Londoners and New Yorkers gawk at each other through a transatlantic lens
A Victorian-era dream is reborn via fiberoptics and imagination in the 'telectroscope.'
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A young boy holds up a sign – "England 2, USA 0" – referring to the result of the big soccer game at Wembley stadium on May 28. His grandmother chastises him: "Oh they won't understand that. No one over there watches football. "Skip to next paragraph
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In fact, someone in New York gets it. As quick as a flash, a white-haired man with specs holds up a sign saying: "Yeah, but your football team didn't make it into the Euro Championships." Ouch. New York 1, London 0.
Londoners' cynical take subsides temporarily when there's a moving family reunion. A mother and her two young children leap with joy when the kids' dad – working in New York – appears on the other side of the tunnel. "I love you, dad," writes his son on the message board. There isn't a dry eye to be seen.
Quintessential New York
Planted firmly in front of the Telectroscope's gaping maw are three small middle-school students, each clutching a white board and marker. Teacher Erica Lazarow points through the lens.
"Over there, they're queuing," she says, and spells it out. "Q-U-E-U-I-N-G. Queuing. That's what they do over there in England. They love to Q-U-E-U-E."
Behind her, a water taxi drifts along the East River, finishing a run from Manhattan. St. George couldn't have picked a more idyllic spot. Here on the pier, where a Walt Whitman poem winds across the metal railing, one can stare up at the masts of the Brooklyn Bridge and catch a glimpse of midtown, with its hive of steely spires, and the spot in the sky where the World Trade Center once stood.
In other words, it's the most quintessential of New York scenes, equal parts spectacle and scale. It's a feeling deepened by the presence of the Telectroscope, which allows viewers to peer into a faraway world, but also enforces their own uniqueness, their own spot on the globe.
Eureka! It's Matt amid those Yanks
Through the Telectroscope, I catch my first glimpse of Matt, holding a sign: "Hello from Brooklyn."
"Ah, hello from London," say some of the people gathered near my end of the Telectroscope.
Matt's wearing a T-shirt and shorts. I'm wrapped in a leather jacket. "New York looks sunny. It's wet here," I write. "London is always wet," Matt writes back. Isn't it weird that, even when communicating through a contraption as mad as the Telectroscope, people talk about the weather?
In the end, the Telectroscope has added a frisson of fun to what has become quite familiar technology. We're all used to webcams; we take for granted the IT revolution that allows us to communicate with people thousands of miles away, and to send photos, messages, and videos to friends, strangers, and even enemies around the globe.
But it took the eccentric brass-and-wood Telectroscope, where one has to hold up handwritten signs to communicate with smiling citizens on the other side of the Atlantic, to remind us just how magic modern communication can be.
London blows a transatlantic kiss
Ryan, 13, says he's been to London before, and he's been standing at the Telectroscope for the better part of an hour, watching for a familiar London face. "I was pretty young when I was there," he says. "But it's a small world." "Shrinking every day," I answer.
The crowd thins for a moment, and Ryan and I stand looking through to the hulking outline of the Tower Bridge.
Two sisters on the other side of the Atlantic raise their fingers to their lips, and blow a long- distance kiss across thousands of miles.
For a moment, Ryan stands still.
Then he raises his own hand, catches the kiss, and blows it back.