I see the city for the first time, again and again

My first arrival in New York City was on the occasion of being born at Fifth Avenue and 105th Street, across from the Conservatory Garden. Here began my life-long attachment to the city.

I remember nothing of the event, nor of my second arrival at the outbreak of World War II. My sister and I, both infants, were in Paris. Mother was lecturing in Norway. We were taken by the young woman caring for us to Le Havre to board the Normandie for New York.

On the deck of the ship, our companion thrust me into the arms of a lady so she could embrace her French-soldier boyfriend. Family legend relates that the lady was Helen Hayes. Decades later, I met Miss Hayes. She did not recognize me.

In 1919, at age 16 and alone, my Russian-born mother had come to the United States via Copenhagen, a refugee of the Revolution. She landed in Boston, not New York. Only when she was ejected from the Harvard Law School Library, where women then were not allowed to study, did she come to New York to pursue research for her doctoral dissertation at the Public Library. She came to love New York and was grateful to Harvard for facilitating her introduction to the city.

Father came to New York from a small town in Kentucky to practice law. He became an instant New Yorker.

Unlike my parents, having been born and raised here, I have no memory of seeing the city for the first time. Perhaps this is why the accounts of visitors interest me.

An Englishman named John Lambert describes his arrival in November 1807. "About ten o'clock at night we arrived at New York; it was very dark, and as we sailed by the town, lighted lamps and windows sparkled everywhere, amidst the houses, in the streets, and along the waterside."

His arrival by water reminds me of my nighttime arrivals to the city by air. Almost two centuries later, I, too, see the sparkling lights of the city in the darkness.

On these occasions, the city's bridges, more so even than the skyline, are an overriding presence. For New York is a city of islands. Immense, magnificent bridges - spanning three rivers, the Narrows, and the Sound - link Manhattan, Long Island, and Staten Island to each other and to the North American continent.

Native New Yorker though I am, the sight never ceases to thrill me.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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