It was cold but clear the day I visited Valentino Pier in the winter. I had timed my trip to coincide with the sunset. I wanted to see the sun setting over the harbor. I parked the car nearby and walked the remaining half block with coat zipped all the way under my chin, camera in hand. There was a small path with cinders and some hard packed thawing mud before it let out onto a concrete pier. As I walked to the end of the pier I watched some people coming the other way. The woman was short and stout with a square red face, a large mouth that looked like it smiled a great deal and small brown eyes darting back and forth excitedly trying to take it all in. Even before they came close enough for me to hear I already knew that they were not speaking English. It was their mannerisms more than anything else that gave it away I think. Were I to be asked I don’t know if I could pick her two companions out of a police line up. The woman’s face was so full of character and even in repose such animation that I couldn’t stop watching her. I wanted to draw her or at least take her picture.
As I came upon them walking the opposite way away from the end of the pier, suddenly the woman’s face became excited and she began to pull her two male companions to the railing alongside the pier. I could hear her saying something and I strained to listen without appearing to eavesdrop. As she became more excited I had no trouble hearing her; she was saying “Ikea water taxi!” and pointing excitedly with a small brown gloved hand. One of her companions took out a camera and began taking photographs of the Ikea Water Taxi as it moved by at a steady clip to the pier outside the Ikea store in Brooklyn. She made me smile, here she was in New York, maybe for the first time in her life and directly behind was the Statue of Liberty and she was ecstatic over a boat.
With a big smile plastered on my face I walked by the small group of people and nodded to two very avid bicyclists as they walked their bikes down the pier, scarves tied over their mouths and noses wearing what looked like wet suits, I’m assuming to keep the cold out as they rode.
I arrived at the end of the pier and sat down on the ice cold metal bench to watch the water roll by gently. There is something about watching moving water that gives me such peace. As I sat there I remembered as an older child going on a camping trip with the Girl Scouts. I woke up early one morning and walked to a creek not far from camp. It was a chilly morning, two sweatshirts and gloves chilly, and when I arrived at the creek I found a large flat white rock to sit on. It was quiet, only the sound of the breeze in the trees and the water running over the rocks below. Across the small creek there was a rock formation that looked like a small cave. I remembered looking at it and thinking it would be a great place to hole up and read.
I came back to the present at Valentino Pier and looking to my left I could see the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the US. In front of me was Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty, to my right was Governors Island and the Manhattan Skyline as well as Brooklyn Bridge. It was an awe inspiring sight and a lovely moment in my life.
I stood up from the bench and walked to the railing looking out across the water at the Statue of Liberty. I had seen it before, the first time I was in New York, but this was different. I was there by myself, my amusing fellow tourists having hustled off after taking pictures of the Ikea Water Taxi. The Statue of Liberty looked so small and compared to the arch in St Louis actually is. I thought about what it stood for and what it meant to the thousands of people who saw it for the first time as they were on their way to a new life in the United States. Some of my family members were on those ships, I wondered what they must have thought as they arrived. We take this country for granted without remembering that many of our own ancestors left their homes and their families to come to this new country to start anew.
I took some photos as the sun was setting trying to capture my feelings in the lens. I wish I were able to see things through a photographer’s eyes. It would be lovely to take pictures or draw things that conveyed emotion. I took drawing lessons a couple years ago but I’m not very good. I love doing it but I’m not the least bit talented. Once in a while I hit upon something but I can’t repeat it.
I lowered the camera and sat back on the bench. As the sun began to set the temperature was dropping quickly. I wanted to stay longer but I was starting to get cold and I wanted a cup of coffee. I stood and ambled slowly back along the pier looking out across the water as I went. I didn’t want to leave this peaceful setting and fight the traffic and the crowds of Manhattan. I stopped along the way and took photos of a set of concrete blocks alongside the pier with “RED HOOK” painted on them. I stepped off of the pier onto the cinderblock path and silently said good bye to Valentino Pier until the next time.