Seeing the Pope in the Park

September 25, 2015

Long before the pope’s plane touched down at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Roman Catholic Church officials began meticulously planning every aspect of his two day trip to New York City. At the same time, law enforcement agencies—ranging from the local to federal levels—started coordinating what Police Commissioner Bill Bratton called the “largest security challenge ever.”

Pope Francis arrived late on the afternoon of the 24th and was immediately whisked to St. Patrick’s Cathedral where he led the evening prayer. The next morning he plunged into a whirlwind of activities around Manhattan, going to the East Side to address the United Nations General Assembly, heading downtown to hold a multi-religious service at 9/11 the Memorial and Museum, driving uptown for a visit with students at Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem, traveling in a motorcade through Central Park and then down to a Mass at Madison Square Garden.

Admission to all of the events involving the pope was restricted; at no point could someone simply wander over to a school or church to catch a glimpse of the pontiff. Tickets to the religious services were distributed by politicians and priests, while city officials conducted a free lottery for those wishing to view the pope’s procession through Central Park.

On September 10, 40,000 area residents were notified by phone and email that they’d each won a pair of tickets to see the motorcade. The announcements were accompanied by detailed instructions, warnings and restrictions, including a lengthy list of prohibited items:

  • Alcohol
  • Aerosol containers
  • Amplified sound devices
  • Animals other than service and guide animals
  • Balloons
  • Bicycles, scooters and skateboards
  • Blankets
  • Backpacks
  • Chairs
  • Coolers
  • Drones and other unmanned aircraft systems
  • Flags
  • Glass, thermal and metal containers
  • Large bags
  • Laser pointers
  • Mace and pepper spray
  • Musical instruments
  • Posters
  • Selfie sticks
  • Signs and supports for signs and placards
  • Unlicensed vending
  • Umbrellas 
  • Weapons, explosives and ammunition

Those selected in the giveaway were assigned to color-coded park entrances (red, yellow, green) and told to arrive, bearing their tickets, before 3:00 p.m. to ensure that they’d pass through security in time to see the pontiff drive by at 5:30.

The southern end of the Park was enclosed behind high fences while security gates and tents were erected near Columbus Circle. The streets surrounding Central Park were closed to traffic. Thousands of law enforcement officers, both uniformed and in plain clothes, were deployed throughout the area. Although the gates weren’t scheduled to open until 11:00, anxious ticket holders began arriving at the barricades before dawn and patiently waited for hours until they were able to move forward.

The crowd slowly passed through airport-style security checks conducted by Transportation Security Administration agents including X-rays, inspection of electronic devices and sniffs from dogs trained to detect explosives.  Upon entering the Park, the faithful sprinted towards the metal barriers lining the roadways.

People jockeyed for position, trying to get as close to the front as possible, then settled in for the day. At one point, someone in the crowd cried, “Look up!” All heads turned to see that, directly above the path that the pope would take, a tiny rainbow had appeared above.

As observers remarked on the fact that the day had been clear and almost cloudless (“Imagine, a rainbow without rain!”), the colored strip grew wider, longer and bent into an upside down arc. “It looks like a smile,” some said. Others thought that it was a sacred sign, a blessing, a miracle. After a few minutes, the rainbow faded away.

Finally, a rumble was heard in the distance and a fleet of slowly moving vehicles, all of them flashing lights, appeared. A convoy of motorcycles, armored trucks, NYPD vans, limousines rolled past as excitement in the crowd surged. An open bed truck, its rear filled with photographers and camera operators clamoring for shots, was directly in front of the sight all were awaiting: the famed white Popemobile.

Inside stood the pontiff, smiling and waving his hand to the faithful. The vehicle drove slowly through the Park without pausing. Pope Francis and his guards moved up the roadway and drove out of sight, headed south to Madison Square Garden, where he celebrated Mass and delivered a homily that included references to urban life.

Living in a big city is not always easy. A multicultural context presents many complex challenges. Yet big cities are a reminder of the hidden riches present in our world: in the diversity of its cultures, traditions and historical experiences. In the variety of its languages, costumes and cuisine. Big cities bring together all the different ways which we human beings have discovered to express the meaning of life, wherever we may be.

But big cities also conceal the faces of all those people who don’t appear to belong, or are second-class citizens. In big cities, beneath the roar of traffic, beneath “the rapid pace of change”, so many faces pass by unnoticed because they have no “right” to be there, no right to be part of the city. They are the foreigners, the children who go without schooling, those deprived of medical insurance, the homeless, the forgotten elderly.

These people stand at the edges of our great avenues, in our streets, in deafening anonymity. They become part of an urban landscape which is more and more taken for granted, in our eyes, and especially in our hearts.

