I built me a castle
With dragons and kings
And I’d ride off with them
As I stood by my window
And looked out on those……
I walked leisurely on the pedestrian path.
Walkers and tourists milled around me, like me all moving at a leisurely pace. No one seemed to be in a hurry. A family led by Dad with the son on his shoulders passes me in the opposite direction. Just in front, a group of giggling young women were taking a barrage of selfies. It seemed one or the other was not satisfied with the result, be it one’s expression or the way the long cables and the end tower showed up in the photo. A quick joint review, some more giggles and someone in the group would volunteer to take a new selfie. I watched this microcosm of humanity flowing around me.
It was a beautiful sunny morning which had prompted us to venture out on a spot of sightseeing. I was on the pedestrian walkway of the legendary Brooklyn Bridge. Below me on both sides were the motorways with cars and SUVs moving in either direction between lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.
One had glorious views of the New York skyline as well as the leisurely flow of the East River below. To the right one could spot Governor’s Island and in the distance the Statue of Liberty. But as I stood looking around, my mind’s eye wandered off to another unforgettable vision involving the Brooklyn bridge. Powerful searchlights frantically flashing, sounds of helicopters, people jumping off the bridge into the waters below as a terrified News Reporter announces that all of us are going to die! One of the most emotional scenes from the blockbuster ‘I am Legend’ in which scientist Robert Neville (Will Smith) tries to evacuate his wife and daughter from pandemic ridden Manhattan, only to see them die as another helicopter crashes into theirs in the chaos. In the background, the Brooklyn Bridge is being blown up by military aircraft to contain the spread of the disease.
An iconic film showing visuals of an iconic bridge.
A hundred and forty years old structure, the Brooklyn Bridge was the world’s first and longest steel-wire suspension bridge at the time of its opening. What further distinguishes the bridge are the pair of gothic towers standing tall on either side, holding the steel wires in place. Legend has it that when the lead engineer and architect Washington Roebling, became sick and bedridden, his wife Emily, who knew nothing about engineering or architecture, took over the project. For the next ten years, till the project got done, she studied Engineering design and project management on her own and became the first person to cross the bridge upon completion. The following was said about Emily and the Brooklyn bridge:
“…an everlasting monument to the self-sacrificing devotion of a woman and of her capacity for that higher education from which she has been too long disbarred.”
A sad reminder of the fact that during Emily’s time, women were not allowed into Engineering institutions in the US.
Having walked the mile long stretch of the Bridge, we stepped onto the roads of Brooklyn. The neighbourhood in which Neil Diamond had grown up six decades back. With his baritone voice and wonderful songwriting capabilities, Neil Diamond has been my favourite pop and country musician and singer since youth. The singer reminisces about his childhood in that wonderful number, ‘Brooklyn Roads’:
‘Two floors above the butcher
First door on the right
Life filled to the brim
As I stood by my window
And I looked out of those
The place we were walking through had the curious name of DUMBO. I was left wondering whether it had anything to do with Disney’s Dumbo the flying elephant. Or was it about some presumed dumb folks who might have resided there in the past?
‘And report cards I was always
Afraid to show
Mama’d come to school
And as I’d sit there softly crying
Teacher’d say, “He’s just not trying
He’s got a good head if he’d apply it”
But you know yourself
It’s always somewhere else’
I learnt that DUMBO was really the short nomenclature for ‘Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass’. Ironically, the neighbourhood today is home to a large number of technology start-up companies with the earlier warehouses on the riverfront converted into quaint eating houses and pubs overlooking the waters.
A bridge, a musician and a neighbourhood came together as legends for me that morning. They came with tales that were anecdotal, possibly unverifiable but nonetheless remain ingrained in my mind.
In musing………… Shakti Ghosal
Acknowledgement: ‘Brooklyn Roads’ by Neil Diamond