Roof Life

There is a world hidden to our eyes, even in New York.

It is the reason the Empire State Building is so successful, and the Rockerfeller and all those other sky reachers. There must be acres of space, just as prized as the real estate down below, for in this haven is a little Eden interspersed with water towers.And you reach it using the stairs.

Or the lift. Elevator, I mean.

We had the choice to walk up the last six flights of the Empire State Building. Stairs or lift? We asked the kids, and they pleaded for the lift but we said nonsense, children,the exercise will do you good, and we took the stairs.

Instantly we were away from the scenery and the sales. The staircase what white, unfussy, janitorial even.

That was refreshing. Maybe other people like being sold a city but I prefer to draw my own conclusions.

We emerged to find the world taking pictures, a babbling snapping Babel;yet there was always a space. I never had to struggle for a view.

And all of a sudden I could see the island once more, the two rivers converging at Manhattan’s feet, and I shed the streets and the taxis and the lights and was able to overlay, once more, the history of this extraordinary place on its frame.

I was reminded of its prehistory and the schist rock on which New York was built; of the ancient peoples who had lived here, and the unassuming little Dutch colony, and the English who followed of the jetties which sprang up on the edges of the island, the streets as they once were before the grid got hold of them.

If ever a place has a spirit independent of its people, this place is it.

I took my very expensive brand new phone and I held it out over the City, and I pressed the shutter. The family gasped. That was a lot of phone to drop.

But I didn’t drop it, and I got what I wanted:a snapshot of the way the New Yorkers use their roofs.

And behold: water towers, roof gardens, bars, pools, walking space. A city above a city, where one can stand and watch the world go by.

See the Met Life building? Phil asked. Once, he went on, an airlineowned it, and that great rectangle of a roof was a heliport. Helicopters would take off and land from there: it was a route for the privileged right to the heart of the city.

I wanted to turn back time. Quite acutely, I longed to see the old helicopters arriving like great mechanical dragonflies on the roof of the city.

Later, it grew humid and we decided to try our hotel’s pool. It nestles on the roof, open to the sky, unheated but designer-azure.Guests did not swim, but seemed to gain immeasurable satisfaction by standing around in designer shades, catching rays.

I sat while Maddie and Felix splashed about, and watched incredulously as a dragon fly hovered happily past, helping itself to a little roof life. Never make assumptions as to what the wildlife of a city can and cannot do. It will always surprise you, much as did the seagull who was taking the updraft high above the Empire State as we stood on the observation deck.

If you want a real life adventure in New York -un-manufactured, not heavily laced with theatre but straight up: I find the rooftops generally do the trick.

I wonder how many I can visit before I leave?




52 thoughts on “Roof Life

  1. You remind me of being on top of the Hillbrow Tower in Johannesburg, Kate.
    All the local roofs exposed to my gaze. And one could almost see the curvature of the horizon! Great post.

  2. *lamentations and sounds of extreme distress* All I get on this page by way of illustrations are little squares which announce ‘Image’. The previous ones work fine. I do so want to see your ‘rooftops of New York – cor, what a sight!’ although I assume a chimney-sweep would not fit in there too well.

  3. Fabulous, Kate! Maddie and Felix will remember these shots, swimming on top of the city.
    Jennifer and I once witnessed a fireworks display from the penthouse of a posh hotel. There we were, the Chicago River below us, the city lights – and we were on top of the fireworks. Magical moment she remembers well.

  4. Kate, I wholeheartedly agree with you that there is a city within New York that is only visible from the vantage point of balconies and rooftops. It is true that air rights are indeed for sale here in Manhattan, and very likely any surrounding place with a view of Manhattan. Breathing rarefied air is very connected with power and status here. Gee, I live in a third floor walk up with a northern exposure that faces a courtyard. Clearly, a pauper.

  5. I love NY too – your photos are a reminder of some good times – I am wondering what else you and the family will find to delight yourselves and then us. Look forward to it

  6. Loving my vicarious trip to New York and your perspective! I’ve been there only once – 52 years ago — but I remember loving it, reveling in the “busyness” and “hugeness” of it all. Hope Maddie and Felix will remember it similarly years from now! .

  7. Your post on roof tops brought to mind a passage from Proverbs: Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. (21:9)

    Captain Kirk to Scotty: “Shields up at full power!!! Stand by for impact!!!”

  8. There is a little-known movie called “The Heights.” It is one of my favorite New York films, in that it tries to capture almost every scene from a rooftop. You must watch it when you get home, as it will prolong the trip a little. (It does have adult themes, just FYI.)

    I am glad you are having such fun. I visited the Empire State Building with my mother the first time. There’s nothing quite like it.

    And, I’m glad Maddie and Felix swam in that pool. I would’ve joined them, had I been there, and to heck with all those people standing around. Well done.

  9. Fabulous photos, Kate! New York City is somewhere I’ve dreamed of going for years. It is such a treat to read your account of your visit. Not least because it is honest. Because you’re not trying to promote a trip, a theatre visit, a shop or anything that the magazines/tv etc do, it’s deliciously and honestly painting an authentic picture and I love it! 🙂

    Did you feel at all giddy looking down on those rooves?

      1. It’s daft but sometimes I can stand on the ground and look up at something really tall and it makes me feel a little queasy! 😀 It’s good that you love heights, though. No doubt you’ve been able to appreciate so much more of such a trip as a result.

  10. “great mechanical dragonflies” — you have such a wonderful way with words. I’ll never see helicopters quite the same way again.

    And I love your photo looking down on the roofs. Everyone shoots the long view. Few think to look down.

  11. I share your fascination with rooftops. We saw one in Paris that had shrubbery and trees (I think). Fascinating – to have a garden high in the sky.

    As for the Empire State Building, I hope you have seen the movie, “Sleepless in Seattle.” It has a wonderful scene at the Empire State Building.

  12. Sounds great, Kate. Your hotel is very cool, with the designer pool. The only time I went to New York, there was an ice storm. I guess you could skate, Kate. There’s a book by a German photographer (name’s gone) who heaved a bellows 10X8 camera onto the roofs of New York, where he shot the most wonderful details in fantastic light. I must think of the name.

  13. “When this old town starts getting me down,
    I find a place up there that’s trouble-free,
    Up onna roooooooof!”
    (apologies to writer/artists of old rock and roll song)

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