Reading a simple story book with JNH the other day I was reminded about the wonder of language. How images in a cave have evolved into sentences on a page (whether paper or electronic). How a combination of letters in a children’s book can spell the word BUTTERFLY, which means butterfly, which gets the child reader thinking of butterflies and remembering butterflies he has seen. Those butterflies may be red, they may be white. Were the butterflies in JNH's mind flying, or sunning themselves on a brick wall?
Language creates worlds and is full of potential. And yet...it is so limited. For people who speak languages that use the roman alphabet, all we have is those 26 shapes and combinations of them to communicate. People speaking other languages are similarly restricted by their alphabets. (For linguistic communication, that is – the spectrum of communication forms that are not part of language, like facial expressions, gestures etc., may account for more than language).
The way to come to terms with it perhaps is to see that restriction as part of its effectiveness. Just as the French Oulipo (“Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle”) writers saw imposed constraints – such as writing without a particular letter – as opening up expressive potential, so language itself could be seen as a constraint that does just that.
From Astoria Park, JNH saw boats sailing and motoring up East River. He requested to go on one, in the way that two year olds do: "I want to go on a boat." More an announcement than a request. During the week afterwards, he would add, "a sailing boat," followed by a serious nod. I explained that sailing boats are lots of fun but are hard to come by. I said that what we could do though, is go on a big orange boat, aka the Staten Island ferry.
So on Saturday we found ourselves emerging from the Whitehall / South Ferry subway stop to get on the ferry. The station has recently been revamped at a cost of $530 million. But on the R platform there are still traces of the old mosaic frieze showing the nearby Customs House, along the top of the wall.
On the ferry I had that feeling of relief at the expanse of a bay. The dramatic meeting of a city and the sea is invariably inspirational. Of course being on the Staten Island ferry ain’t the same as being close to the water on a sail boat. The ferry's bulk and the press of fellow passengers, a mix of Staten Island residents and camera-wielding tourists, intervene. Maybe it’s a more appropriate way to experience this particular bay though. After all, the poem on the Statue of Liberty's pedestal welcomes the “huddled masses”.
After the return trip we hunted for somewhere to have lunch. That’s no mean feat in the Wall Street area at the weekends. We passed plenty of closed places and the occasional un-enticing sandwich shop. Then we serendipitously stumbled upon the annual Stone Street Oyster Festival. By that time JNH and CMH were asleep so we could enjoy pulled pork mac n’ cheese (yes both together, sounds strange but was delicious) and a pint of Guinness at a sidewalk table in peace.