Last month, Regulator Bookshop invited me to Durham, North Carolina to present my new (and first) book, Left Bank of the Hudson: Jersey City and the Artists of 111 1st Street, to readers in the Research Triangle. Before my reading, I walked through downtown Durham and its warehouse district to get a feel for the city.
For our tenth anniversary, my wife and I spent the day in the country, or what city dwellers would have considered to be the country near the turn of the last century (i.e. the Progressive Era). We planned a day trip to the Hudson River to visit Lyndhurst, a Gothic Revival masterpiece. A quaint and quiet adventure.
After leaving our modest home in Jersey City, we made our way to Grand Central Station. Although bursting with commuters, tourists, and fellow day trippers, Grand Central Station never ceases to amaze and dazzle. Yes, pausing in the main concourse and gazing at the starry ceiling is a must-do for any visitor. However, I’m more fascinated by the elegant and functional nature of the train station: One can get a shoeshine, a bottle of wine, or a small gift or enjoy a meal or drink at the variety of eateries and restaurants within Grand Central Station. While immersed in its world, one feels deserving of certain status and respect. Simply put, Grand Central Station inspires. And entices me to stray from the intended subject of this post. Back to my original topic …
In his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis commented upon the “need to protect those common areas, visual landmarks, and urban landscapes which increase our sense of belonging, of rootedness, of “feeling at home” within a city.” By preserving such spaces and visiting them, we as individuals and as a people might feel a connection with the past and view ourselves as belonging to the larger story of humanity. Such spaces remind us that we exist beyond our individual selves.
Two weekends ago, I attended a memorial ceremony for an elderly relative outside of Philadelphia. After the service, I spent an afternoon with my parents and my sisters in the City of Brotherly Love. As we walked through the courtyard of the Second Empire Philadelphia City Hall, I told them about the former gentleman’s agreement that no building could surpass the statue of William Penn perched atop its clock tower. Real estate developers honored this tradition until the 1980s. Later, my father asked about another Second Empire masterpiece, the Union League of Philadelphia, wondering what the building housed and represented.
During our recent vacation—too short, as always—my wife and I stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, right next door to the rowdy and famous Asbury Park. While Asbury Park tempts one with rock ‘n’ roll music, cheap drinks, and the hope of fast women, Ocean Grove offers quiet nights, family-friendly restaurants, and a proper (read: Methodist) atmosphere.
After disembarking from the train, we walked through downtown Asbury Park to the footbridge traversing Wesley Lake, the man-made body of water separating Asbury Park from Ocean Grove. The difference between the two localities could not be more visible and palpable.