But this post is meant to be about fire escapes, which are peculiarly evocative of a certain kind of New York street, and ultimately of a certain era. My favorite description is from Richard Price's Lush Life:
the hanging gardens of ancient fire escapesbut Cole has a good one too:
prewar buildings, each with an elaborate fire escape that it offered like a transparent mask to the world.(There are other refs to Yoruba masks in the book.) Cole is very good on cities-as-palimpsests, and the narrator's getting stuck on the fire stairs of Carnegie Hall is of-a-piece with the meditations about, say, the lack of significance of Ellis Island for black immigrants; fire escapes and ramshackle tenements are symbols of the immigration-heavy early 20th, when the experience was better-defined and in some ways richer. Being a certain kind of present-day immigrant is, in relative terms, an amorphous predicament; the actual differences between cities are relatively small (power outages!) and one can easily keep in touch with people, etc. but the old, once-functional set of associations are now a little absurd if "evocative."
As I was walking back to work from the coffee-shop where I finished the book, I remembered the line from Price and tried to recreate the passage it was from; I seemed to remember it "musically," as periods and pauses one had to set words to -- this didn't work at all, because as it happens I was just remembering the tune of a sentence in Proust-Scott Moncrieff-Kilmartin:
In each of their gardens the moonlight, copying the art of Hubert Robert, scattered its broken staircases of white marble, its fountains, its iron gates temptingly ajar.
There are gardens, iron, and staircases here I guess...
(Self-indulgent to record this here w/ no attempt to vivify, but it was an interesting experience and quite unusual with prose.)