Given this hot and soupy weather the east coast has been getting, I have to cast my lot with The Book Bench:
When the heat begins to rise, I can only think of dipping in water. Over the past few days, I have been writing up a list of places to swim. It is unfortunate, I keep thinking, that I can’t just walk a few blocks west and slip into the Hudson.
Ah, the mighty Hudson; a noble and beautiful river, and a love of mine. I’ve lived on either side of it for most of my life, and own a small shelf’s worth of books on the subject. Although not the one Madeleine Schwartz mentions, Lives of the Hudson—not yet, anyway. That may only be a matter of time.
The Hudson isn’t the only famous body of water around New York, however. You have your Gowanus Canal, Dead Horse Bay, Coney Island Creek, Plum Beach, Arthur Kill, the Narrows… names that vouch for a long, colorful, often slightly unsavory history. It’s not surprising that the local waterways have conjured up lore and legend since Giovanni da Verrazano first pulled into New York Harbor nearly 500 years ago. And now 21st-century chroniclers of the urban drink have a home online—Underwater New York, Stories from the Deep:
Artists and storytellers have long drawn inspiration from our cityscape, but underneath the water’s surface is another landscape entirely, ranging from the whimsical (a runaway giraffe, a fleet of ice cream trucks, mysterious white goo) to the historical (the steamship Princess Anne, the remnants of Coney Island’s Dreamland). These objects have been discovered by divers and scientists, detectives and engineers, environmentalists and everyday city-dwellers.
Originally inspired by Christopher Bonanos’ article in New York, Secrets of the Deep, Underwater New York is collecting stories inspired by their list of watery found objects. From shipwrecks to junked subway cars to a baby humpack whale to a bag of lottery tickets, this is some wet’n'wild mythmaking in progress. If the project brings to mind Significant Objects, you’re on the right track–some of the oddities dredged from the deep, like Chris Adrian’s creepy Kangamouse, have been bid on there. And Ben Greenman has expanded his letter-writing project to include stories of these sunken treasures.
Water is everywhere—it’s the universal solvent, it’s the stuff of life—and so is Underwater New York. In fact, if you happen to be sweltering in the vicinity of the New York Public library at lunchtime on Wednesday, UNY will be sponsoring a reading of original underwater stories by the likes of Jennifer Egan, Ed Park, Nelly Reifler, Said Sayrafiezadeh, and Deb Olin Unferth, with “an underwater letter-writing activity” from Ben Greenman. So get out those waterproof Sharpies and practice holding your breath—it’s probably a lot healthier than a dip in the Hudson. And if you’re not in the neighborhood, go over to UNY and pick an object and… you know. Get your feet wet.
(Painting is Sanford Robinson Gifford’s Sunset on the Hudson, 1876.)