Alex Massie Alex Massie

Circumnavigating Manhattan For the First Time

A lovely, gentle, mildly nostalgic piece in the New York Times by Gay Talese, recounting his maiden trip aboard one of the tourist cruisers that sail around Manhattan. It’s as elegant and neat and finely-constructed as you might imagine:

Atop a cliff on the Manhattan bank of the Harlem River stands the 185-foot Highbridge Water Tower, which resembles a medieval minaret and housed a carillon that chimed tunes thrice daily until it was destroyed by arson in 1984. Across the river, within view of Yankee Stadium (or stadiums, both old and new), two young boys hurled stones toward our vessel, failing to reach the mark but prompting Captain Weber to respond to their ill intent with a few forceful honks on his foghorn. There were rows of rusty subway cars lining railroad tracks in weedy fields, and storage buildings attended by junkyard dogs and surrounded by barbed wire fencing. On a rickety wooden pier, an elderly man in a straw hat stood with his fishing rod extended over the muddy water. “What fish are around here?” I asked Captain Weber. “Flounder, striped bass,” he replied. “Can you eat these fish?” I asked. “You could,” he said. “Would you?” I asked. “I wouldn’t,” he answered.

Amusingly, mind you, the Times signs off with the line Gay Talese, the author of 11 books, was a writer for The New York Times from 1956 to 1965. This is true, but rather misses the point, give the influence of Talese’s Esquire pieces on Frank Sinatra, Joe DiMaggio and others.

Hat-tip, via Twitter, to Englishman in New York. Like him, I always like these pieces in which fine writers cover “mundane subjects”. And you can follow my Twitter feed here, if that’s your thing.

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