Saturday, November 19, 2005

Morning in Brooklyn.

My daughter, Silvia, went to the new Harry Potter movie yesterday evening ("it's great, dad!"), then slept over at her friend's home in "Carrol Gardens," Brooklyn. I don't know Brooklyn from Bora, Bora. Evidently my daughter (a Manhattan apartment person) was duly impressed. "They have so much space!"

So this morning I set off at 6:30 A.M. to pick her up at the agreed-upon hour. Given the chaos on Manhattan's subway lines during weekends, it would take me two hours to get to Brooklyn from my neighborhood.

I searched my mind for information about Brooklyn and came up with these gems: First, a Danny Kaye movie I liked when I was in sixth grade, which involved a frantic search for "Prospect Park" and the ghost of Danny's dead twin brother, "Buster," played by himself; Second, something about a big bridge and Walt Whitman; Third, people with funny accents, like one of my college professors who said something that sounded like "Sacratees" to refer to the Gadfly of Athens.

True, Brooklyn is the land where William Shakespeare was born, according to my theory, and it was in this borough that his bar mitzvah took place.

I must say that I was favorably impressed. There is a soothing calm in the sections of Brooklyn that I saw: pleasant brownstones, occasional trees, friendly people and pretty good coffee in street corner Delis. I did not see either Danny Kaye or Prospect Park. I did see the famous bridge on my way back to Manhattan, from a cab, and have now looked up Whitman's poem.

According to Harold Bloom, Walt Whitman is America's leading national poet. As they say in the Supreme Court, "I concur in part and dissent in part": Emerson, Longfellow and Dickinson are the challengers for the title. By the way, I love the poetry of Robert Lowell and Delmore Schwartz, and always recommend their writings to people. Oh, and before I am burned in effigy, I am required to mention Sylvia Plath, who was indeed a very fine poet. While I am at it, I will throw in Amiri Baraka, for when you're pissed off about social injustice.

If you are a "regular guy," concerned to be "regular" about all things and not to be seen reading poetry, don't worry, just say it's homework (which it is, in a way), and then it'll be O.K. That's what I used to do.

This Brooklyn Bridge is certainly one of the most beautiful bridges that I have seen and it testifies to the optimism and confidence of the people who built it concerning technology's power to better human life. Every bridge is a symbol of unity, a reflection of the universal hope that distances can be ... well, "bridged," so that what is outside of us becomes a part of what we are and we become part of it, part of all that is "Other."

Brooklyn to Manhattan is the journey from immigrant blue collar neighborhoods, through education and high culture, to achievement and affluence. You'll have plenty of company on your journey: Philip Roth will sit next to you, even though he's from Jersey, and Harold Bloom will recite poetry all the way to your destination.

Bridges are also expressions of the universal wish for order and rationality. Charles Reich said of another bridge what I would say of this beautiful and grand "embrace of steel and iron." Was steel used in the late nineteenth century? I'm not sure.

... to me it is a monument to another age -- an age of belief, order, faith. Perhaps the deepest human need is to live in an explainable world, a universe where our place can be seen, our purpose understood. The bridge is a testament, not merely to a particular belief, but to the condition of belief, which we seek anew. ...

It was Walt Whitman who asked us all to be the poets of American Democracy:

... This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful or uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem. ...

These are not the words associated with the U.S. by people in the world today. They should be. Maybe they will be again. Soon.

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