Hot Time Summer in the City

08/21/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The most egregious myth about New York City in the summer is that the town empties out. Not so. So not so. Granted, the tempo slows to a humidified amble but not because the natives have all packed their sun block and shuffled off elsewhere. Okay, perhaps it's true that the Upper East Side of Manhattan leaks many of its inhabitants. That's where the old (rich) wives tale is undoubtedly perpetuated. Most of the rest of the borough as well as the other four boroughs, however, continue to retain a sizable percentage of their populations.
Perhaps the truth is that what empties out in the City are the homes in order for the in-residence hordes to take the streets and parks and museums and movie houses and you-name-it. Why? Because summer is a great time to explore the City, to take advantage of it, to appreciate it, to revel in it. This explains why many denizens will tell you that far from hustling out of town on weekends, they prefer staying in town--even turning down invitations to visit family and friends who've fled (often at great expense) to the mountains or the shore.
I'm mentioning this now, because I'm one of those stay-at-homes. And I have my favorite New York City pastimes as reasons for my fealty. Right now, one of them is somewhat new and one quite new. To wit, I'm a partisan of the Hudson River Promenade, the one that starts at Battery Park and meanders uptown for a mile or two or three. Plus I've become--as have thousands of New Yorkers like me--an instant and vocal fan of the beautifully realized High Line. (I can say from first-hand experience that the High Line here is every bit as appealing as the Promenade plantée on which it's modeled in the eastern section of Paris, just southeast of the Bastille.)
This past Sunday, I seized the opportunity to take a stroll, not necessarily to see what's new and different as much as to reassure myself that what's familiar to me remains familiar. Reassurance was mine. Because it was a sunny day with spectacular clouds sailing the sky like galleons, the New York and New Jersey skylines had that marvelous trompe l'oeil look of being pasted confidently against the blue by celestial architects. The three Richard Meier apartment houses caught and held the light and threw it back. The sunbathers were out in force. Not too many of them were reading. Some were, but I only saw one Kindle, belonging to a man obviously explaining to the people on the bench next to him how the contraption works.
Certain things did strike me as they never had before. The truncated pilings left behind as reminders of razed piers--and now partially covered with moss--suddenly took on the look of a clever sculptor's public-space installations. Walking to the end of one of the piers that triumphantly remain, I caught sight of the Statue of Liberty. From that distance, it appeared no bigger than an insignia on a Ralph Lauren polo shirt.
My thought was that the tired about whom Emma Lazarus wrote were no longer tired, the poor no longer poor. The huddled masses yearning to breathe free were breathing freely. It felt, if only temporarily, as if the happiness pursued on this teeming shore had been attained. A certain promised civility had been realized. Here's just how civilized the milieu was: Although I passed hundreds, if not thousands, of people either lying, sitting or standing, I only saw one--one--on a cell phone! I reckon that in 2009, this is something of a major-metropolis miracle.
And since this is New York City--truly a small town by many accounts--I ran into people I knew. One couple--he's Danish and he's Greek (yes, unmarried same-sexers)--did declare unaesthetic and wanting attention one of the basins in which debris, including four abandoned balls, floated. I had a brief gab with Jimmy Paulette, who hangs on museum walls around the world in Nan Goldin photographs. He said he's busy and life for him is good.
Events on the High Line--here's a "Thanks a heap!" shout-out to The Friend of the High Line--was just as happily uneventful. Plenty about the new raised walkway and its buoyant effect--has been written in the last month or more. So all I'll add at the moment is that Frank Gehry seems understandably to have designed his AIC corporate headquarters for Barry Diller with an eye towards its appearance from the West Side highway. Yet, glimpsed cruising into view from the High Line, it's equally spectacular. Also, the High Line does for the glory of wild flowers what few things have in who-knows-how-long.
Summer Sunday in New York City rules.