An evening walking the streets of the Bronx. High rise apartment blocks, community gardens, shops, delis, under the bridge industrial landscape. There is a smell of petroleum hanging and clinging in the throat, and the toxic perfumed vapours of laundry detergent that permeate the air, wafted by the constant roaring rush of traffic down the Concourse. Medical centres on every street corner built in to housing complexes signal high population density, low incomes and a polluted environment? The winter evening darkness, racing car-tyres slashing slush, piles of blackened snow and ice-entombed garbage accentuate the scene; I imagine spring is more pleasant with children playing in blossoming parks watched over by older generations and a beautiful sun.
Overriding impression today is of being the only white stranger among the many sidewalk inhabitants and commuters. Different languages at every turn, Cuban flags, car body shops, Chinese food, Halal shop live animals wander inside neon glare.
The young woman at the College tells me “Folk from Manhattan don’t come here much…”, I guess they don’t like traveling abroad, so near yet so far, a city divided.
I moved on down to Harlem later and had coffee in a small deli bar that has pictures of Che, Mandela and other advocates of freedom framed on the walls while water hot dripping leak spatters from the ceiling, “Yeah, we have to get that fixed”.
At the Harlem Jazz Museum we are treated to an up close and intimate performance by Jonathon Baptiste and his band opening up the audience with a hand clapping chorus of chants to “FREE - YOUR - MIND, FREE YOUR MIND, EV’RYBODY!” We are IN the groove. Segued numbers subtle transitions leading through phases, paces and moods. Youth now carrying the past into tomorrow making it their own. Strong talents, strong voices address issues of today urban gospel salvation for the metropolitan faithful. Wandering in and out of abstraction, to outer space and back again, breaking down the sound; rhythm section holding the groove down, brass harmony and piano melody in confident improvisation, playing one off one another adding style and colour, leading the assembled through patterns of sound. It was an education and a pleasure for us all to have learned so much about jazz and how to listen, follow, understand… the classical music of New York.
Excerpts from Washington DC
Overheard telephone conversations on the street:
“He treated me like one of his students.”
“I can’t really get along with her.”
Office politics and backroom consultations full volume confidential conducted at brisk walking pace on the way to the next public display of perfect manners and restraint
Meanwhile at the National Mall try to guess which of the joggers passing through the manicured scene are military or security, who are executive, diplomatic, secretarial. Atheletic administration in hardcourt prep for upcoming face offs
On a triangle of astro-turf sprouting between avenues, specimen canines and their well groomed owners socialise and pick-up-after in their collective taking of the air sporting around their railing enclosure golf course aesthetic polite collective hygene keeps sidewalks clean
Images: WATCHOVERYA DC
Knowledge is POWER! ‘educational’ slogan, DC
Vietnam War Memorial:
Carved out of the land in triangular cut, following downward gradient flat polished black marble panels begin slightly the slow descent, one chiseled name becomes two, becomes three, five, eight, thirteen, twenty-one, thirty-four in exponential growth hundreds, thousands and still increasing. The black marble extends down further into the earth until soon countless columns of names reach over head height and we are down in the ground with the dead, grappling with an incalculable multitude of the fallen. Dizzy with dread looking ahead at the too slowly rising incline longing to escape, footsteps, confusion weary, slowly strain for emergence from an insufficient realisation of the scale of unimaginable suffering and loss. Dull shock affected and gasping for some air of understanding as deceased numbers decrease, one is left with bitter sensations and difficult questions of what has been done with the sacrifice of these so many gone souls?
And what of the opposing dead? What of the civilian men, women and children? Can we quantify the measure of the wake of human anguish and grief?
Small groups of visitors photograph names of lost kin; paper roses, stars and stripes, silent in the symbol of sufferings we may hope never even to imagine.
Squirrels scour and flip dry leaves and Washington memorial pierces the sky.
Images: Peace Vigil @ The Whitehouse