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Mural overlooking Penn Station

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Sign at Pizza Parlor

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Banner on deli

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Pope marshmallows

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Selling vatican flags

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Vendor with football pope t-shirts

Pope Ticket
Ticket to the green zone

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Posted instructions for ticket holders

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Warning sign on the fence

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Reminder about banned items

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Notice about Secret Service dogs

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First arrivals at the barriers

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TSA checkpoint tents

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Waiting for security inspection

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Standing against the barricades

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Officer reminding the crowd to be patient

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A tiny spectator

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Visitors displaying flags and banners

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A tiny strip of rainbow appeared directly overhead

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The rainbow grew into an upside-down arc bisected by a strip of cloud

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He arrived, waved, and drove on

New York City: Pope Francis Visits New York City
Archdiocese of Washington: Walk With FrancisPope Francis Visit
NBC 4: Officials: Upcoming Papal Visit to NYC ‘Largest Security Challenge Ever’ for NYPD
NY Times: Pope Francis, ‘People’s Pope,’ Is Security Teams’ Headache
NY Times: Pope Francis in America
NY Times: After Lottery in New York to See Pope Francis, Some Winners Scalp Tickets Online
Catholic to the Max: Madison Square Garden Mass
National September 11 Memorial & Museum
Madison Square Garden
Our Lady Queen of Angels School

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The Brooklyn Bridge Park Pop-Up Pool and Beach

July 7, 2015

Wedged behind a construction fence, in a weedy corner of Brooklyn Bridge Park between Pier One and Pier Two, is one of the city’s secret delights: a pop-up pool and beach.

If you aren’t familiar with the term “pop-up,” it is used to indicate that something (a shop, restaurant, etc.) is open for an intentionally temporary period. The pop-up pool and beach were built here with the understanding that they would be demolished after five years.

These summer attractions stand beside a luxury hotel and condominium project, known as Pierhouse, which is currently under construction. As Pierhouse nears completion, the land on which the pool and beach now stand will be integrated into the surrounding park. Until that happens, they offer a perfect respite from the heat and humidity of a New York summer.

The primary feature of the tiny resort is a fenced-in blue pool that measures 30 by 50 feet and is only three to three and a half feet deep. This is a wading pool, not a swimming pool, and it is the perfect depth for young children. No electronics, food, glass, or printed materials are allowed beyond the fence (hence, I could not take any photos from inside the pool). There are also changing rooms, communal showers and toilet areas.

On the other side of pool’s fence is a sparklingly clean sandy beach complete with lounge chairs, shady umbrellas, an assortment of sand toys, balls and plastic spades and a snack bar that serves up lemonade, beer, chips and sandwiches. Aside from the food and drink, everything at the pool and beach are free.

The rules here are strictly enforced and those who want to enter the pool area are inspected by lifeguards to ensure that they comply with the clothing and health requirements. If you want to go, the pool is open daily, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m, from June 26 until September 7.

Wristbands are required for entry to the pool, and they are distributed hourly on a first-come, first-served basis. Since the pool’s capacity is only 60, it is wise to arrive early before the allotted number of wristbands are taken.

Each wristband entitles the wearer to a 45-minute session in the pool. After each bathing period, the pool is closed and cleaned for the next wave of waders, splashers and sun-worshippers.

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The pool is almost impossible to see from the park

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The entryway is in the weeds

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The beach is small but lively

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The view of lower Manhattan is spectacular

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Everything is provided for visitors

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The pool has rules

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A glimpse through the fence

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Another view of the pool

Brooklyn Bridge Park: Pop-Up Pool Rules
Lizzmonade Concession Stand at the Pop-Up PoolBrooklyn Bridge Park: Pop-Up Pool
NYC Parks: Brooklyn Bridge Park Pop-Up Pool
Brooklyn Bridge Park Project Development
DNA Info: Visitors Pop In to Brooklyn’s New Pop-Up Pool
Pierhouse
The Brooklyn Paper: Parks and declarations: Judge gives Pier 1 condos and hotel the all-clear
Curbed: Judge Rules, Again, That Pierhouse Can Rise to Its Full Height
Curbed: Brooklyn Bridge-Blocking Pierhouse Is Allowed to Keep Rising
Curbed: First Look Inside Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pierhouse Condo


Iran do Espírito Santo: Playground

October 3, 2013

Perched on the southern border of Central Park, Playground is a sculpture by Brazilian artist Iran do Espírito Santo. The work, a single piece of cast concrete, is incised to make it appear as though it was constructed of large blocks of stone, precariously stacked atop each other.

The artist describes Playground as a kind of “idealized ruin” and a metaphorical playground. Metaphor or not, the children (and many of the adults) who encounter Playground can’t resist climbing upon, and scrambling inside, the cool, inviting space.

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Public Art Fund
Designboom: Concrete Playground by Iran do Espírito Santo


The Lorelei Fountain

July 26, 2010

At the corner of Grand Concourse and 161st street, directly across from the Bronx County Courthouse, stands a seven-acre patch of green known as Joyce Kilmer Park. Originally called  Concourse Plaza, in 1926 the park was renamed for Alfred Joyce Kilmer, an American poet who lived in New York City and was killed in action in France during World War I.

