A Gypsy in New York (part 2.7)
by Juliette de Bairacli Levy
Pre-publication preview courtesy of Ash Tree Publishing
The next excitement was our witnessing of a big fire in the city. That is, a fire big enough to be reported on the radio and to appear on New York television and in the newspapers. The first warning to us of the incident was a remarkable blackening of the sky, so that I thought we were going to witness a cyclone, although it was the wrong time of the year, and unlike Mexico, New York was really not the right geographical place for one. Then at the same time, we smelled smoke and heard the clamor of many racing fire engines.
Even if the eccentric behavior of people abroad in the streets of New York, and glee-singers on the pavement sidewalks and trucks of almond blossom passing through, do not attract any interest, a big fire was like a magnet to the people. Large crowds were soon hastening in the direction on Third Avenue where the fire was said to be. This was soon found on East 81st Street, therefore not far from us on East 78th Street. The news was soon passed around that people had been trapped in the burning building and rescued by a news photographer named Lockhart.
The fire had broken out on the second floor of a furniture store and quickly burned upwards to the other floors, finally to burst through the roof. It was well fed on foam-rubber mattresses and similar inflammable materials. Hence the blackness and great volume of the smoke that had darkened the sky up to and beyond Second Avenue. We could see firemen breaking the windows of neighboring houses, using hatchets, to lead people away from smoke suffocation.
A helicopter hovered overhead; some people said it was pouring water, others that it was taking photos or giving advice to the firemen as to the spread of the fire. For me it was interesting to observe the remarkable efficiency of New York’s famed fire service. They were striving to prevent the fire from spreading to a vast household removals (moving and storage) firm that adjoined the furniture store.
Everyone was tense as they watched – police and spectators, anxious and caring – except for that one strange man who cried out monotonously, “Phony fire! Phony fire!” until the police sent him away for being a public nuisance.
We saw the tall flames vanquished under the storm of hissing water directed upon them, and everyone rejoiced that the big depository had not been touched at all by the dangerous fire. It had been a splendid sight, from the fire flames themselves to the fire engines and their crews. No one had been hurt, and real-life theater had been provided on a Manhattan street.
When we passed by that way again a short time later, workmen were already rebuilding the burned-out store. Property in Manhattan was too valuable to be left empty. Where only a few hundred years back had been but a half dozen huts made of bark, built by the first Dutch settlers, there now stood a concrete kingdom so valuable that its base almost has the value of solid gold.
As we returned from the scene of the Third Avenue fire, in the dusk, I marveled as I have marveled the many times before on the quality of the evening light over this city. How the shape and density of all objects is transformed, and perspective and measurable distances both are mysteriously modified.
Then it was typical of New York that we ourselves had an artificial light to guide us home, no North Star as we often followed in other country places, but a flashing sign above the store that adjoined the rear of the apartment house in which we lived in Manhattan. The sign that flashed out to guide us home was “Wines, Liquors.” That was our sign for the time being.
to be continued....
Juliette de Bairacli Levy is herbalist, author, and breeder of Afghan hounds, friend of the Gypsies, traveler in search of herbal wisdom and the pioneer of holistic veterinary medicine. For more than sixty years she has lived with the Gypsies, nomads and peasants of the world, learning the healing arts of these peoples who live close to nature and listening to nature herself. Her books include “Traveler’s Joy”, “Nature’s Children”, “Common Herbs for Natural Health”, “The Complete Herbal Handbook for the Dog and Cat”, “The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable”, and “Spanish Mountain Life” among others.
Juliette de Bairacli Levy's books can be found at www.wisewomanbookshop.com
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