It is a spectacularly beautiful day in Southern California, but I am, once again, in a New York state of mind. Winter is closing in there, and thus, our window for any hope of visiting again any time soon. I picture my favorite city under a blanket of snow, resting until spring – and hopefully better times – arrive.
In the meantime, I’ve comforted myself with a 500-page fix: David McCullough’s The Great Bridge: The Epic History of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge.
The epic history was also somewhat of an epic read. I now know more about steel wire than one might think necessary, not to mention about all the political shenanigans that took place around the bridge project. Since I am a slow reader, it took me two months to finish the book, but since it took fourteen years to build the bridge, I suppose eight weeks of my time is the least I can do to pay homage to what, upon completion in 1883 was considered “the eight wonder of the world”.
In a footnote, McCullough listed some of the many artists who also paid homage to the bridge and since they interest me more than steel wire, I decided to take a peek.
Perhaps the most famous rendering of the bridge is Joseph Stella’s 1939 painting The Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old Theme. A photo doesn’t really do it justice – next time I am at the Whitney Museum I am going straight to the 7th floor to look at this painting, which is nearly six feet tall!
Artist John Marin, who defined painting as “a sort of mad wonder dancing” painted this dynamic watercolor of the bridge in 1912. It lives at The Met, where I fervently hope to visit it when I return.
Not far from The Met is the iconic Carlyle Hotel and Bemelman’s Bar, named after Ludwig Bemelman’s whose whimsical murals cover the walls of that famed watering hole. Oh, how many times in recent years we thought of lunching at The Carlyle or spending an evening at the bar – and then thought better of it – “too expensive”, we’d say. Well, now they are closed and how I wish we had just parted with the princely sum for Dover Sole prepared tableside in the dining room or an atrociously expensive whiskey sour at Bemelman’s. For now, I will console myself with Ludwig Bemelman’s 1954 lithograph of a horse and cart on the Brooklyn Bridge:
I must confess, I teared up a little when I read painter Child Hassam’s quote: “To me New York is the most wonderful and most beautiful city in the world.” Because I feel exactly the same, but the past seven months, NYC seems to have become the flashpoint for all our woes and it hurts my heart to see it so maligned. Hassam painted this view of Brooklyn Bridge in Winter in 1904:
We don’t really tend to associate Georgia O’Keeffe with New York, but she lived there for three decades before relocating to New Mexico. Shortly before her departure, she painted the bridge as a farewell to the city:
On a lark, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge a few years back. When we are finally able to return – hopefully next spring – we will walk it once more. This time I will pay attention to all that steel wire and to the bridge towers, which apparently have never been replicated in any other bridge. I will think of what it must have been like on the night when the lights of the Brooklyn Bridge were turned on for the first time, creating a glittering necklace of brilliance across the East River to Manhattan.
How I love that city. How wonderful it will be to return. Dover Sole at The Carlyle and a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. It will be worth the wait.