Sunday, October 7, 2012

Roosevelt Island

Nestled quietly between Manhattan and Queens, Roosevelt Island offers a quiet reprieve from the heart of the city, is home to just over 15,000 people, and is a short tram or subway ride from downtown Manhattan.

I'm here, thanks to the suggestion of Haren, a writer in my weekly North Shore writing group.  I would not have ventured here otherwise, barely noticing it on the map of the city.

Exiting the Roosevelt Island Station, a feat in and of itself since this station is one of the deepest in all of the city, at  100 feet, 30 meters, below ground level, I catch my breath from the endless flights of stairs, and walk south along the river.

This short walk along the river, leads me around the entire island, all 2.5 miles of it and in just over 3 hours.  If I didn't stop for lunch or to watch kids playing in a park, I could  walk it in less than an hour. 

I'm here to poke around for a couple of hours, and instead, I spend the day.  There's an unusual energy to this place, and it's an island of contrasts.
  A walk around the entire island reveals a stark difference between the two sides.  The west side facing Queens is industrial, with tall vents clouding the horizon, and it seems cold, impersonal and unwelcoming.  The Manhattan view on the east side is open, green and thereby feels welcoming.

All along the river walk, young, middle aged and old men sit in wheelchairs.  I strike up a conversation with a Vietnam Vet, and he tells me that there are three convalescent hospitals on the island.  He's lived here for five years and says he knows that he will die here, and hopefully in the exact spot where we're standing.  His smile is quick and bright and my heart skips a beat at his generous honesty.

Joe encourages me to visit the small lighthouse standing at the confluence of the east river.  Surrounded by benches and a great view of Queens and Manhattan, this tiny lighthouse provides a nice spot to rest, though my time here is brief as a group of men descend upon the area and lay out in the grass, smoking, drinking and swearing.

I to continue to make my way around the island.  As I do, I watch a bent, old man fishing, his white hair flying out from beneath his New York Mets cap.  His smile lights up his face and I learn that his name is Pierre, that he's originally from Paris, and that he's  lived on Roosevelt Island for twenty five years.

He laughs when I ask if it's safe to eat the fish he'll catch.  He tells me that he has been fishing in this spot for the past five years and has never caught anything.  We both chuckle at that. 

Small and inviting, I enjoy my time on Roosevelt Island and will visit again.  I leave the island via the Roosevelt Island Tramway, a short, three minute ride that takes me above the Manhattan skyline, with a fantastic and unusual aerial view. 

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