On Sunday, the Spy family took the ferry to Governor’s Island (full disclosure: I first typed “fairy”).
Governor’s Island is one of several islands in the East River. It was owned by the military for a long time — there are two forts there, both built in the first decade of the twentieth century — and at some point was sold to New York City for a dollar. Or that’s the story I heard. It’s now a park, but sort of a half-baked one that’s only open on the weekends a few months out of the year. Mostly it’s a bunch of abandoned buildings. In addition to the two forts, there are streets of clapboard houses, rows of brick barracks, a tiny dilapidated synagogue, a slightly bigger wood Catholic chapel, and a tiny stone Protestant church. We went into the latter. The paint was peeling off the walls and the pews and altar were long gone, but the stained glass is still there.
We went out, ostensibly, for Figment NYC, an interactive art installation that is very hard to describe, but which gave the island a Brigadoon-like quality. Lots of performers were wandering around. Whether they were part of the official event or they were just people who’d put on costumes and grabbed their instruments and headed down to the dock, I’m not entirely sure. On the boat on the way over, I fell into conversation with a n older woman who’ boarded with an enormous drum. I asked her about it and she said she was part of “the only all female salsa and samba drum band in New York.” Then she gave me her card and invited me to join. When we docked, the drummers, all in red, black and white, were gathering and they looked like they were having a marvelous time.
But while the art festival added some color, what we really loved was the island itself. It has spectacular views of Manhattan, the river, the Statue of Liberty, and the Brooklyn waterfront. We explored, we went into both forts.. ONe had a bunch of rocking chairs on a porch so we sat there for a while. On our way out, AJ wanted to explore the basement. He tried a door and it opened, so we all went in. Inside was what had once been someone’s townhouse, its decor frozen in time to somewhere around 1960. It was eerie to walk through the bedrooms, painted for children, the kitchen with its rusty sink, the views out to the sculptures on the lawn.
We rented bikes and road around the island a few times. We encountered a saxophone player under a stone archway, his music echoing off the walls. We went up a viewing stand where we had a conversation with a man dressed like a lizard.
On the ferry home, a gay couple in lycra bike shorts — tourists — asked if it was always like this (no). “It’s kind of more northern California than New York,” one opined. “It’s like Berkeley meets Cirque de Soleil.” “Yes! Exactly!” It wasn’t until the ferry pulled away from the island that I heard the drums. The women were standing in a circle by the water, playing, the sounds booming across the water as we headed back to shore.