Thursday, September 17, 2015

Papal Prep

Notice of the reopening of the Breuer Building as an arm of
the Metropolitan have replaced the "We've Moved!" sign 
at the former Whitney Museum building
Almost two years ago I moved for the first time in nearly 40 years.  I left the apartment into which I had moved, with my mother, when I was a young graduate student and went about ten blocks away, to a building designed specifically for people over 55.  It was a move that could not have come at a worse time in my life.  I accepted the apartment about two weeks before I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Preparing for the move took place at the same time as preparations for a mastectomy and continued during painful complications from the surgery and the opening rounds of chemotherapy.  That it was accomplished at all is due to the love and support and material help from friends who gave me their time, their energy, their sweat and even their money.  I can never repay any of them for their generosity, except with my prayers.

Even though in the same general area of Manhattan as my old home (i.e., the Upper East Side) my new one is in what is sometimes referred to as "west of Third Avenue" (i.e., the more expensive half of the UES, between Third and Fifth Avenues). And some of my new neighbors are indeed exalted.  There are cultural institutions like the Frick or the former Whitney (soon to be the Met Breuer) museums.  Eleanor Roosevelt died around the corner.  The French embassy is two blocks away.  Prince William and Princess Kate could have waved to me from the windows of the Carlyle Hotel. And next week Pope Francis will be sleeping around the corner.

Blocks piled at 71st and Fifth
While the opening week of the United Nations General Assembly every year always brings Manhattan to a virtual halt, throwing the Pope into the mix compounds the chaos exponentially.  And the security plans for this papal visit seem rather outrageously overdone.  Possibly because Francis does not want to use the popemobile security concerns have resulted in the issuance of tickets (tickets!) that will be required just to stand on the street or in Central Park to watch him drive by.  That's insane!

Blocks at 72nd and Fifth
I remember the first papal visit, by Pope Paul VI, in 1966.  I went with my mother to Central Park to watch him drive by.  No one needed tickets for it, you just showed up.  It was the same with the two visits by Pope St. John Paul II.  On his first visit in 1979 he drove down the block I was working on (East 49th Street) and we all went downstairs to see him.  Later the same day he drove up Madison Avenue and I caught another glimpse of him as I walked home.  No tickets required.  My cousin staked herself out in front of the papal mission for the entire day.  It was the slow death process of that same cousin that prevented me from attempting to catch a glimpse on his second visit in 1995.  But on a trip to Rome in 1988 I was lucky enough to attend a beatification ceremony at St. Peter's, which more than made up for that.
Blocks piled mid-block between Fifth and Madison Avenues
For Pope Benedict's visit in 2008 I caught glimpses on Park Avenue and on Fifth without a ticket.  I did have a ticket for Mass at Yankee Stadium, the only time I've ever tried to get a ticket for one of the actual papal events in New York.  None of this will be possible this time around, all due to security concerns.

Already preparations are underway.  In the last few days the police department has begun delivering huge concrete blocks to the corners of 72nd Street (where the residence of the papal mission to the UN is located).  See some of the piles of blocks in the accompanying photos.
Blocks at 72nd and Madison Avenue
Streets will be blocked off, including my street.  I wonder if I will have to show proof of residence just to get back home next Thursday and Friday, something I never had to worry about on my old block.

Sometimes living near the scene of the action can be one big headache.

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