One of the things I love most about this city is that it is constantly recycling itself. If you’re a fan of urban hiking, you can walk the same streets day after day and almost always discover something new. Sometimes you notice something old that somehow escaped your attention. And sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you get yelled at by the police for taking pictures with your iPhone in a public fucking building.
On Friday I had some business at the New York County court house at 60 Centre Street. The subways on the West side don’t get you very close, so when you come up from the station on Chambers Street you have to zig and zag your way North and East for several blocks. I guess I had never taken this particular path before, or at least not for a long time, because I stumbled on something striking: the African Burial Ground National Monument.
For all those who were lost
For all those who were stolen
For all those who were left behind
For all those who were not forgotten
From the plaque by the street:
A Place of Remembrance
From the 1690s until 1794, an estimated 15,000 enslaved and free Africans were laid to rest in the African Burial Ground. In 1991, during construction of the Ted Weiss Federal Building, 419 skeletal remains were exhumed. The rediscovery of the cemetery sparked vigorous efforts to preserve this hallowed ground. In 1993 a small portion of the original 6.6 acre cemetery became the first below-ground New York City landmark and a national historic landmark. African Burial Ground National Monument was proclaimed on February 27, 2006. Widely regarded as one of America’s most significant archaeological finds of the 20th century, it is also a place of remembrance and reflection.
Ancestral Reinterment Ground
On October 4, 2003, the exhumed ancestral remains were reburied on this site. The bones and accompanying artifacts were placed in hand-carved wooden coffins made in Ghana and lined with Kente cloth. The coffins were placed in seven crypts as close as possible to the original burial positions with heads facing west. Seven burial mounds mark the locations of the reinterments. If you wish, you may place flowers on top of the burial mounds.
The plaque also gives an overview of the layout:
Circle of the Diaspora
The African Diaspora is the forced removal of Africans from their homeland to different parts of the world. It is also Africans’ unwavering spirit and ability to adapt. This circular wall, ramp, and interior court display cultural and spiritual images from Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and other areas throughout the Diaspora.
The 24-foot-high Ancestral Chamber represents the soaring African spirit and the distance below ground from which the ancestral remains were exhumed. It is made of Verde Fontaine green granite from Africa. The heartlike Sankofa symbol from West Africa means “Learn from the past to prepare for the future.” The interior recalls a ship’s hold and provides a place for individual contemplation and prayer.
I found all of this quite moving.
It was a cool gray day, raining on and off. There was a long line to get inside the visitor center, but the monument itself was practically deserted: I saw only two people, both black, come and go separately. (You will be happy to learn that I waited until they were well out of sight before I started snapping pictures like a maniacal tourist.) The monument’s web site has some interesting resources, but I’d really like to explore the visitor center when I have a little more time. It has a book store, which I’m hoping houses a treasure trove of titles that can rarely be found all in one place.
I love New York City, and I’ve learned over the years that its history has at least as many facets as people. Sometimes its stories are sad or strange, sometimes surprising or even exhilarating. But at the rate this city reinvents itself, it seems unimaginable to me that any one person could learn all that much about it, relatively speaking, even over the course of a lifetime.
A few blocks away, I was standing in line to clear security in the lobby of the court house. It’s pretty much the standard airport security theater setup: x-ray for bags and coats and whatnot, walk-through metal detectors and a phalanx of people in uniform, inside-joking with each other while waiting for someone to set of an alarm. Except unlike TSA agents, these d00ds were armed—NYPD, I think—and I couldn’t help wondering if they were also waiting for an opportunity to pull their guns. You know: to break up the monotony of Keeping Us Safe™ by killing someone.
As I waited my turn, I took in the stunning architecture, not for the first time. Soaring columns, vaulted ceilings, gorgeous details—lit up, unfortunately, by a monstrous chandelier ablaze with fluorescent glare.
“Hey! Hey! You can’t do that!” I heard one of the uniformed gentlemen barking. I ignored it —it couldn’t possibly be directed at me—as I snapped another shot with my iPhone.
“HEY!” Much more emphatic this time.”YOU CAN’T TAKE PICTURES IN HERE!”
“Oh. Really?” I was a bit miffed. What Sooper Seekrit stuff could there possibly be in the lobby of the same building where millions of New Yorkers serve jury duty, FFS.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t know.” It’s not like there was a big sign that said NO CAMERAS or anything. I slipped the phone into my pocket. “Did you want me to delete them?”
“WHAT?” he snapped back.
“The pictures, do you want me to delete them?”
He seemed to think about it for a second or two before shaking his head in exasperation. Or disgust. Hard to tell, really.
Later I wondered if I were black whether he might have opened fire instead.
On my way back to the subway via a different route, I spotted a Lot-Less store. It’s one of those discount/closeout/outlet operations that pepper the city, promising (and often delivering) all kinds of brand-name retail items, from food to shoes to housewares to electronics at, like, 80% off. I’ve always been a sucker for these shops, not least because when I’ve been poor, I could always score a deal there on some necessity. And when I’m not-poor, I take pleasure in paying a small fraction of the retail price for my gym socks and bathroom rug. Another opportunity to stick it to The Man!
I decided to take a quick swing through. And lo, it came to pass that I did scoreth The Deals.
For myself, I found an amazing dress for $20.
It fits me really well, which is a small miracle because there are no fitting rooms at Lot-Less and also because NOTHING EVER DOES GODDAMMIT. I almost didn’t buy it. But then I figured what the hell: worst case, I donate it to Housing Works with the tags still on it. (They’d probably get more than $20 for it too.) It seems well made, of 97% cotton 3% spandex, and it has deep pockets. WIN.
But this dress? This dress is nothing compared to what I scored for My Amazing Lover™. That’s right, people: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles boxer underwear—with a detachable cape! As I’m sure you can imagine there were precious few of them left, so I breathlessly pawed through the racks hoping to find a pair in his size. And find them I did.
L-R: front view, back view, back view with cape.
I cannot fathom how one could possibly experience more joy for $3.99. Unless it’s happy hour, obviously. And yes, he loves them and will wear them to work under his business suit.
Possibly sans cape.
Speaking of happy hour, I was shortly back in my neighborhood, treasures in tow, and headed for one of my local watering holes for a late lunch and some very good Rosé. The weather here this winter has been all kinds of fucked-up, but somehow the Bradford pear trees have rallied to put on their annual show of snowy white blossoms.
The streets of the West Village never look more magical than they do in the spring, even on a dreary day. Soon all the white petals will fall to the sidewalks, and everything will seem snow-covered for a day or two. But the breezes will be warmer. And then I’ll get to wear my new dress, with open-toed shoes.
[cross-posted from perry street palace.]