Goodbye Across the Subway Tracks

Dear Diary:

We met in a bar in the Hamptons 34 years ago. She was tall and beautiful and told me she was a writer. I was smitten. We dated and were lovers for five months. I am told this is the length of the average New York relationship.

In the end, we realized that we were not for each other and agreed to part. To make a proper end, we would meet one last time for dinner and to say goodbye.

When dinner was over we walked to the subway entrance at Lexington and 68th. She lived downtown and I lived up. She went down one flight of stairs and I went down the other. It was late, the platforms were mostly empty, no trains came, and it was very quiet.

We stood on opposite sides of the tracks and looked at each other. The light was bright where she was standing, and between us, where the tracks and the pillars are, it was dark. Time passed, but no trains came. We stood and looked at each other across the gap.

It was the saddest moment I remember of my years in the city. Eventually, I could stand it no longer. I went back upstairs and took a cab home.

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It’s General Sherman’s Time to Shine, but Not Too Much

General Sherman, still marching through Georgia these many years later, has completely lost his luster.

Building Blocks

How the city looks and feels — and why it got that way.

So much gold has eroded from the monumental equestrian statue of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in Grand Army Plaza on Fifth Avenue that the statue looks more like a work in tarnished brass than in gilded bronze. It is dull, streaked and pock-marked. The deterioration was rendered all the more visible after the Halloween snowstorm of 2011 destroyed all 10 Bradford callery pear trees that had ringed the monument and provided a bit of a screen.

That was when the Central Park Conservancy, a private, nonprofit organization that manages the park, knew it had to begin planning a renovation of the two-block plaza in Manhattan. New trees were needed, of course. So was new paving. And the general?

“He’s not quite as victorious as he could be,” said Christopher Nolan, the vice president of the conservancy for planning, design and construction.

Officials knew they couldn’t make Sherman appear too victorious. That mistake was committed before. A 1989 regilding left the statue so blindingly gold that it infuriated the well-heeled, well-connected denizens of Fifth Avenue, who are among the conservancy’s most important supporters. Frances Lear, the publisher of Lear’s magazine, called it a “horror.” Even the benefactor of the renovation recoiled.

“There probably should have been more tonality,” allowed Douglas Blonsky, the current president and chief executive of the conservancy and the administrator of Central Park.

A lightly tinted wax was applied in 1996 to tone down the statue’s brilliance. Since then, the conservancy has cleaned the piece and reapplied a wax coating annually. But the pigeons of Grand Army Plaza — among the shrewdest, toughest birds in America — have made repeated mockery of the protective layer, degrading it with their acidic droppings and clawing it off while settling in on the sculptural perch.

To set things right, scaffolding will go up in the coming days, enclosing the grouping of Sherman, his steed and the robed figure of Victory. The surface will be cleaned by a micro-abrasion process that permits the recovery of as much gold as possible. The bronze work will be inspected from without and within, through a trap door behind the general’s saddle. Getting inside the statue will give conservators a chance to examine the iron armature.

After that, the bronze can receive its new coating of 23.75-karat gold leaf, under the direction of Michael Kramer of the Gilders’ Studio of Olney, Md. The gold will receive a solvent tinted with the colors burnt umber and lampblack. Test tonings, applied to a cast of the horse’s head, will be previewed by officials, conservators and art experts in the hope of matching as closely as possible the intentions of the sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

On top of this will come three coats of polyurethane to protect the gilding from ultraviolet rays and pigeons.

Mr. Blonsky said he hoped work on the statue would be finished by the fall, when 20 new London plane trees could be planted, if the renovation plan is approved by the city’s Public Design Commission. The entire renovation project will cost $2 million, he said, of which $1.5 million has been raised, all of it privately. Mr. Blonsky would not identify the donors.

A summer’s worth of visitors will miss seeing the work, one of Saint-Gauden’s masterpieces. Dedicated in 1903, it “ranks among the most distinguished equestrian groups of Western art,” according to the book “The Art Commission and the Municipal Art Society Guide to Manhattan’s Outdoor Sculpture” (1988).

Not every tourist may be discouraged by that prospect. Sherman’s steed seems to be trampling a branch of long-needled pine, which would have been understood in the early 20th century as a reference to Georgia. We asked Sonji Jacobs, director of communications for Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta, how Sherman is regarded by contemporary Atlantans.

“The idea that folks in Atlanta are thinking about the Civil War every day and harboring more than 150 years of anger at General Sherman is, well, not accurate,” Ms. Jacobs wrote in an e-mail. “Indeed, feelings about the Civil War are mixed even among Atlanta’s increasingly rare natives — after all, the city has been home to one of the most thriving and affluent African-American communities in the nation for a long time. The city is the birthplace of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and many of his contemporaries — Ambassador Andrew Young, Congressman John Lewis, Juanita Abernathy, the Rev. C. T. Vivian — are alive and well.

“That said, the legacy of the Civil War and Sherman’s March to the Sea remains a nuanced part of the city’s collective memory. The City of Atlanta seal is of a rising phoenix — a symbol of the city’s reemergence after Sherman burned it to the ground.”

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