Thursday, January 26, 2012

Our Spirit Quest, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love City Semester

Now I’m not a superstitious person, but starting the first trip of an
experimental class with limited funding and a small number of students, in a
graveyard seemed like an omen of what was to become of our little program.
So at the ungodly hour of 9 am, we arrived at Woodlawn Cemetery. Woodlawn
was different then any other cemetery I had ever been to. It was large, green and
covered in trees. Despite the thousands of dead people who were within a few
meters of me, I felt more like I was in a park than a cemetery. The gravestones
were artistic and interesting, and as we walked around, I was thinking about the
beauty of the place, instead of contemplating my own mortality and eventual
demise, like I usually do in cemeteries. Mr. Krakowsky, who from this point
forward will be referred to as “Krack”, because I don’t feel like typing his name
out, was our tour guide.

We first visited the grave of Ida and Isidor Straus, famous as turn-of-the-
century Macys Department Store owners and victims of a giant iceberg. At their
site, Lena and Emma presented an offering of pudding, the last meal on the
Titanic. There happened to be a dead bird right in front of the monument, which
was gross. Then we traveled to the grave of the Cuban-American singer Celia
Cruz, where Tess placed her offering, a heelless shoe (I think) she had made,
on a board with Celia’s lyrics written on them in Spanish. It was quite beautiful,
and really showed off Tess’s artistic ability. Finally we traveled to the grave of the
former mayor of New York, Fiorello LaGuardia. Once there I preformed a breath
taking and Tony-worthy performance of what I imagined his deathbed speech
would be. After that we opened our first clue, and our journey really began.

Our first clue was entirely in Spanish, so I have absolutely no idea
what it said. Thankfully the Spanish-speaking members of the Concrete Kings
translated. We had to travel to Celia Cruz’s high school where we would get
our next clue. After some quick Googling, we decided it was quickest to take the
4 Train downtown. As we entered the station we heard a commotion. A white
man (and yes it’s important to note this) was arguing with the police, something
about him not having enough money to get on the train. Another man swiped him
onto the platform, trying to end the argument. The minute the white man made
it through the gates, he turned and started screaming at the police. He shouted
something along the lines of “I’ve never been helped by the police, and we shall
rise up under Obama and your prejudiced system will fail and you know what
else will fail? The Giants!!” He kept yelling for a good thirty seconds, until the
police threatened to kick him out of the station, at which point he went up to the
platform, and told a passing black man that “Not all us white men are bad.”

            We got on the train and went to Kingsbridge Road. We soon found the
high school and opened our next clue. Our task was to interview Celia Cruz,
which didn’t make much sense, given that she was dead. After pondering what
to do for a good ten minutes, we realized that we were supposed to embody
the spirit of Celia Cruz, using some wigs we had been giving back at Fieldston.
Bianca donned the wig, and was interviewed. I’m assuming it was a great
interview, but again I don’t speak Spanish. We had completed our first task and
were quite happy with our selves.

            Our next clue, thankfully in English, told us to go to the Upper West Side,
and find a memorial commemorating Titanic victims Isidor and Ida Straus. The
memorial was in Straus Park on 106th Street. The was a statue of a women made
of gold, with the words : “Lovely and pleasant were they in their lives and in their
death they were not parted.” This was a reference to the fact that the Strauss’
chose to die together on the Titanic as opposed to only one of them escaping.
Just like the movie! We took a picture of us at the statue and decided it was time
for a Chipotle brake. As we all enjoyed our burrito bowels, we got an email from
Krak. It turned out we were supposed to make our own memorials, and not just
take a picture of ourselves. We hastily drew up memorials. I made one of the
Titanic. Lena drew one of the Twin Towers, Emma Drew a memorial for Steve
Jobs, both Bianca and Matt made ones to themselves, which I though seemed
a little bit egotistic, but as we learned the next day that was EXACTLY what we
were all supposed to do.

A Well Deserved Break 
            Once our artistic endeavors had been submitted to Krak, we went down
to Central Park looking for the Summer Stage, which we eventually found, after
meeting some cops, and petting their horses. Once there we had a great lecture
given (mostly) by Lena, our “green guide”, about the founding of the park. We
then made a “statue” from things we could find in the park, and opened our
next clue. We had to film ourselves singing a Celia Cruz song. Now we are very
talented people, it’s a requirement to be a Concrete King, but singing a song
with no practice, in a language that isn’t your native one, is quite a challenge.
We made a valiant effort, and were told by the women with a heavy Eastern
European accent, who we had asked to film us, that we “needed more practice.”
Translate: we sucked. But it was getting late, and we didn’t really want to sing
anymore, so we sent it to Krak anyway.

            Our next task was to find the place where LaGuardia was enshrined in
bronze. This task was particularly challenging, because there are two different
bronze statues of LaGuardia in Manhattan, one at LaGuardia place and one at
LaGuardia School. After debating which one to go to, we decided to just call Krak
and ask. A few minutes later we were on a bus to LaGuardia Place. Sadly, during

the bus ride Lena had to leave us, returning to school to rehearse a play. We
said our tearful goodbyes and continued on our journey.

            We disembarked the bus at Union Square and headed west towards
LaGuardia Place. Along the way we met a ridiculously cute dog and stopped
to play with him. Unfortunately the dog “piddled” on Emma’s leg. We continued
onward until we reached LaGuardia’s place. There we waited for at least half
an hour for Krak to send us his next clue. When it arrived we found we were
told to interview a stranger and ask how many places he or she could think of
named after LaGuardia. We found a woman and I think she named about three.
After the interview we decided not to wait another half an hour for Krak to send
us the our next clue, we just headed to our next destination, the Henry Street

            A nurse was working with a poor family on the lower East Side, when
a little girl ran into her house grabbed the nurse;s dress and said “Mom, baby,
blood.” The girl’s mother had been giving birth, but the doctor had left when he
realized that the mother wouldn’t be able to pay him. This inspired the nurse,
named Lillian Wald to start the Henry Street settlement. A rich benefactor
named Jacob Schiff provided the money, and the rest is history. The settlement
provided housing, medical care, visiting nurse service, and was actually the first
organization that hired nurses to work at schools. Now a days the organization
provides free legal medical and financial services, college counseling, day care
programs, summer camps, and art programs. They service over 50,000 people a
year, and are trying to expand.

            As our day came to end, and we traveled home disbanding one by one,
with each stop our numbers thinned until I was alone. I took a moment to reflect
upon my day, and I realized that even if City Semester started in a graveyard,
it has a long life ahead of it, and I plan on enjoying every moment of it.

Concrete Kings 

1 comment:

  1. Pete-
    If you think 9am is "ungodly," then just wait...

    Great job capturing the spirit of the day.