Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Sun Temple—Pt. 1

he Noonday Sun, directly overhead, and suspended so low in the sky that it almost touched the roof of the apartment building in which I lived, found itself in a quandary as it tried to make its way down to me on the first floor. It peered and squinted down through the dark and narrow alley between the old tenement buildings, generating sparks and flashes as it tried to navigate the fire escapes and ledges, losing a good deal of its flame in the process—then caromed off the moldering bricks which absorbed more of its strength, and finally arrived apologetically at my dusty and decrepit window in the form of a feeble ghost. Then, with a single narrow beam of sunlight that had painstakingly found its way through the aforementioned obstacles, it slowly and carefully inscribed a small arc (no more than 12 inches in diameter) across my kitchen floor: a solar hand burning a hieroglyphic message and then, quickly—before it can be deciphered—evaporates in the gloom of that unfortunate chamber, leaving me to ponder its significance. But the message was clear, and I could feel the mighty presence of the sun—I knew it was out there—blazing right above the building, burning the black tar of the roof as it illuminated the East Village, and lending a thick crust of noon-tide colors to those gray and listless streets and buildings.

This knowledge of the sun's presence is enough to cause an intense unease and dissatisfaction—an irresistible urge to break out of that damp and dreary shell and reunite with the glorious sun, who tries so diligently to find me. He is not easily discouraged, however, and seeks me out again from another direction: as I open my apartment door I am happy to see the reflection of his face through the thick prism of the small glass panes in the front door at the end of the long hallway, as he puts the lie to the counterfeit light from the florescent bulbs in the ceiling.

Once out on the street, I feel a tremendous sense of relief at having escaped from that sepulcher once again—I feel alive, as I bask in the radiance of the God who is so great that his face cannot be looked upon without being blinded. Yes, the sun has returned and with him my imperative to continue wandering this jagged and refracting city, as I give myself over to the sun’s hot shower. But even at this glorious moment, the day’s demise has already been set in motion, as gigantic orbs twirl and turn majestically on their prescribed routes in the heavens. As the afternoon slowly rotates away from us, the euphoria begins to evaporate, and is replaced by an aching sadness and nostalgia, as the sun withdraws his favors, abandoning us to latitudes of blue, green, and violet as evening approaches.

But the sky has ignited in the west, turning an apocalyptic orange, and I have the notion that a great event is occurring, but is being obscured by the intervening buildings. Once again, I am troubled by a general sense of unease, as if life is taking place somewhere else—that I am missing out, and that I must hurry after it before it’s too late. As I hurry—almost in a panic—through the darkening streets towards the West, the great disc unexpectedly breaks through the buildings, covering me in red and gold, as I pursue it all the way down to the southernmost tip of the island, the oldest part of the city…whereupon is situated…the Battery.

* * *

I can’t recall exactly when I first started becoming infatuated with the Battery—it must have been during that painful period of my life when I had gradually begun to find myself isolated and estranged from other people. My friends had fallen away, one by one, and I had become increasingly cut off from normal associations and activities, and had instead begun to prefer the spectral and consumptive nourishment that day-dreams provide. My life had somehow lost direction, with no plans or goals—that was it, really: I was aimless—that was the root cause of my perhaps unhealthy obsession with the old Battery. The park and the harbor exerted a powerful psychological pull on me—a magnetic force that brought me back day after day.

Now, the Battery, by this time, had fallen into a state of neglect and disrepair—its roads and walkways eroded and crumbling—its beds untended and overgrown—its statues and monuments pitted and stained—its fountains run dry, and it’s buildings blackened from decades of exposure to the soot of the diesel engines of the boats that sail in that ancient harbor.

I had closely studied the Battery for several seasons, becoming intimately acquainted with and finely attuned to the psychological nature of the old park—each facet of which held its own peculiar spell that pulled me back to silent dreams of antiquity.

Of course the old Battery is now hopelessly wrecked—all the wonderful old maritime monuments have been torn out (why?) and taken away to God knows where—a tragedy—especially for a fantasist such as myself. They destroyed the soul of the park…

But this was still the old Battery—the way it used to be—before its destruction and “re-design” — still the old Battery of antique, nautical monuments that had faced the harbor for an eternity of lost days & nights. It was filled with an obscure assortment of oddities and curiosities: the bizarre and disturbing statue of Verrazano, set in the middle of a circular, cobble-stone courtyard ringed by powerful arc lamps, who gazed out into the harbor from atop a ten foot pedestal and was guarded by a green-copper allegorical female figure who was meant to represent Discovery, but whose features had blackened over the years, and who now resembled an advancing angel of death with sword in hand.

