It is raining outside as I write this. It’s nice that as I begin to collect my thoughts about one of my favorite subjects, water, the sky has opened up and graced us with more of it. I’ve always loved rainy days.
I like approaching storms, darkening skies, and stormy weather spent indoors almost as much as I like bright sunny days on the beach.
You need one kind of weather as much as you need another. If it was always the same outside, we’d all be bored.
It was also fitting that on March 22nd, World Water Day, I was on the island of Manhattan, surrounded by water and wading through a sea of people. We had some things we really wanted to see in New York, and many of them, curiously enough, were saturated with water and water imagery. Go figure.
Ground Zero is a sacred place for most Americans. The last time I visited it was a scar on the city, and I found my emotions difficult to control. I walked past sidewalk memorials and the pinned-up images of those lost and felt our nation’s grief walking alongside me. It was raw and personal, although I have no familial connection to anyone who died on that awful day.
The scar is fading now. Visiting the new fountains at the 911 Memorial site is a very different experience from visiting the deconstructive noise of The Pit. Once you pass through the airport-like security you arrive in a quiet and contemplative space. The falling water of the fountains drowns out the background noise of the city and hushes visitors, reminding them that this is now a shrine. People stand quietly and brush their fingers across the names inscribed there. I did it too. You can’t help yourself but connect this way.
I wanted to connect again with some of my favorite paintings, so we also paid our respects at MOMA and the MET. I saw a David Hockney painting of a swimming pool I have always liked. It was also a favorite of my late brother David, who used to build swimming pools. Yet, of all the art in New York, I especially love to visit Claude Monet’s water lilies. The curious thing about Monet’s work is its absolute universal appeal. It seems that almost everyone can relate to his blurry and brushy water paintings. I think this is because we have all, at one time, probably looked at reflections in water the same way Monet did, with the same sense of hypnotic wonder. Painted as his eyesight was failing, Monet preserved his vision of our common connection with water. The colors and patterns and grand sense of scale are at once inspiring and comforting, and the usual crowds in the Monet galleries are proof of this.
There’s an even bigger crowd around the fountain and skating rink at Rockefeller Center. The iconic golden statue of Prometheus watches over the crowd, and I have to admit, even after seeing this fountain a thousand times on the Today Show, I still enjoyed visiting it in person. It’s a beautiful sculpture flanked by moving water and ice, and a great spot to watch for celebrities. People from all over the world take pictures of themselves here, and will for years to come.
World Water Day was established by the United Nations in 1993 as a way to bring attention to freshwater resources and management. If you live in a developed country, you probably take water for granted. Trust me, you do, and so do I. If everyone stopped during their day, just for a few moments, and looked with fresh eyes at how they use water, they would instantly see that there is a need in their lives for water conservation. As I write this, I remind myself that my backyard swimming pool will need cleaning tomorrow, and I am also reminded that the luxury of a swimming pool does not make it a good example of water conservation.
A friend of mine once told me, “During our lifetime, the United States will be at war with Canada over water.” His statement was extreme, but if you look at the current geopolitical mood that surrounds oil, it might not be all that farfetched. Future urban pressure on water resources will make it an even more valuable commodity—if not in your lifetime, then in someone else’s. Does it really matter which generation has to deal with this problem? We all have a water footprint, and it grows larger every day.
Yes, I know, there is a giant footprint in my backyard, full of water.
I can’t imagine it not being there. My love affair with water began in a swimming pool. My mother told me I learned how to swim when I was still a baby. According to her I was crawling along the edge of the pool, fell in, and that was all it took. I’m sure that she was there in the water to help me, and I am somewhat sure her story was simplified for effect. Yet her story always gave me confidence about being in and around water, and I’ve been comfortable when wet ever since.
It is fascinating how simple interactions with water can alter our state of wellbeing. People always seem happier near moving water, as long as they’re not simply trying to survive its effects. Waterfalls, fountains, and crashing surf create negative ions as molecules break apart. These negative ions clean the air, increase the flow of oxygen to the brain, elevate our moods, and heighten our alertness and mental energy. It’s a win-win; fountains, showers, and pools are good for us, and we’re all more aquatic than we assume. This is also why we felt refreshed, healed a little, after leaving the 911 Memorial.
Down in SoHo one afternoon we stopped in at Sabon, a soap boutique. Jeannette and the girls kept telling me how much I would enjoy it. “It’s wonderful”, she said. “You wash your hands there and then all day long your skin feels so good!”
Wash your hands? Really? I went along with the idea anyway.
She was right. We stepped off the busy street and into the complex aromas of a fancy soap store. There the simple act of washing my hands became a very special experience—to which I had never paid much attention. After riding the subway and walking all over town, opening so many doors, and touching everything but the paintings, I truly felt invigorated by this simple action.
My hands really did feel fantastic for the rest of the day and my soul for several days more.
May 12th, 2012