Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Reflections on Christo

Reflections on Christo


Even before Sunday, the last day of The Gates, I had begun to mellow on the thing. You may recall that I had started out an implacable enemy of the project. In a statement a while back [It's somewhere on the Latest News page] I gave my reasons for believing that The Gates did not belong in Central Park.

By February 24 I couldn't help noticing that there was something about The Gates that was having a favorable effect on people, and I recanted somewhat in a comment that day

Then last Sunday I had an epiphany. The park was jam-packed with people taking in The Gates on its last official day, and I was struck by the remarkable aura of good feeling that permeated Central Park. There were families all walking together in peace and harmony. Husbands and wives were conversing amicably. The children were cheerful, well-behaved, rosy-cheeked from the cold. Nobody was arguing, it seemed, nobody was scolding, nopbody was complaining, or sulking, or reprimanding. It was sort of like those movies of the 1950's depicting small-town virtues and a kind of family happiness that everybody knew was a Hollywood artifact. Here it was, in living, albeit garish color.

There were the tourists with their cameras, the dog walkers, the little packs of teenagers -- and everyone was smiling. Well all right. Not everyone. But cheerfulness was in the air.

This happens in New York every so often. It happens during blizzards. It happens during terrible heat waves. It happened after JFK was assassinated, and after the terrible events of 9/11. New Yorkers are transformed into friendly creatures.

Something about the great scope of the project, the vast numbers of those orange curtains weaving their way around Central Park, something about the enormity of it [to say nothing of the media blitz accompanying it and transforming it into a "happening"] worked on New Yorkers and visitors alike in the way that snowstorms and hurricanes and national tragedies did in the past. It tied people together, somehow. A shared experience in Central Park disarmed them, turned their natural defensiveness into a kind of bliss.

I left the park at West 72nd St. Still warmed by the spirit of the Gates I decided to walk home. Only a mile and a half. I walked west to Broadway and turned north. Then, as I passed Fairway on Broadway and 74th St., I remembered I needed to buy some vegetables -- leeks, turnips, Italian parsley--for a particular soup I was planning for that evening.

Again, for those of you unfamiliar with New York, Fairway is a West Side institution, a hugely popular food store specializing in good, fresh produce, usually at prices a bit lower than you'd have to pay at the average supermarket. I knew I'd get better, cheaper vegetables there.

I almost did an about-face when I walked in. The place was as crowded as Central Park on the last day of the Christo exhibit. But good cheer did not reign at Fairway. Though the population did not look any different -- a solid middle-class, well-dressed crowd --nobody was smiling. Everybody-- well, almost everybody-- was scowling. "Stop pushing!": a man snarled at me as I accidently jostled him with my shopping cart. It wasn't that I wasn't careful. Someone had pushed me from behind.

It was Hell, something straight out of Hieronymus Bosch. A mass of the doomed, writhing, wrangling, miserable creatures.

This too was a New York experience. Fairway on a nice Sunday afternoon. Crowded into a place just a bit too small for their numbers, looking for bargains just as I was, people had been transformed into their worst selves. You should have heard what I answered back to the guy who said "Stop pushing!"

It is what John Blakeman has called the "the importance of Place." The same people...blissed out at the expansive spaciousness of the Gates, turned into monsters in the claustrophobic hellhole of Fairway on Sunday.

Go figure.