images.

I'm sure that bridge has many different personalities. And it's the first monument you meet as you walk out of Fort Lee, isn't it.

On subsequent walks, could you give us more shots of the bridge?

Michael said...

Thanks for the kind words, g.
I'm always hesitant to post more pictures of the GWB because it's such a ubiquitous part of my walks. I fear that people would grow bored with views of the same landmark.
But my eldest sister pointed out that although my walks cover much the same 12- to 22-mile stretch, I never seem to have the same adventure twice. Something new always seems to be going on, which stands to reason, considering that my trail intersects with the trails of more than 7 million other people.
Yeah, maybe I will post more GWB photos. I guess the trick is in capturing the many faces, some obvious, some not, of this Edifice Rex.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm one of the other sculptors working with driftwood on the Hudson. I think one or two of your pics are my pieces, hope you enjoyed them.

some pics I took (I'm no photographer):

Here's a flickr group of these. Both myself and 'Mr Driftwood' (aka 'el Ropo' - for his use of twine easiest made distinction between our work) 'gballsout' has great pics of both our works:

And from the NY TIMES by Anemona Hartocollis July 2005.

Michael said...

Hey Anon,

Thanks for helping to make the Hudson shoreline a little more intriguing. I really like those driftwood sculptures. Thanks also for the links to photos of your work and the work of other driftwood sculptors.

All the best,