Monday, November 14, 2005

Chapter 3: First Days, cont'd

Albany is not the most exciting city in the world, but it’s my home town, and although I haven’t spent much time there in the past 25 years, I felt instantly at home and comfortable with the place. Looking from the outside, it hasn’t fundamentally changed since I left so long ago. Unlike the big metropolises of the south and west that have grown exponentially through the 80s and 90s, Albany has the same small city feel it always did. This is something I appreciate more now, of course, than I did before I left. The city is navigable, on foot or by car, without the kind of time and effort you expend traveling around megalopolises like the San Francisco Bay Area. It didn’t hurt that the September weather was spectacular. I do remember what winter can be like...

My first stop downtown was the visitor center at Quackenbush Square. I took a look at the historical exhibits and asked the docent for directions to the new pedestrian bridge to the Hudson River waterfront. The city was cut off from the river in the 60’s by a 6 lane freeway. At the time no one really cared about the waterfront; downtown was dying (despite Nelson Rockefeller’s attempt to revive the capital with a huge downtown office development) and the river was polluted. A big road must have seemed to make sense then. I know that people came to regret that decision – further expressway incursions into the heart of the city were stopped on the drawing boards.

The bridge leads pedestrians across the freeway to a new waterfront park on the right bank of the Hudson. The centerpiece of the park is a small amphitheater built into the riverbank where concerts and other events are held. All the seats look east, across the river. Behind, to the west, rises the downtown skyline. There are trails for walking and jogging, and places to dock boats. The river, a ribbon of inky blue water (as opposed to my memories of brown water), is lined with green trees on both sides, but they do not block the views of bridges and mountains to the north or of Albany’s port to the south.

I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around downtown, taking in the last of the summer sunshine. I saw the new buildings I set out to see and reacquainted myself with several of the older ones, some of which have been amazingly restored while the others stand silently by, waiting for the possibility of a new life.

I met Lorraine at a wine store near her office uptown and we found a Vouvray, of all things. Back at her house we sat on the deck and talked and laughed while we made quick work of the bottle. That evening, the three of us went out for a fabulous Italian meal that included a succulent Chilean sea bass main course. The food and wine combined with the balmy weather made for quite a heady evening.

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