To Bronxville And Beyond

photo (14)The trip can be a short one from the interior of Gothem proper lasting less time than it often takes to get from Central City to Bushwick, Brooklyn. The strangeness is not the proximity of the bedroom communities but the arch of the journey that takes the traveler out beyond the pale of Gothem’s wealth to the formerly glorious areas now fallen for over a generation into ruin and state of social disrepair. This is the first suburban blight often mistaken as urban as while there are now streets and avenues of these regions and plenty of apartment buildings private and Public, the hills of the northern parts of the city were attempts to place family and hearth outside of reach of the Bowery bums, Cholera coffin ships, and already taken prime areas of Brooklyn.
Today much of the city is “coming back.” The often hollowed out structures still found in upper Harlem are but small dots on a gentrifying and at times chic area of economic boomtime even tho these places are seen as far from the hub of city activity. However, across the Eastern navigational channel, but truly a stone’s tossing at the right hands, starts a landscape of failed opportunity, former bedtime communities and stately estates have become the breeding ground for poverty and films about poverty… and police… and drugs which often then moves back from the screen to reality as there is indeed a high rate of crime… police… and drugs. The hopes the the Bronx plantation would offer but a garden city to the masses turned quickly into the bifurcated neighborhood of former factory workers and now rotting open air prison to so many disappointed migrants. But, all is not lost in The Bronx nor the surrounding area. Indeed the myth of The Bronx has allowed several score from the quaint villagesque apartments of Spuyten Duyvil, the clapboard salt boxes of City Island, the estates of Wave Hill and bucolic garden universities both City and private to enjoy that city of old. And the wealthy? They just pushed ever North. For a time The Bronx and Westchester County did not share a great and varied difference. There were once large avenues of wealth throughout and not just Riverdale, and the well-healed share but a few thousand yard distance from those down-in-their-heels. Now, there is a great cliff that separates north Bronx from the same land no more stark than East and West Germany, when that had existed.
The old train car lurches forward up the track leaving behind the hallowed halls of Grand Central Terminal. The tracks are littered with rubbish both industrial and civilian. And perhaps governmental waste. So that makes it, rubbish thricely. The train crosses the path of the Harlem River, a ditch of some recognition if not the resting place of quite a few members of La Familia. There is a forest of sorts following the river, then the highways, a thicket of branches and places angels fear to spend the night and continued jumble of tossable items – this time from cars. It is the epitome of Urban Decay writ as a diorama of unique despair and the folly of man searching for the outside the city where some flowers may be tended and they can outrun the stretching leap of poverty and stupidity. It is, just at the depth of such a reverie on the low state of the economy and unjust meting of the Commonwheel that the landscape changes, moving beyond that former Pale, without any governance of a known and visible and earthly barrier, the trash lessons, the trees lift up from their broken branches to assume full rite, and about the buildings are lawns, the station is an actual building, and from the train one can see businesses open and gay flowers potted about the trees and common spaces devoid of litter as they are of all other signs of Urban Decay conjured up by whispering “The Bronx.” We have, indeed, entered Bronxville.
photo (13)
First of all. It is not in The Bronx.
Nevertheless, the architecture, the false Tutor – or “fake” or “neo” or “really?” Tutor is similar as are some features of the old 19th century Civis of Church, Bank, and Post Office or trifecta of Lords Spiritual, Temporal, and Postal found in The Bronx proper. The businesses wrap about the rail station, no surprise since this was the core, the heart if not the only reason to settle the village. Built by investors, this was but a social experiment to build a suburban village with easy access to Gothem for those early Titanus Industrialus. The railway, transport and movement, quite the opposite to the city centre of Old Europe, the immobility of Mother Church, the Keep of the Men At Arms, the practical but yet grand house of the Burgermeister, Gemeindearmmann, or Oberburgermeister. In our modern, and by that I mean 1870s, point-of-view, we tend to value movement. From this castle keep of transport – truly less distinguished as Yonkers or some other larger municipalities – one moves to the main commercial district. In the early spring, on businesses of my own, I was able to walk these streets and without the trees occluding the hills, I could see what appeared to be an ancient community of houses and well-kept gardens. There had been no transition between these hills and those ghettos of farther south. It was a switch that was flipped. On the streets middle-aged women pushed prams with the odd African face pushing twin blonds here and there. The kids of the upper grades were already being let out of school and the cafe was filled with these coddled super/wo/men. The stores were the sort that once were found in every now-dead Main Street USA. The book store, the chemist, the flowers, there as even an A&P – the former Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company turned the Whole Foods or Lunardi’s of the 1950s-1980s, all these now-quaint shopes were there and apparently thriving. To complete my business in this community, I had to take a taxi from the station to a certain address almost across town. I got in a taxi quite unlike others I have entered in the outer limits of Gothem and surrounding Superacity. Classical music played on the radio, the car was shabby as expected but not appearing in anything but good maintenance. I happened to spy from behind that the engine light nor any other alert was lit up. That’s right. No Check Engine light. I felt this enough to initiate a call to Car Talk, outside that they are currently in syndication and no longer taking any live calls.
Each hill climbed was steeper than the last. Each wind in the road tighter than the previous. We bent and ducked branches as we climbed, pushing past garden fences and traversing the edge of fine stone walls that marked precipices and the reverse view of various ha-ha’s. The taxi driver drove on in silence. The sunny day, a first in some time, was greeted with windows fully down, the sound of birds and the wind merged with the few loud bangs emitting from contractors working to preen those structures and maintain their timeless Tudorisms. One house had little bird houses built right into the eves. Others had fantastic porches. Each appeared however, not as those houses of a true American village, but those houses built as part of Empire. The European quarters of Cathay. The French neighborhoods of Indochina, the American Towns built in the Urals to house the Bourgeois Specialists or complete German Villages placed in further steppes of distant Asia in order to wrest it from the Muzik, Kulak, or Mohammedans or whomever was the enemy in those open and bitterly cold spaces.
The homes cannot be other than these props in the temporary settlement by a quiet and wealthy minority. At any moment the place could become another Stanleyville, another Elizabethtown or worse. Things are held together it seems. Can it be that a place like this has achieved some sort of advanced movement that will deny any entropy of decay, or is this area a hold out, an open-air museum to a type of Gothem suburb that had once existed in The Bronx and now hangs on only in Westchester County and other Gothem breakaway Republics?
It is hard to gather any greater lessons from a short trip to city where there were Debutante Balls, garden parties, and everyone could pass through the Plaza. This blogger had no further business in town, so the first train back to Gothem was boarded. As so many generations of commuters, I took leave on my way to Grand Central. In a stop, we had again passed that imaginary line, and we entered The Bronx’s northern lands, those Tutor towers looking the more for wear, the For Lease signs more prevalent, the shabby and rudely uneducated pressing the tree-lined streets. I hope again to visit Bronxville. I am not certain I will be invited there by anyone I know.
photo (12)

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