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A wintry impression of New York

New York City is always in the news. Its scale and prominence make everything about the Big Apple big; and yet, like any other city, New York is a hometown where people have been trying to go about their business while dealing with the pandemic.

On the snowy, stormy Thursday of last week, New York was looking weary. From midtown-west to the upper east side more storefronts stood dark than two years ago or six years ago. The new mayor is tackling the same issues, with bigger numbers, as officials in smaller cities. The omicron variant of Covid is overtaxing hospitals, shortchanging emergency services crews and creating a parental dilemma as to whether to send an unvaccinated 4-year-old to preschool, same as here.

Restaurants dutifully, even gratefully, were carding anyone who wanted to enter. They asked to see not only a vaccination card but a photo ID. Everyone must wear a mask unless seated, and people were complying. As a silver lining, rush hour has somewhat lessened its usual chaos. If an employer is still or yet again allowing employees to work from home a few days per week, what worker wouldn't choose the morning with the wet snow and the forecast of bitter cold to stay put?

For all that, the city of concrete and steel and glass was also eerily serene and beautiful. Snow falling on architecture has arresting grace. The soft and the rock-solid, the swirl vs. the right angle, set each other off. The American Impressionist artist Guy C. Wiggins found the combination so mesmerizing that he painted Manhattan in the snow repeatedly from around the time of the last pandemic to the middle of the 20th century. The Lyman Allyn Art Museum has one of those paintings, "Wall Street and Trinity Church, Winter, 1935," on permanent display.

Wiggins, a Lyme Art Colony member who painted sunny days in rural Connecticut in summertime, gave a wintry impression of New York as a place that never stopped moving and was not dulled. American flags, yellow cabs and lighted office windows add color that is doubled by their reflections on wet streets. The looming buildings look solid but don't overwhelm, adorned with patriotism and prosperity. The snow falls fresh and the future on the horizon stratight ahead looks bright and secure.

Thursday, before the snowflakes turned to rain, many Manhattan neighborhoods would have looked familiar to Wiggins. Briefly prettied up by the snow, they still pulsed with the beat of the city in spite of the unforeseen hardships and limitations since 2020. The taxis still run and the flags still fly. New York City has long Covid, but it's still New York.

Two years ago right now, the world was aware of the spreading virus but disinclined to worry about it. The museums and Broadway and the restaurants had no way to fathom the scope of what was about to happen. No one dreamed of long-term school and office closings. Then New York became the first face given to the major disaster of being caught off guard by a virus.

The news the city makes now has the world watching to see if it's realistic yet to treat Covid as an endemic health risk, how many limitations it will take to make crowded places safe, and how many restrictions should be put on the unvaccinated. In New York, you can walk down a snowy street or get on a subway unvaccinated. But the city won't let you put others at risk by eating in a restaurant or drinking in a bar, and it supports requirements imposed by stores and other businesses. On a wintry day in the city, that doesn't leave a whole lot of places to go.

Lisa McGinley is a member of The Day Editorial Board.




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