"there was a white horse..."

Yesterday Allan and I took a tour of Grand Central Terminal, one of the world's great public spaces, and one of New York's greatest buildings. The Municipal Art Society, an urban planning and preservation group, conducts a tour every Wednesday.

The tour was more a social history of the Terminal than an architectural tour, which was still fascinating, but a little disappointing for me. We thought we'd be taken into areas that are inaccessible to the public, especially the catwalks in the huge windows. Apparently the tour used to include that, but hasn't for many years. Despite these minor disappointments, it was very interesting and extensive.

If you visit New York, even if a two-hour tour of a building doesn't grab you, do see Grand Central. A few blocks away you can visit the main branch of the New York Public Library, with its famous Reading Room, another grand public space. Grand Central and the Reading Room were both restored to full splendor in the late 1990s (and the Reading Room was also technologically upgraded). They are not to be missed.

Of course, as an architecture fan, I'd been meaning to do the Grand Central Terminal tour for years. But yesterday I realized how fitting it was that I went just as I'm about to leave the city.

When I first moved to the city on my own, in 1983, I read - for the first of several times - Mark Helprin's A Winter's Tale. This book forever changed the way I look at the city, and it remains one of my absolute favorite novels.

Grand Central's great celestial ceiling figures prominently into the story. At the time, my commute took me through the building, and I would always remember to glance upward. No matter how crowded my commute (the subways sucked in those days!), no matter how harried I felt, gazing up into that immense space was so soothing.

It's hard to explain how one can feel a personal connection with a building, but I feel that for Grand Central, and the feeling stemmed from that book.

The story begins: "There was a white horse, on a quiet winter morning when snow covered the streets gently and was not deep, and the sky was swept with vibrant stars, except in the east, where dawn was beginning in a light blue flood. The air was motionless, but would soon start to move as the sun came up and winds from Canada came charging down the Hudson. ..."


allan said...

I do like that beginning ... and, yes, I know I've whiffed a couple of times in trying to read the novel.

"... when snow covered the streets gently and was not deep ..."

I like that in describing what *is*, he also includes a description of what is *not*.

Why not tell us the snow is "slight", instead, though perhaps "gently" does that. Does that mean that saying a gentle cover of snow is not deep is redundant?

It's still additionally descriptive somehow, and it also puts a slight kink in the sentence, making you pause and back up slightly, before turning your gaze upward.

laura k said...

What a lovely comment.

The second paragraph:

"The horse had escaped from his master's clapboard stable in Brooklyn. He trotted alone over the carriage road of the Williamsburg Bridge, before the light, while the tollkeeper was sleeping by his stove and many stars were still blazing above the city. Fresh snow on the bridge muffled his hoofbeats, and he sometimes turned his head and looked behind him to see if he was being followed. He was warm from his own effort and he breathed steadily, having loped four or five miles through the dead of Brooklyn past silent churches and shuttered stores. Far to the south, in the black, ice-choked waters of the Narrows, a sparkling light marked the ferry on its way to Manhattan, where only market men were up, waiting for the fishing boats to glide down through Hell Gate and the night.

The horse was crazy, but still, he was able to worry about what he had done..."

Read this book. It is magical.

Pop Culturist said...

We are jealous, my partner and I and our 4 yr old son visited Toronto and got married there. We love Canada. We live in Milw WI and plan to move to New YOrk next year. Good for you!!!

laura k said...

Hey, thank you!! And good for you too - congratulations on your marriage and your son. Wisconsin seems like a nice place, but you're gonna love New York. Drop me a line if you need info.

If you can't move to Canada, New York is the next best thing.

Kyle_From_Ottawa said...

Well, if it makes you feel better I've lived in Ottawa for 12 years now, and I've never been in the parliament buildings.

I always mean to go, but never get around to it.

Rognar said...

True story, I visited Parliament Hill for the first and only time about 2 1/2 years ago. One of the things I really wanted to see was the Parliamentary library. Wouldn't you know it, it was under renovation. So, what was the solution for the tourists? They walled up the main entrance and plastered a mural of what the library would look like if you could actually see it. Pretty lame.

laura k said...

A cliche about New Yorkers is that we've never been to the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Bldg, etc.

I've always been really into exploring the city - not so much the big tourist attractions (though I've done plenty of that), more the out of the way, little-known places.

Rob, your story about the Parliamentary Library reminds me of that trend in Toronto, where the buildings have false facades - they put a fake architectural facade in front of a plain boxy building. It is definitely lame!