Savoring the city, street by street
In his poem, "My Country," the Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov (1814-1841) writes:
These things I love, and cannot tell you why.
Rivers in flood like seas,
Deep in her woods the swaying of the trees,
In the cold fields her silence - I love these.
My loves are urban and less dramatic, like the walk home after attending an evening concert at Carnegie Hall.
I leave the magnificent hall where Tchaikovsky conducted the opening concert in 1891 and walk to Central Park South at 59th Street. This is one of my favorite streets in New York City. Elegant hotels with the flags of many nations flying. Horse-drawn carriages at the curb.
I enjoy Grand Army Plaza at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue, with its fine Saint-Gaudens equestrian statue of General Sherman led in triumph by the winged figure Victory. He gazes at the figure of Abundance, his companion across the plaza, atop the Pulitzer Fountain.
I walk north along Fifth Avenue on the park side, beneath the branches of glorious American elms. The elegant trees stretch ahead as far as the eye can see. Leaves fall. Few people are about at this time of night.
I come to the Frick Collection at 70th Street and Fifth Avenue, one of the most handsome buildings in the city. A frequent visitor, I know every painting behind the closed shutters.
Between Park and Lexington Avenues at 73rd Street, I savor the aroma emanating from wood-burning fireplaces in the brownstones on both sides of the street.
Crossing Lexington, I arrive at my street with its 11 carriage houses. The twin carriage houses adjoining the apartment house where I live are ornamented with equestrian details: heads of horses, reins, a saddle bag.
My evening walk brings to mind a favorite passage from Vladimir Nabokov. As a young man living in exile following the Russian revolution, he wrote, "My happiness is a kind of challenge ... I carry proudly my ineffable happiness."
He continues: "My happiness will remain in the moist reflection of a streetlamp, in the cautious bend of stone steps that descend into the canal's black waters, in the smiles of a dancing couple, in everything with which God so generously surrounds human loneliness."