Give Peace a Chance

I like how the many neighborhoods in Manhattan are distinctive from one another. Some feature more trees, others more bars, still others more brownstones and residences with names chiseled into granite above the doorways. But most of New York, in whatever neighborhood, features movement and color and noise.

In Washington Heights there are many street vendors, taxis whizzing along Broadway, people sitting out on the sidewalk in folding chairs to escape the heat inside, little vegetable markets set up under awnings selling all sorts of "ethnic" or "exotic" edibles. On weekend nights the noise from karaoke bars spills out into the street.

On the Lower East Side, a drumming circle is set up in Tomkins Park beside the handball courts, and folks walking their dogs pause to chat with one another, adding their voices to the drums-and-balls percussion. On the side streets, musicians play in bars - guitars, mandolins, bodhrans, fiddles - and the music drifts out in the streets every time the door opens.

In the subway stations all over town, the trains clatter down the tracks, the express trains zooming by on the express tracks beside the local trains that screech into the station and puff out some brake noise before opening their doors with a jolt. On the trains themselves, the noise is slightly more muted unless someone is listening to an iPod with the sound jacked up, and one can hear the voices of people speaking in many languages, discussing at which stop they should get off the train, mixed in with the occasional announcements from the conductor (which may or may not be understandable). On the air conditioned trains, the windows are closed and it's quieter - I remember from years go the local trains with open windows - boy, that was loud!

But there are also places of tranquility. There are little pocket gardens all over town - community plots for growing flowers, benches provided by the residents of nearby apartments in shady spots away from the street. I stopped into one across the street from the Cathedral of St John Divine that featured two folding chairs tucked up under some mid-size trees as if they'd been hidden in a secret spot under the hedge, with a table in between and umbrellas (personal rain umbrellas, not the restaurant table kind) perched over each seat. There are the quiet museums and the lobbies of banks. It seems that in every neighborhood, somewhere there is a place where one can find at least a smidgen of peace.

Relentless noise is not good for the soul. Those who cannot find a respite from the noise suffer, whether they know it or not. We all need a little peace sometimes.