Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Tag: brooklyn bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge at the Magic Hour

The other night, in discussing my plan to paint the Manhattan Bridge, I took some shots at the Brooklyn Bridge in the company of a proud New Yorker. She was aghast, but I continued as if she wasn’t even there. “… and it’s not even pretty anyway!” I bellowed. “I just don’t think it’s a nice to look at as everyone says it is. They just want to like it because it’s old!”

When I was admonished by not just said woman and, well, everyone sitting around me, I refused to back down. Okay, maybe I backed down a little, retreating to my initial point about the Manhattan Bridge’s need for anything—anything—to spruce it up. On Monday, I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, like I often do, and everything changed.

I moved to Brooklyn in March, and it was July until I realized that the walk from City Hall to my house was no more than 45 minutes, and a sure way to beat the heat with the cool breezes at the top of the bridge. The first few times I did it, I made sure to stop and soak in the view of Brooklyn, Governor’s Island, the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan. I almost never looked north.

I was trying to understand what made the bridge so great. I’m not a cynic by nature as much as someone who needs to see things with his own eyes. I wasn’t seeing it yet, but I continued to walk over the bridge. I needed the exercise.

During this time, I began dating a woman who has since become the official squeeze of this blog. She often gets off work around the same time as I do, and had admonished me for never calling her before walking over the bridge (she lives nearby). Well, Monday, I finally did it, and we met at City Hall and pointed ourselves eastward, and that’s when everything clicked.

For all my thoughts that the summer was the best time to enjoy the span, I was wrong. It’s right now. The angle of the sun from 5 to 6 p.m. is just right to cast the shadows of the suspension cables across the bridge’s stanchion’s, which are also bathed in the oranges, reds and purples of the setting sun—what’s known as the “Magic Hour” to photographers. It’s majestic, and it’s only then that the size of the structure stands out. Surrounded by cables and shadows, it feels like you’re experiencing a wonder of the world (when it was opened, it was called the Eighth Wonder of the World). Here the bridge existed not as a watery tomb to those who created it but as a living, functional piece of art with no American equal. And I was finally mad at the aliens (Independence Day), tidal wave (Deep Impact) and U.S. Government (I Am Legend) for destroying it.

Yesterday, one day removed from my epiphany, I walked over the bridge again. Without the lady and the exact weather conditions, it was a touch less spectacular than the day before, so I turned my attention back to the Manhattan Bridge. There it was, in its blue-and-rust splendor, existing mostly for truckers and commuters who could do without the Brooklyn Bridge’s pomp and heightened security. One thought overwhelmed all others: it’s just too watery. The blue of the bridge mixes with the blue-green of the East River to render it mostly invisible except in those photographs from DUMBO where it perfectly frames the Empire State Building. I, like many new New Yorkers, saw that for myself about seven years ago and thought I had discovered something amazing. Like my recent discovery of the majesty of the Brooklyn Bridge, it just showed I had a lot to learn.

My initial proposal was to paint the bridge brown, but I think I’ve grown attached to one by a friend who left it in the comments here: paint it beige, and train lights on it a la the Empire State Building. Change the colors nightly. The bridge would become a living piece after sundown, keeping the magic alive after its little brother’s breathtaking show at the dusk.

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Should the Manhattan Bridge Be Painted?

I was taking a long walk along the East River the other day when I realized something: the Manhattan Bridge is the wrong color.

Go ahead, roll your eyes. It’s true.

There’s something that’s never quite sat right with me about it, and I could never put my finger on it. It dwarfs the Brooklyn Bridge—its smaller, older brother—in stature, but that’s about all. The Brooklyn Bridge is a part of the American consciousness; the Manhattan Bridge just goes to Chinatown. There are no marriage proposals on the Manhattan Bridge, though I wouldn’t be surprised if divorces were finalized there.

All of this is true despite the fact that the Manhattan Bridge is quite wonderful, both aesthetically and functionally. With trains actually passing over the bridge’s span, more people travel over it on a daily basis than the Brooklyn Bridge, or any other East River Bridge. More eyes may be trained on the Brooklyn Bridge, but that’s not the Manhattan Bridge’s fault. After all, it’s one giant piece of camouflage.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, the Manhattan Bridge is pained a deep blue, the origin of which is found in old Dutch delft tiles—best known as white-and-blue pottery from the 17th and 18th century you’d see at the Met. The decision to paint the bridge this color was likely an homage to New Yorks’ Dutch ancestry. If that was the case, the bridge-painters succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Just as the Dutch influences on modern New York have been erased but for some unmissable place names (Spuyten Duyvil is not the Dutch U.N. representative, and Hell’s Gate has nothing to do with the place way downtown), so has the meaning of the bridge’s blue been obscured.

In fact, the bridge might as well be missing from the East River landscape; it exists seemingly for function only. From loud, commercial Flatbush Avenue to loud, commercial Canal Street, it’s good for the Point A to Point B-ers. You won’t have anyone slowing down to enjoy the scenery, at least (some may prefer this). But I think one real coat of paint, and all of that might change.

As it stands now, the Manhattan Bridge’s color almost looks like it was chosen specifically not to overshadow the Brooklyn Bridge or the buildings on either side of it. Well, it’s there, so I think we might as well make the best of it. Instead of a bridge whose water-like color inspires people to slide off of it as soon as possible, why not go for a color people may look at?

So here’s my solution: paint it brown. Like a brownstone. (Or red. Or dark orange. I’m not picky).

What will it do? It’ll give the bridge a distinctly Brooklyn feel. If the Brooklyn Bridge is forever associated with Manhattan—and it is—the opposite may as well be true. It’ll also become a living, breathing thing like the Golden Gate Bridge, which needs to basically be constantly repainted. That would be pricey, but a) I’m not making a city budget, and b) if it was brown from the beginning, no one would think twice about it. The bridge would stand out against the water, and appear to be a living connection between Brooklyn and Manhattan, which the Brooklyn Bridge is not. Its stone slabs are a monument to human achievement, but they’re also a tomb. Not just symbolically, but literally. Hundreds of people died creating that bridge, victims of the difficulty of building in water. It may be gray to the eye, but it’s inexorably connected with the waves underneath.

The Manhattan Bridge should resonate differently. It should celebrate our triumph in engineering not by shrinking it against the river or its more famous brother, but by bringing it to life. Play the bridges off each other, and they’d both look better.

I’ll admit, I’m still working out the details. But I’m happy, for now, with the rarest of phenomena: a Manhattan Bridge proposal.