The calendar seems to have lost its moorings and drifted into spring at mid-winter. The paperwhites peeking out between the pickets of the front fence appear to be looking for an all-clear signal to lead the revival of the cold-induced brown landscape.
The breeze is stirring the faded fall leaves that are still captive to the lashings of the jasmine beds, but their jade color is deepening in to a richer shade. It will be a month of tangled hair and flipped lapels but the feel of it is wonderful, like a caress.
Walking seems the natural outcome of this liberation. No more huddling indoors on brooding days. Everything seems unrecognizably new.
As I was walking toward the river, I noticed something I’d never paid attention to before. The well-made concrete sidewalks that were put down more than a hundred years ago are thin slabs that aren’t more than two inches thick. Winter rain had eroded a little cavity under my neighbor’s sidewalk and revealed that its image of reliable solidity was really an illusion. It might as well have been Wall Street during the banking crisis that cascaded into the recession.
On closer inspection the slabs are all a little cupped, they tend to collect water in their centers to the delight of sparrows and mockingbirds. By the arrival of summer the winged wildlife will have to look elsewhere for drinking vessels.
It’s a shame that the makers of sidewalks don’t cast their names in them as they once did, signing an urban canvas that unrolls by the yards and miles. In my block they are a testament to 19th century immigration and social change. The makers were a partnership, an Irish and an Italian surname hyphenated as a company, if not a marriage.
I like looking at these impressions in the sidewalk since I’m the product of an Irish and Italian partnership. The very first day I went for a walk after moving in I noticed the names and felt strangely at peace, as if this block was always intended to be my home. Sometimes the smallest anchors are the strongest tethers for one’s heart.
I’d made my way down King William Street and was listening to the music of feathery green wind-blown leaves. As I was passing a large house, newly sold to unseen neighbors, I heard a well-trained voice singing songs from Zarzuelas, the romantic Spanish operettas of the 1800s. The singer, a young house painter precariously perched on a second floor ladder, was partly shielded from view by the elaborate scrollwork he was painting. He wasn’t competing with the wind so much as overwhelming it. I couldn’t move for some time – that tenor could sell tickets. When he finished, I applauded – bravo il divo!
He peeked around the scrollwork with a red-faced grin, caught in the act of being happily human on a beautiful afternoon. Then he took off his cap and bowed.
- Michael Guarino