An abandoned bungalow

The hills around Mumbai are full of abandoned bungalows. As I walked to the Kaas lake I saw the one in the featured photo. From the outside I guessed that this one was late colonial, perhaps built around the beginning of the 20th century or the end of the 19th. The guess was partly based on the style of the arched doors, and partly on the stone. The dressed stone was massive but well cut. The granite blocks were interspersed with weathered blocks of red laterite. It does not seem to have been abandoned for long, since the corrugated iron roof was rusted but intact. On the other hand, it was so definitely abandoned; the doors were left open.

Kaas lake: Derelict bungalow

Intrigued, I walked around to the back. A covered verandah looped around a set of rooms. I climbed the few stairs up to it. Kaas lake: Derelict bungalow Clearly the place is used by locals. There were smashed bottles in corners, but the middle of the verandah was clean. I could walk into two of the rooms. They had fireplaces built back to back so that a single chimney could serve them both. Chimneys and fireplaces meant that the bungalow was at least a century old. Each of the rooms had a little bathroom attached. The room was not terribly badly decayed for an abandoned house. There was a false ceiling under the roof. This construction is certainly fairly recent, and must have been added on within the last twenty-five years or so. Again I had this sense of the place having been abandoned recently.

I wonder what the history of the place is. If it is over a hundred years old, it was probably built by a British person. Some time around 1947 it likely that it was sold to an Indian. The lake came into existence much later. So for much of its life, this bungalow would have stood fairly high above the now-dammed river. With the burgeoning tourism in Kaas plateau in the last decade, it would have been turned into a hotel, were its owner able to do so. Instead, it seems to have been abandoned at about that time. It should be possible to find out who the owner is, and why it has been abandoned, but that would require many more days of research in the Satara municipal corporation than I’m willing to spend.


Stone street

A little cobbled lane leads off from Hanover Square in downtown New York. No vehicle can pass through it, because the bars and restaurants lining the road have placed benches across it. It is a cheerful place. You wouldn’t look at it a second time, unless you wanted to sit down and relax.

It is hard to figure that it was once called High Street. In 1658 it was the pride of New Amsterdam because it was the first paved road on the continent. A few years before that the continent’s first brewery was founded in a building on the road. I don’t think any of the buildings survive. The exit of the Dutch and then of the English gave rise to much rebuilding. After that, the fire of 1835 wiped out a large part of lower Manhattan.

The look of the street is recent. It is possible, but unlikely, that the cobble stones are historic. After all, the road was redone in 1996. I walked through and peered at

Down in the Battery

New York City: Battery park monumentWhen you go downtown to the Battery park in New York, you are reminded quite strongly that the history of the US is a history of immigration. At the entrance to the park is a memorial to the purchase of Manhattan from the local tribes by the Dutch. As far as we know, the ancestors of the tribes arrived in the land now called the Americas during a previous ice age, and spread over the continents in the same time that humans took to spread over the old world.

As you pass that monument you see a large expanse of grass and a circular structure behind it (see the featured photo). I think that beautifully green patch of grass was where Fort Amsterdam, and later Fort George, stood since 1626. New York City: Bowling Green The departure of the last British soldiers, and their freed slaves, is commemorated in the small plaque above the statue of the charging bull in Bowling Green. If you look carefully along the top edge of the photo here, you will see a plaque which reads Evacuation Day. After Britain lost the Americas to the new settlers, the fort, and the battery which gave its name to the park, was demolished.

The circular building, Clinton Castle, was erected in 1811. The army moved out of it in a few years, and leased it to the city. Jenny Lind, another immigrant, gave her first concert in this expanse of green in 1850. From 1855 to 1892, Castle Clinton was the place where immigrants landed and were processed. I did not enter the castle. I was distracted by a monumental sculptural group near it called The Immigrants (photo below). The sculpture by Luis Sanguino commemorates this period of history.

New York City: The Immigrants, a sculptural group

After this, the Ellis Island facility was started. From the pier here you can see the statue by Bertholdi, possibly the most famous statue in today’s world, which looms over the entrance to the harbour. The connection of the Statue of Liberty and immigration is so strong that it serves all over the world as the symbol of the freedom of human movement. I took a long shot of this statue, and then turned to leave through the East Coast Memorial.

New York City: East Coast Memorial

This is a memorial to the US soldiers who died in the West Atlantic during the second world war. I walked up the central aisle of the memorial, with four tall granite slabs on each side with the names of soldiers engraved on them, past the bronze statue of an eagle, and turned to take a last shot of the harbour through which waves of immigrants once arrived.