Set a little further back from the water was the Wireless Operators Monument: a beautiful and delicate cenotaph decorated with a carved swag of seashells and foliage, and inscribed with long forgotten names. It was fronted by a small fountain set into a semi-circle facing the harbor, but was now given over to neglect—the fountain had run dry ages ago—the whole presenting a most mournful appearance and feeling of abandonment.

At the very bottom of the park stood the charred remains of the old Concession Building, which had been gutted by a fire, and was now slated for destruction. Its western wall faced the harbor— its shuttered and blackened entrance crowned with a semi-circular roof which, lining up perfectly with the ascendant sun, cast a symmetrical shadow across the corrugated metal gate and crumbling stone riser. It was flanked by two smaller ceremonial doorways which had also been scorched and blackened from within, as if the sun had been called down in a fire ritual, but had come too close and burned the temple.

Hidden away and embedded in the southern wall of the Concession is the most obscure marker in the entire park: the John Wolfe Ambrose monument, a decrepit and forgotten altar that faced the river, and whose bronze head had been stolen and carried off years earlier.

Opposite the west wall of the Concession—forlorn and abandoned— was a strange little circular courtyard that faced the Hudson. Weeds and grass had grown up through the cracks in the shifting flagstones whose warp and wobble gave it the appearance of a terrain map. In its center was a gnarled and ancient tree ringed by a weather-worn, circular bench. Always unpopulated, the courtyard gave me the impression of a lost and abandoned observatory that might once have tracked solar movement throughout the year. This circle was the most potent and mysterious spot in the park: the very bottom of the island—it was a kind of sieve or repository for the psychic currents that ran down through the entire length of the great and tumultuous city.

Adjacent, and to the north of the Concession building was the glorious Promenade—a broad apron of white concrete that embraced the sun and harbor with outstretched arms—its three broad and gentle steps leading down to the perimeter at the water’s edge. The Promenade could invoke a range of dramatic effects and emotions: on a crystal clear day in High Summer, you felt as if you were an offering to the sun—under different weather conditions, you might have the impression of a great melancholy or tragedy, or at other times you might find yourself dissolving into the vaporous mysteries of the harbor.

All day the tourist boats arrive and depart at frequent intervals, bringing a swirling, variegated parade of tourists and visitors from all parts of the globe. But the true character of the park only emerges after the last tourist boat has sailed away for the day, and the throngs have departed. That is when a distinct change would come upon the park—its great melancholy soul finally free of the distracting hordes. This is when the true heirs of the park would emerge and collect down there at the bottom of the city, to sit and stare at the harbor, and reclaim their rightful place in the great park.


/// Battery Park /// Cannabis /// Sun Cult ///


  1. A magnificent piece. Your words don’t just commemorate what’s been thoughtlessly torn away, but in some psychic sphere--the realm of untrammelled imagination--they carry out a work of restoration, making you a living tour guide of the past.

    In fact if I were to suggest any revision, which probably only the patina of elapsing time could make possible, it would be to embrace the ravaging effect of municipal vandalism instead of ranting against it: to acknowledge time’s erosion, for we are more mortal than monuments. To seize the role of sole preserver, restorer and interpreter, a guide to a zone of New York of which you alone may be the curator.

    Such is literature. Vita brevis, ars longa.

    Life is short,
    and Art long,
    opportunity fleeting,
    experience perilous,
    and decision difficult.


  2. Thanks, Vincent,
    I love your line: "a guide to a zone of New York of which you alone may be the curator." This story is only getting warmed up—Part one only sets the stage—it takes off into some very strange places.
    I am very glad that I at least had the inclination to take some photos (20 years ago) of the old park before it was destroyed. They came in very handy here as illustrations to the text. I wish I had taken some similar photos of WSQ before it was destroyed—but alas...
    And yes, it has occurred to me that all (or most) of these monuments and places will outlive me!