The highest point in the park is the setting of the Lorelei Fountain, which is dedicated to the memory of German poet Heinrich Heine and one of his most famous works, Die Lorelei. The poem tells the story of the Lorelai, a legendary siren with a magical voice who lures sailors to their deaths on the Rhine. At the foot of the white marble fountain is a large plaque which says:

The Heinrich Heine Fountain (also called the Lorelei Fountain) honors the German poet and writer (1797-1856) whose poem “Die Lorelei” immortalized the siren of romantic legend. The marble sculptural group depicts Lorelei seated on a rock in the Rhine River among mermaids, dolphins and seashells. The bas relief around the pedestal include a profile  of Heine as a result of a campaign by many German writers and scholars.

The sculptor Ernst Herter (1846 – 1917) was commissioned with the financial assistance  of Empress Elizabeth of Austria, to design the fountain in 1888 for the writer’s home city of Düsseldorf, which declined the monument on aesthetic as well as political grounds. The fountain was purchased by a committee of German-Americans in 1893 and dedicated in what was then known as Grand Concourse Plaza on July 8, 1899. It was moved to the park’s north end in 1940. In 1999 this monument was restored, relocated to its original location and placed in a newly landscaped setting in Joyce Kilmer Park.

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The view from below

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Approaching from the left

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A closer look

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The poet’s face is below the Lorelei

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From the right

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Rear view

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A mermaid reaches for Heine’s laurels

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Birds enjoying the fountain

NYC Department of Parks & Recreation: Joyce Kilmer Park
Forgotten New York
Dialog International: Heinrich Heine Takes New York


New Amsterdam Village

September 9, 2009

Why is a full sized windmill turning right in the middle of Broadway?

It is part of the celebration of the Dutch arriving in New York 400 years ago, New Amsterdam Village was temporarily constructed, just below Bowling Green Park, at Broadway and Beaver Streets. The village contains booths designed to resemble traditional Dutch canal houses. Some sell traditional foods and products, including cheese, herring, stroopwafels (sweet waffle cookies), flowers and wooden shoes – and yes, even a windmill.

In an open area, intended to represent the village square, a variety of musical acts performed for passersby. The highlights were the raucous numbers from Dynamo, a colorfully costumed youth marching / dancing / percussion / kazoo group, the unexpectedly diverse and humorous repertoire of Kleintje Pils, a brass band clad in traditional striped smocks and wooden shoes and Jan David performing “Miss Sunshine,” the song he composed in honor of NY400.

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The windmill dwarfed by skyscrapers

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Dynamp reaches skyward

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Dynamp drummers

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Trying to play the kazoo while giggling

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Dynamp member dancing

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Dynamp and the bandleader

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Dynamp member performing

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Dynamp member with triangle

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Blue drumsticks and blue kazoo

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The traditional method of making wooden shoes

Kleintje Pils
Jan David: Miss Sunshine
NY400 Week: New Amsterdam Village


Egg! Egg! Egg!

August 24, 2009

It was late afternoon and I was walking through Cadman Plaza Park, a small green spot near the steep stairway that leads to the Brooklyn Bridge. As I made my way across the lawn, my attention was drawn to a little girl who was shouting. It sounded as though she was yelling, “Egg! Egg! Egg!”

I walked closer and saw that the girl was pointing to a pigeon waddling in the shadows, between the fallen leaves, and yes, she was calling out about an egg. Just above the surface of the ground, a half-laid egg protruded from the bird’s belly.

I watched, waiting for the wobbly creature to sit down and complete the act of laying her egg. I hoped to see her perched securely above her sticky little white egg. But she took one rocking step after another without pause. Suddenly, there was a flurry of feathers as the pigeon — the egg still stuck between her legs — lifted her wings, flapped across the street, and disappeared into a small grove of trees on Cadman Plaza.

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The bird wobbles between the fallen leaves

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She’s having trouble walking

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The egg is visible between her legs

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A closer look at the egg


Arlo Sings in the Castle

July 30, 2009

One of America’s best-loved folk musicians, Brooklyn-born Arlo Guthrie is the son of legendary songwriter Woody Guthrie. Tonight he performed at Castle Clinton in Lower Manhattan, part of the tribute to the 40th anniversary to the Woodstock Festival.

Arlo’s humorous and heartfelt singing delighted the overflow crowd which he regaled with tales and tunes about the 50 or so years he has spent onstage. His stories, which punctuated the evening, touched on everything from his boyhood in Coney Island to appearing onstage at Woodstock to a brief gig acting on a television series called The Byrds of Paradise to his upcoming 40th wedding anniversary.

He played guitar, piano and harmonica and performed his own songs as well as those written by people he has known and loved: Pete Seeger, Leadbelly, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, and of course, his father. The highlight of the evening was the last scheduled number, when the assembled audience joined him in signing what is arguably Woody Guthrie’s best-known song, This Land is Your Land.

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Arlo performed alone onstage

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He played harmonica, guitar and piano

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The songs included old favorites and rarities

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The capacity crowd was standing-room-only

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After the sun set, the audience sang along

Arlo Guthrie: Last of the Brooklyn Cowboys
River to River Festival: Arlo Guthrie
Rising Son Records
The Official Arlo Guthrie Web site


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