Tag Archives: new york city

Life List #43

If you check out my life list, you’ll see it’s a work (life) in-progress. This year, my goal is to cross five big things off my list. #43, Follow the Diaries, has been 93 years in the making. Here is the story.

In 2005, I was wandering through an antique store in Nyack, New York when I came cross three diaries …

One is from 1914, then 1921, and lastly, 1923. The diaries belonged to Raymond Enders of 27177 Washington Ave, Bronx, New York (and later of 254 East 184th Street). He was an employed by the Italian Discount & Trust Company, a bank, located at 399 Broadway, New York City. The New York Times announced the bank’s establishment in July of 1918. Further history on the bank can be found here and here.

When I opened the well-worn diaries, I found every page filled with tiny, black-inked handwritting. It’s cramped and sometimes hard to read, but every day is carefully accounted for, right down to the weather report.

I purchased the three diaries for $20, took them home and began to read. Raymond’s life was ordinary. He went to work, he went home, he sometimes went out on dates or to the theater or bowling. I never finished reading the diaries, but they’ve always sat on a shelf in my secretary desk waiting for me to open them.

This past November I began looking through them again. New details caught my eye. Buildings in Manhattan I never knew existed (and are no longer around today), walks through Central Park on the same date I had walked through it, 92 years later. The ghosts of Raymond’s footsteps mingling with my solid, present ones.

I began to wonder more about Raymond Enders and the New York in which he lived — so very different and yet similar to the one I inhabit today. Where did he come from? How did he get to where he was? Did he ever fall in love? Get married? Move out of New York? I also wondered about our shared city. New York is filled with beautiful old buildings, most of which managed to stand the test of time and prime real estate, but other brick and mortar structures weren’t so lucky. I began to Google some of the places Raymond wrote about and discovered a New York I never knew, one that only exists in books, the archives of the New York Times or in the memories of the city’s oldest residents.

Just as Raymond spent time documenting his life on paper, I spend mine typing words into the ether of the internet. Both methods of our documentation might eventually disintegrate, but for now, I want to breathe some new, virtual life into Raymond’s words. I want to see New York through his eyes and his footsteps.

Every two weeks (or one month, depending on how active he was), I’ll document two weeks (or a month) in the life of Raymond Enders, either by visiting specific locations he mentions in his diaries or researching the ones that no longer exist, and writing about them. I’m hoping some friends or New York experts might be able to assist me with filling in the blanks … or at least help me read his handwriting. Whatever happens, the journey will be fun and a life will be relived, as I live out my own.

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Sunday in New York

New York on Sunday/Big city takin’ a nap …

Sunday started off with a lazy brunch on Carroll Gardens. I assumed it would end lazily with a movie or reading a book. But that’s the great thing about New York, no matter where you think the day might take you (even a Sunday), it can be unpredictable. Post-brunch found me riding in the back of a rented Mini Cooper as my friend navigated up the West Side Highway to the Cloisters. As we hit midtown, it began to rain. By the time we made it up to Fort Tryon, the rain turned into a light drizzle. We had an hour and 15 minutes before the Cloisters closed for the day. During that time, we navigated through the stonewalled rooms, feasting our eyes on gold chalices, unicorned tapestries and inhaling the scent of rain-soaked medicinal, medieval herbs in the garden courtyard. It was the first time I didn’t stop to read every placard of information. I knew and didn’t know what I was looking at, but sometimes imagining an item’s place in history, in battles won or lost, religious services presided over, mouths that have drunk the “Body of Christ,”  is more fun than finding out the hard facts. It’s quite freeing to spend the time looking at things rather than reading.

Of all the religious artifacts we took in at the Cloisters, these busts on an altar struck me as the most interesting. Very few religious sculptures, tapestries, paintings and stained glass windows bear faces with any expression other than a blank, but holy (perhaps holier than thou) look. I wonder why the artist chose to be so specific. Was it because the models were real and full of personality? Did he know them too intimately to completely disconnect from the person vs. the art? The lazy Sunday version of myself chose not to read the placard and make a note to go home and Google the artwork. I simply let my mind wander outside of the cloistered walls and came up with a million scenarios. Mentally, I was as far away from New York as one could get. But that’s the beauty of New York, wherever you go in the city can feel miles away from where you actually are. New York is a tapestry of worlds cloistered onto a small island. Even on a Sunday, you can never really be lazy in New York.

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Mirror, Mirror
This is a day where I look in the mirror and I don’t judge myself. I am happy just being alive.

Eight years ago I didn’t know how many of my extended family members and friends were still alive. They were trapped in in stairwells, on the streets of lower Manhattan, in college dorms surrounded by clouds of smoke, and, fortuitously, stuck with flat tires on bridges instead of delivering an order to Windows on the World, or had decided to take a meeting uptown instead of in their office in Tower 2, overslept and were still on the train enroute to work at Cantor Fitzgerald, and even in a chemo treatment instead of at their desk in Tower 1.

I was in Ithaca, NY safe in my college apartment, glued to the TV and trying frantically to get through to ANYONE on my cell phone. I was relaying news updates to a high school friend via instant messenger, since she was living in Morocco and they were censoring the news. By 5pm everyone we knew was accounted for, but many others were not so lucky.

Take a moment to look in your own mirror, to reflect on the life you’ve lived over the past eight years. Hug your family a little tighter, kiss your partner a little longer. Relish the simple “I Love You” as you sign off a call or say good-bye. Appreciate every minute of the day, because, as we learned in 2001, it can all change in an instant. la vita è bella.