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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Early Morning Haunts

The early hours are haunted times. Sometimes it seems still, but in that eerie silence something is always quietly moving about. At other times, activities go on regularly in the dark without us, as we slumber in our beds unaware of the activities occupying our regular places. Familiar places become foreign to us during these irregular hours, with a heightened sense of awareness.  At these times, I am often haunted by Jean Anouilh's Antigone returning home and describing the early morning:
De me promener, nourrice. C'était beau. Tout était gris. Maintenant, tu ne peux pas savoir, tout est déjà rose, jaune, vert. C'est devenu une carte postale. Il faut te lever plus tôt, nourrice, si tu veux voir un monde sans couleurs... 
Le jardin dormait encore. Je l'ai surpris, nourrice. Je l'ai vu sans qu'il s'en doute. C'est beau un jardin qui ne pense pas encore aux hommes... 
Dans les champs c'était tout mouillé et cela attendait. Tout attendait. Je faisais un bruit énorme toute seule sur la route et j'étais gênée parce que je savais bien que ce n'était pas moi qu'on attendais. 
From walking about, nurse. It was beautiful. Everything was gray. Now, you can't tell, everything is already pink, yellow, green. It's turned into a post card. You must get up earlier, nurse, if you want to see a world without colors... 
The garden was still sleeping. I crept up on it, nurse. I saw it without it suspecting. A garden that isn't thinking about men yet is beautiful... 
In the fields it was all wet and it was waiting. Everything was waiting. I made a huge noise all alone on the road and I was bothered because I knew that it wasn't me it was waiting for. 
Truth be told, my memory probably embellishes on Anouilh a bit. My imagination makes it more mythic, perhaps, than the actual text itself. Perhaps that is part of how haunting works.

Recently I found myself in Weehawken at the corner of 19th Street and Boulevard East at four in the morning, where I was again visited by this familiar memory. I experienced the sense of being bothered by the world's indifference to us, and this time it wasn't waiting for anything, although I rather expected it to be.

I was on my way to observe the set-up of the Exclusive Bus Lane, one of the most intensive commuting operations anywhere in the world. Tens of thousands of passengers roll into the Lincoln Tunnel on a continuous line of buses for a hours every workday. Very early each morning, a small team of workers sets up a dedicated lane that allows the buses to bypass other traffic to move the most people possible into New York City (and it still isn't enough).

The lane has to be set up early to avoid impacts to traffic as people start their daily activities and volumes continue rising toward the morning peak. I did not expect anything of interest when I walked by this corner. As far as I was concerned, there wasn't much there: an empty basketball court, a quiet little fire house, and a couple strips of landscaping to provide a bit of buffer of visual relief from the intense traffic that congests the approaches to the tunnel. Yet this bit of landscaping was quite the busy scene.

The tunnel is an intense focus of human activity throughout our waking hours, but at four in the morning the birds have made this place their own. Up in the branches along the roadway and further up the slopes above the toll plaza, they were out and active. Calling to each other, they had a lot to say, but it wasn't me they were talking to. They had no interest in my comings and goings, or the small stream of vehicles, or any of the rest of humanity. Streams of people would pour in later, with the ferocious noise of our motor vehicles, but during these early hours, the place belonged to them. Later, in the light of day and surrounded by the regular trappings of my daily routine, their voices followed me.

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