The speed of forgetting

In Aachen, near the Dutch-German border, I switched on the TV and saw the day-long destruction of the wall that hemmed in West Berlin. Twenty seven years later I walked into the lobby of 520 Madison Avenue and saw a piece of the wall. Five reinforced concrete slabs, out of about 100000. The side that you can see is the one which faced Mariannenplatz in West Berlin.

The cheerful paintings are due to two street artists, Thierry Noir and Christophe Bouchet, who decided to do something which was not only illegal but dangerous. The wall stood inside the territory of East Germany, so anyone painting the wall was technically crossing the border. When asked about this, Thierry Noir said to Huck “…the soldiers were allowed to jump over and arrest me if they wanted to. But I was young and quick at that time so they had no chance against me.”

The two were joined by other artists. Eventually, by the late 1980s, a kilometer long stretch of the wall had been painted. Now Noir sometimes joins other artists to paint other pieces of the wall. He was asked once about his feelings when the wall came down in that June many years ago. His reply was “I was not crying because my world was pulled down, it would be arrogant to say that. It was not an art project, it was a deadly border. One hundred and thirty six people were killed because of the wall – everyone was just happy that it went away.”

I was the only person in the lobby on that Saturday morning. The guard looked bored, from which I gathered that some still come in to look at this piece of history. I wonder whether twenty five years has been long enough for us to forget that people overcome walls.

Ticker tapes and two presidents

A part of Broadway in lower Manhattan is called the Canyon of Heroes. Ticker tape parades used to take place along it, and these are now commemorated through granite plaques installed along the sidewalk. I walked along, looking at the strips reminding people of the games won by New York’s Yankees and Mets. On the way was the wonderful Georgian chapel you can see in the featured photo.

This is the 250 years old St. Paul’s Chapel, by now the oldest surviving building in New York. Interestingly, the building is made of the bedrock on which the island of Manhattan rests: the rock called Manhattan schist. The chapel is more well known because George Washington came here on the day of his first inauguration, and continued to come here regularly during the years when New York was the capital of the country.

New York City: Canyon of Heroes

I brought my attention back to the pavement of heroes: astronauts from the early days of space, Haile Selassie, and then, Radhakrishnan, the second president of India. I didn’t know that any Indian president had a ticker tape parade. The date was interesting: June 10, 1963. That’s the day Kennedy announced that the US was ready to enter into negotiations to stop atmospheric nuclear tests. About a year before that, China had invaded India during the Cuban missile crisis. At the end of the crisis, China withdrew its troops unilaterally. And on the same day that the US was ready to start on a new road to peace, the Indian president was given a ticker tape parade on Broadway. International politics was different then, but not completely different. Geography has a way of causing history to flow along certain channels.

A beer break

I had expected the Georgian windows in this three-story yellow brick building at the corner of Broad and Pearl Streets. I was surprised that both red and yellow bricks were used, a different colour on each frontage. The hipped roof did not look too out of place. At first sight the chimney was a surprise, although it shouldn’t have been. This version of the Fraunces Tavern came into existence in an architecturally controversial renovation in 1907. The original was built as a family house in 1719, before being sold to Samuel Fraunces in 1762. Fraunces established a tavern which he named the Queen’s Head.

New York City: Fraunces Tavern

I was happy to walk up the few steps from the street into the dim interior. This pub was part of my Hamiltonian walk. The revolutionary war started soon after the New York Chamber of Commerce was founded in this tavern. During the war, the roof was destroyed in cannon fire. Repairs may have been made by the time George Washington hosted a farewell dinner for his officers here. I later learnt of an inglorious board of inquiry which tried to retain slaves who had been set free at the end of the war, and were to sail away with British troops.

The tavern is on the lowest floor. The upper floors are museums run by the present owners, The Sons of the Revolution. I decided that I preferred to nurse a beer. I sat down at a table and tried to choose from their selection on tap. An oyster flavoured stout was something I wouldn’t mind missing. So the choice boiled down to a heavy stout or a lighter porter. I went with the stout.

New York

My longest stay in New York ended in June 2001. The Family returned to Mumbai a couple of days before me. When I got back home I found that she’d picked up a memento for me from the airport: a t-shirt with a picture of the twin towers. It was the perfect gift for a few short months.

New York City: 9/11 memorial pool

7 years later when Mumbai was attacked, I started wearing it again as a personal gesture that I would not, in my mind at least, let the rubble of destruction bury us. I went back to New York last month and walked up to the memorial pools that stand where the two towers used to be when I was there 16 years ago.

