Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Haunted Paradise: Part One

Governors Island

There I was in NYC trying to decide which galleries and museums to check out during my all-too-brief stay a couple of weeks ago. I had only a few days, and most of them were filled up with friends, parks, and food dates. I even got to play tennis at the courts in the Bay Ridge Neighborhood which was very funny considering the noisy traffic that prevented us from holding any interesting conversation beyond screaming out the score before serving. Also our newly purchased fluorescent green balls turned grey from the dirt on the courts after just one hour.

Spaetzle is a German noodle dish

While drunkenly scarfing down a late night (early morning) plate of spaetzle at Prime Meats in Brooklyn my friend suggested I visit Governor's Island to see the current art shows there. "What's Governor's Island?" I asked, and she proceeded to describe the fascinating history of this place that has served as a US military base since the 1930's. In 2002 the federal Government sold the island back to NYC for one dollar and since then the city has been trying to figure out its future design.

This was the first I had ever heard of Governor’s Island, and I couldn’t shake the dystopic images that kept coming to mind of abandoned military barracks and deteriorating colonial style buildings filled with artistic sculptural installations. It sounded like my dream come true and I couldn’t wait to get there.

This is what I imagined. I wasn't disappointed.

To my understanding the island had not been very accessible to the public before this summer. I've been hearing differing reports of tours offered in recent years on rare occasions or that its interior was closed off and that people could only walk or bike around it's perimeter. But this year Governor's Island has been free (free!) and open to the public Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays all summer and will continue to be open on weekends until October 11th. You can catch a ferry out of Brooklyn at the Fulton Ferry Landing or from Manhattan out of the Battery Maritime Building for free. (FREE!)

I did not take this picture but it looks similar to what I saw at the Fulton Ferry Landing

So the next day I’m waiting in line for the ferry looking around at all the gorgeous people waiting with me, at the wedding group that’s getting their photos taken on the pier while the Brooklyn Bridge looms gloriously in the background. Contrary to popular belief, people are really really nice in NYC. The sun is shining and everyone has their sunglasses on, talking excitedly about the art shows on Governor’s island, or waiting with their bikes to explore the island fully. So many people were waiting to get out to the island that my friends and I were unable to board the first ferry that arrived. When the second came we hopped aboard and merrily rode the waves over.

I wish I could impress on you the haunted paradise that is Governors Island. From the boat I could see throngs of happy people looking to escape the daily grind of city living roaming the lawns and crumbling sidewalks, luscious trees and quaint colonial houses dotting the grounds. My first impression was that I was back in Iceland where things seem simple and parochial, even innocent, but the military buildings were grave reminders of institutional and nightmarish things.

Hope for the future: abandoned military buildings

I step onto the island trying to wrap my head around this relatively small place (172 acres) that was originally occupied by the Lenape Indians, bought by the Dutch in 1637, (allegedly for two axe heads, a string of beads, and some nails.) inhabited by Dutch settlers, taken over by the British who surrendered it to NY State in 1783 and ultimately ceded to the United States for military purposes in 1800.
The Treaty of Penn with Indians by Benjamin West. One of the scariest paintings I have ever seen.

So much history, so much ghostly gorgeousness, and then there was the art… I’ll write about what I saw in future posts but lets just say that there was no need to visit any galleries or museums after what I saw that day on Governor’s Island.

Governors Island Blog

1 comment:

madteaparty said...

We played a festival on Governor's Island this May! I wrote this blog post on it: http://ukulelerockstar.wordpress.com/2009/06/03/a-big-day-in-the-big-apple/