This is part two of my seven-part essay "Thank You Conrad Manuel Hiraldo." The introduction and part one are here.
This walk isn't going to be a walk. Rain is forecast so I decide to go with Conrad to the Guggenheim. I do not know what exhibitions are on but think if we are going to be indoors, that is a fine place to be. We get the N train and I misremember that the museum is just a few blocks up from the Southern edge of the park. We disembark at the Fifth Avenue stop at the park’s South East corner, when I realize that it is much further up – at 89th Street, beyond the Met. There is still an hour until it opens, so clearly a walk up the park was meant to happen after all.
The rain threatens but does not fall as people in the park go about their early morning rituals. Among them are office workers talking into hands-free headphones. I recall hearing about the Summer evenings when my maternal grandfather decided to walk all the way home from work through London parks, a distance of about seven miles. He would set out from the engineering firm Binnie & Partners where he worked in Artillery House, on Artillery Row, and walk through
St. James’s Park
(then roads for a bit)
and to his home in Highgate.
This being next to the Upper East Side, there are also well-groomed dogs out on walks with their owners, and white children with their dark skinned nannies. Soon before Conrad’s elder brother Jack was born, I had read the New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik’s account of bringing up his children around here. It is called Through the Children’s Gate, after an entrance to the park at Fifth Avenue and 76th Street. “On most days you can’t even read its name,” Gopnik writes of the gate, “since a hot-dog-and-pretzel vendor parks his cart and his melancholy there twelve hours a day, right in front of where the stone is engraved.” The book captures some of the universality of childhood, along with a lot of a rarefied experience of child-rearing, one in which parents intellectualize the decisions involved – from coat purchase to school selection – deliberating over how those decisions will affect the child and how they will be perceived by others.
Splashes of bright yellow leaves are starting to appear on dark branches. The yellow echoes the taxis that are gliding along the roads and triggering a stream of memories of past Central Park walks. Here comes a walk up to the Jackie Kennedy Onassis reservoir one evening as dusk was falling, soon after I moved to the city. I felt like I was racing nightfall. There are my morning walks down the West side of the park, when I lived at 109th Street and sometimes went by foot to Columbus Circle where I got on the subway to work. Now I see the time that I was meeting a friend on the East side and wanted to cut through the park from the West. My mind wandered as well as my feet and I found myself an hour later back on the West side again. Here is the bright November day when Carlos proposed in a hut beside the lake.
In The Colossus of New York, Colson Whitehead describes how a different New York exists for each of its inhabitants. A travel agency will for someone else always be the pizza parlor that they knew it as, which for someone else will be the beauty parlor soon to open at the same site. “Thousands of people pass that storefront every day, each one haunting the streets of his or her own New York, not one of them seeing the same thing.” The city is a morass of memory. Carlos often says that, having been born and brought up here, wherever he walks there are memories to haunt him. Even for me many neighborhoods already jostle with them. The memories hanging about on the streets and hunched in entranceways can start to feel oppressive. But the city saves us from them too. There is always the next distraction that pulls our attention and keeps us afloat.
We pass the small lake called Conservatory Water, where I buy a bottle of water from a kiosk. A woman approaches with her son, carrying a remote controlled sail-boat. The son is about nine years old. “Do you know if it’s ok to sail anytime?” she asks the kiosk vendor.
“No,” comes the brief reply.
“Well we’re going to do it,” the woman announces. “They don’t have any signs.” She takes her little boy by the hand and off they go to the water’s edge.
We continue. The chance that at any moment it may rain or Conrad may wake up, or both at once, keeps me moving. My attention is absorbed by the present again. Here I am on a morning walk in Central Park, smelling the trees and with little Conrad asleep on my chest, and soon it too will be a memory. When I write the moment down it may be preserved but only to the extent that hieroglyphs capture anything of ancient Egyptians’ lives.
At 79th Street we exit the park onto Fifth Avenue. A row of construction workers sits on a ledge in front of the Met, which is about to open. They are art enough for me, I think. That said, I still carry on towards the Guggenheim.
Tourists mill outside then form an orderly line to filter in when the security guard announces that we can enter. “This his first museum visit?” a woman asks me of Conrad, who is now awake. I tell her he has been to the British Museum too. Once inside we learn that the main part of the museum, the galleries that spiral around the air in the center of the building, is closed to visitors while an exhibition on “Picasso Black and White” is hung. The side galleries are still open. From them we can see across to the spirals and get glimpses of Picasso faces looking back at us. There are also rows of flat crates marked FRAGILE and THIS WAY UP. People in jeans and t-shirts maneuver canvases on wheels.
Conrad is hungry. I nurse him in a small room of Kandinsky paintings. One is called “Simple Pleasures”.
On to photographs by Rineke Dijkstra. Some of her photo series freeze moments to convey passing time: a woman is photographed at intervals from childhood to motherhood, a French soldier periodically throughout his career. Other series show different people in a similar setting. There is one of adolescents on the beach at resort towns:
Coney Island, USA
And a series of naked mothers just after they have given birth, holding their newborns.
Part 3: Roosevelt Island: Perspective