Saturday, September 30, 2006

From Columbus Circle to the Upper West Side

There were a few narrow windows of photographic opportunity during today's drizzly weather.
This first series of photographs was taken at Columbus Circle in Manhattan. The statuary is part of the memorial to the sailors killed aboard the battleship USS Maine, whose mystery-shrouded destruction by explosion in Havana Harbor, Cuba, led to the Spanish-American War of 1898-99. Many historians believe this war was fought by the United States on the flimsiest of evidence. They suggest that some of this evidence may have been manufactured by our side. In the end, people die and monuments are built. How history repeats itself. ...

The second set of photos was taken outside Symphony Space at 95th Street and Broadway. African and Afro-Caribbean drummers staged an impromptu concert that filled the street with pulsing rhythm. For a half-hour, we all spoke the same language.

Columbus Circle

No. 1 train heading uptown

Symphony Space

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Who's buried in Grant's Tomb?

I was in Manhattan today for a periodic blood test to monitor my calcium level, and it was such a beautiful day that I drove down Riverside Drive to 122nd Street to the mausoleum in which Ulysses S. Grant, a Civil War hero and 18th president of the United States, is in eternal repose. His wife, Julia, is in a sarcophagus next to his.
Across the street from the tomb is Riverside Church, one of Manhattan's landmark houses of worship.
Here's what I saw.

At Grant's Tomb ...

At Riverside Church ...

Back in New Jersey, a perfect sunset for a perfect day ...

Monday, September 25, 2006

Visiting an old friend

New Jersey tower, George Washington Bridge, Sept. 25, 2006

It was early May when I last walked across the George Washington Bridge, gateway to so many of my adventures on foot in Manhattan and beyond.
With cooler weather approaching, I want to dust off my walking shoes and get back on the path.
On the path, I lose myself and find myself at the same time.
On the path, necessities and luxuries rarely vie.
On the path, my senses sharpen.
On the path, I feel content as my life unfolds at three miles per hour.
I'm just about ready to heed the call once again.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Be a light unto yourselves

I'm transfixed by oil lamps from the ancient world.
This most fundamental of household accessories was as ubiquitous in antiquity as lightbulbs are today. Thus, these terra cotta lamps are among the most frequently excavated artifacts at dig sites from the Iron Age to the Islamic period, spanning the Middle East and throughout the ancient world.

The utility of these lamps is obvious. After all, how much more basic can it be than to dispel the darkness and tame the night?
But these lamps also have a very strong spiritual connection: The introduction of light is a metaphor for the dispelling of ignorance.

The Gospel of Luke advises: "Do not hide your lamp under a bushel, put it on a lampstand in the room so that all may see."

The Buddha's final words were said to have been "Be a light unto yourselves."

Here are a couple of lamps from my small collection.

Roman oil lamp from the 1st or 2nd century. This lamp was made from a mold. On the discus -- the round, recessed cirular part of the top of the lamp -- there is a scene of a donkey jumping over a sleeping dog. Unfortunately, it's almost impossible to make out in these shots. This type of lamp is commonly found at Roman sites throughout Italy and in every part of the former Roman Empire.

Israelite lamp, circa 300 B.C.E. This lamp was thrown on a potter's wheel. It's about the size of an espesso cup.

Mold-made lamp from the Byzantine era, around 400-500. This lamp features such Jewish iconography as a menorah (near the spout) and stylized bunches of grapes.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Do not go quietly ...

In a patch of preserved marshland down the road from my house, these wildflowers are flaunting their colors for the last time before they wither and die, yielding to the coming autumn.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Friday, September 15, 2006

A step deeper into the Digital Age

Tara the cat, better known as Our Lady of Perpetual Motion

I took a big step this week that has been months in the planning.
Increasingly frustrated at the many limitations of my tiny point-and-shoot digital camera, I splurged on a Canon EOS Rebel XT digital SLR. I want to get back into photography, and I think this camera is my ticket.

With the weather growing more agreeable for long walks, I want to resume my New Jersey-to-Brooklyn treks and my explorations of lower Manhattan -- and I think I finally have the piece of equipment that will enable me to record these adventures the way I've wanted to preserve them.

It doesn't take much to lift my mood.

Also this week, my eldest sister and her husband visited the onetime home of one of my favorite authors, Herman Melville. The home, named Arrowhead, is in Pittsfield, Mass., in the Berkshires.
One of my favorite Melville works is the tale "Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street." This souvenir T-shirt says it all.

Neither does it take much to make me laugh.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Triumph of the spirit: An ode to joy

On Sunday, I visited a friend who is an instructor in iaido. Iaido (pronounced "ee-eye-doe") is the Japanese martial art of drawing the long sword, attacking one's opponent (real or imagined) and replacing the sword in its scabbard.

I hadn't seen Dave in half a year. He has Parkinson's disease, and I was shocked and saddened by how much the illness had progressed in the six months since my last visit. His hand tremors are much more pronounced, and whereas he could control them to some extent in the past, he has now almost completely lost that control.
He walks in a shuffle, supported by a cane.
He is in his early sixties but moves with the stiffness and uncertainty of a much older man.

We met in a school gym where he teaches iaido on Sundays.
He was instructing one of his students, who was practicing kata, or forms, about 30 feet away from us in the middle of the gym floor.
The student, clad in a black gi, walked with a pronounced limp and it looked as if he was wearing a sock on his right foot. His left arm appeared to be in a sling.

Dave beckoned him closer to correct a technical flaw.
It was only as the student approached that I could see that what I thought was a sock was actually a prosthetic leg. His arm was indeed in a sling, not because it was broken but because it was withered and paralyzed.
Yet the focus in this man's eyes unmistakably conveyed the fact that he had conquered his handicaps, which I was told were the result of a motorcycle accident at high speed, and had thoroughly integrated them into his life.
In addition to iaido, I learned that he is an accomplished karateka, or karate practitioner, and is scheduled to compete in kata and free-sparring at a tournament this weekend.

As Dave explained the technical point, he used his cane as a sword. His movements were crisp and precise, and during the execution of his technique, there was no perceptible tremor in his sword hand.

As I said goodbye to Dave and his student and left the gym, I was almost ashamed at the weight I had given to certain health circumstances in my own life, which in the greater scheme of things really aren't roadblocks at all.

The mind sets the tempo and calls the shots.