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.