Ghost Town NY

Retreat, Retreat, Repeat

We all had plans, didn’t we? When our House Hunters International episode aired two months ago, I had eyes on leading a yoga retreat in Portugal – lining up the location and pricing for October and getting ready to send out an email blast.

Now I find myself retreating inward more and more. No outward plans. Cagey in the heart of the concrete jungle. 

At home, I’ve been staring at the cover of Georgia O’Keeffe, The New York Years. I ordered this 30-year-old art book when I found out O’Keeffe used to live in our building. One thing I love about New York is pondering all the creative ghosts that have walked these streets for centuries.

Here’s the view from our building, taken from O’Keeffe’s penthouse apartment in 1936. These ghostly skyscrapers were new then. The ones I’ve pointed out are still standing and I walked by all of them today.

I have mixed feelings when I go outside – guilt and relief entwined. I take an empty Sunday stroll down 5th Avenue, remembering throngs of people on this street when we first landed in New York during the holidays. Today I see a ghost town, with no more than five scattered figures at a distance. Instead of people watching, I’m peering into frozen window displays.

It reminds me of a song I learned while a student at Berklee College of Music: I Remember – a Sondheim tune from the 1966 TV movie, Evening Primrose. Turns out it was filmed one Sunday morning at Stern’s department store across from Bryant Park, which is where I am standing now.

Anthony Perkins and Charmian Carr in Evening Primrose

The store closed long ago, but I conjure up echoes of the stars Anthony Perkins and Charmian Carr (that’s Liesl from Sound of Music). Here’s a synopsis of the film:

The people are gone. The doors are locked. Darkness descends inside a department store. Fleeing the pressures of the outside world, an unhappy poet is at last alone. But not for long. In his newfound sanctuary, he comes across a group of hermits who have been hiding there for years. Among them is a girl with whom he falls in love.

She wants to see outdoors (having been stuck inside since she was a child); but when they attempt their escape, they are turned into mannequins. Pretty gloomy stuff. Yet I find her song absolutely beautiful:

I remember sky
It was blue as ink
Or at least I think
I remember sky.
I remember snow
Soft as feathers
Sharp as thumb tacks
Coming down like lint
And it made you squint
When the wind would blow.
And ice like vinyl
On the streets
Cold as silver
White as sheets
Rain like strings
And changing things
Like leaves.
I remember leaves
Green as spearmint
Crisp as paper.
I remember trees
Bare as coat racks
Spread like broken umbrellas.
And parks and bridges,
Ponds and zoos,
Ruddy faces,
Muddy shoes,
Light and noise and
Bees and boys
And days.

Certainly there are many silver linings in our sequestering. My solo exploration led me to that building on the O’Keeffe book cover, which has been overlooking Bryant Park for almost a hundred years. I’ve never noticed it before, with all the usual busyness of that space. Today it stands out in stark relief.

American Radiator Building, built in 1924, black brick trimmed in gold

One more ghost for you: my younger self and singing voice captured during my music school days. Click image or button below to hear my rendition of Sondheim’s I Remember (with fellow student Joe Smith on piano).

Ghost of Eve from 15 years ago