Hamilton’s corner

It is difficult not to run into traces of Alexander Hamilton or George Washington when you are in the extreme southern tip of Manhattan. Right at the beginning of Broadway I saw the Standard Oil building (featured image). The beautiful detail over the archway of 26 Broadway attracted my attention. A dragon clutching a globe featuring Asia squared off against an eagle with a globe turned to show the Americas. What did this premonition of the 21st century have to do with Alexander Hamilton? I found later that this address was Hamilton’s home until he died in 1804. In less than a century this plot was owned by John D. Rockefeller, who built a series of buildings here from 1885 on. The one which I saw had been built between 1921 and 1928 by and architect named Thomas Hastings.

New York City: Cunard Lines building

Broadway curves around Bowling Green here, and the facade designed by Hastings curves with the street. You see this by its reflection in the windows of 25 Broadway, another building designed by Hastings. This is the Cunard Lines building where one could buy tickets for trans-Atlantic voyages from 1921 to 1968. Interestingly, the famous Delmonico’s restaurant ran out of this address from 1846 to 1918. I would have liked to walk in to see the famous ticketing lobby, reputedly modeled after Roman baths. But the venue is now rented out for events, and inaccessible.

New York City: detail on the facade of Cunard building

This detail on 25 Broadway is a bit of fiction, since Cunard lines always ran steamships. Samuel Cunard and the engineer Robert Napier started operating trans-Atlantic cruises in 1839. They reorganized in 1879 to make it into the Cunard Steamship Company. For many years the company’s ships made the fastest time across the Atlantic. I had done as much of street-level gawking I could do here. It was time for me to move on.

The church on Wall Street

I walked down Wall Street towards the Gothic Revival church I could see across Broadway. An ice cream truck blocked my way. I stopped, finished my ice cream, and walked on. I knew this was perhaps the oldest church in New York, having been first built in 1697. It burnt down twice, and the present grand structure was designed by Richard Upjohn and completed in 1846.

New York City: Trinity church, east door right

I walked in past an elaborate door. Later I would realize that this is the east door, and was designed by Karl Bitter. I stopped to admire it. Its not very often that I see a door donated by William Astor. Bitter completed the door in 1891, so it must have been one of his early commissions. I took a photo of the right hand door (above).

I’d arrived late. One of the things I wanted to do here was to walk through the cemetery and spot the graves of Alexander Hamilton and Robert Fulton. It was close to 6 in the evening, and the doors were being shut. I would have to come back another day to finish this. I walked around the main nave and apse and headed back out. On the way out I took a photo of the other door (below).

New York City: Trinity church, east door left

I was quite surprised to learn that this building was the tallest in New York until 1890. The era of skyscrapers began about then, and left this more traditional architecture far behind, in terms of height. I walked out and peered at the cemetery. In the middle of the bustle of the crowd at day’s end, it looked green and peaceful.

The Manhattan Purchase

New York City: Battery park monument New York City: Battery park monument

The only contemporary record of the so-called Manhattan Purchase are the following lines from a letter written by Peter Schagen of the Dutch West Indies Company to Dutch government and received on 7 November, 1626: “They have purchased the Island Manhattes from the Indians for the value of 60 guilders. It is 11,000 morgens in size.” Everything else is a story or an attempt at reconstruction.

I saw examples of such attempts in the memorial near the entrance to Battery Park from Broadway, photos of which you see above. Dutch is close enough to German and English that one can puzzle out the meaning of the text (or you can type it into Google translate). The date mentioned for the purchase requires no translation. However, this is speculation, since there is no contemporary record of the date on which the sale was made. I made a quick attempt to fact check the image on the monument, and the clothes shown seem to be accurate enough to be of the period. The coat of arms with beavers and barrels is an anachronism, since this was used by the city of New York much after the purchase.

The area was inhabited by the American people who called themselves Lenni Lenape (and were called Delaware Indians later by settlers). I was intrigued by what the tribe would do with 60 Guilders. They could only use the money to buy things from the Dutch. So eventually the trade must have been goods for land. The later purchase of Staten Island for the same amount of money records that this was the value of tools given in exchange for land. Perhaps it was the same for Manhattan.

There have been learned papers about land-use customs and laws among the Lenni Lenape, and their notions of trade. These constrain our imagination, but it is hard from a layman’s perspective today to understand the calculation which would have resulted in land sales of this kind. Perhaps this is a subject waiting for its definitive popular history book.