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LEONARD QUART: A NYC kaleidoscope

No matter how much we work at keeping fit, there is no predicting when we will be struck, and suddenly become more fragile, even incapacitated.

New York — Trying to capture some images and small dramas I saw observing life in the city in the last week. Unusually warm days, so many people walking about.

I sit in Washington Square Park, and see a buck-toothed, sorrowful-looking man take off his tattered shirt and do sit-ups for fifteen minutes while showing off his rippling muscles. His demonstration gains no response as NYU students pass by involved in their thoughts and conversation without giving him a glance. A few minutes later a bike rider careens aggressively and illegally through the park (bike riders seem to exist outside the law) while a trumpet player’s melancholy sounds can be heard from one of the many jazz groups that play in Washington Square each day. There are also the people who dote on the park’s pigeons and squirrels, feeding and talking to them daily, as if they have no one else who will pay attention to them.

The park is also a sanctuary for those who can’t venture too far away from home, people in wheelchairs, those using walkers, and others accompanied by homecare aides. Sitting there I see an NYU English professor, whom I know just in passing. Just a year ago I recall his looking very healthy, and vigorously playing tennis at the gym. Now he seems to have had a stroke, and forced to walk haltingly and use a walker. It strikes me how when we reach our seventies that our physical wellbeing is always on the cusp of abruptly running down. And no matter how much we work at keeping fit, there is no predicting when we will be struck, and suddenly become more fragile, even incapacitated.

Another day I head for the Union Square Market to pick up some heirloom apples and organic whole grain bread from the Tibetan salesman at Bread Alone. The market is crammed with shoppers, Hare Krishnas in their saffron robes chanting, street artists selling their wares, and vegetable and fruit stalls with exquisitely shaped cauliflowers, apples and cabbages, and carrot bunches freshly picked with clumps of mud speckled of them. I buy what I need, and I’m elated not only by the market’s urban intensity but my capacity to walk, despite my neuropathy, the mile and a half from home comfortably without stumbling. Life is not always this upbeat, for my good feelings can turn sour, just as quickly as the city’s underside — violence, homelessness, addiction — can show itself in the midst of its ostensible harmony.

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