Central Park and Shakespeare’s Garden

For almost eight years, I went five, six, sometimes seven days a week from Brooklyn or Newark into Manhattan — Midtown, the Financial District, the Upper East Side, occasionally just passing through on my way up to New Rochelle north of the city.

For half those years, so long as the sun was out and the weather was not too cold, I grabbed a soup or a salad or a sandwich, maybe some cut vegetables and hummus, a fizzy fruit drink, and walked over three blocks to the 79th Street entrance of Central Park, on the south side of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Central Park

Even in my unemployment before working for the church, I had gone often from Bushwick into the city to walk and sunbathe in Central Park, but now it was a regular destination. I kept a kefiyeh or a little plum batik blanket in my bag to lay out in the grass, sometimes in the shade when the sun was intense, sometimes in a spaghetti strap tanktop in the sun when my eczema was bad. I’d even go when it was cold, huddled up in my thick LLBean wool coat and a wool pashmina scarf.

When I didn’t have evening meetings or classes or a happy hour date, but the weather was good and the sun hadn’t set yet, I’d head over to the 84th Street entrance, on the north side of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and loop up to the gravel track around the Jackie O. Reservoir. I’m no runner, so I’d keep to the right, except when there were ducks on the water, nice wildflowers, a strong sunset, maybe something interesting about the ice.

When I was forced out of the church, I didn’t have the same easy access to Central Park, and maybe it scared me a little, to know that I might run into congregants anywhere in the park and have to explain why I left, to pretend it was by choice. I still went to Central Park, but mostly the West Side, and always as a deliberate outing, not a convenient lunch spot or after-work walk.

And then, of course, everything changed six months ago.

For almost eight years, I went five, six, sometimes seven days a week from Brooklyn or Newark into Manhattan — Midtown, the Financial District, the Upper East Side, just passing through on my way to New Rochelle. And in the six months since March 14th, I’ve been in the city exactly once, in June, when we didn’t even get out of the car, just observed the rain-soaked, empty city from behind our windows.

So today, we grabbed my new camera and a kufiyeh (with Shadia Mansour ft. M1 in my ear) and drove into the city for takeout near Lincoln Center and a picnic in Central Park.

It was in one way lovely to be back on “these mean streets,” as it were, but also strange. Having restaurants move most of their seating outdoors means, as you walk down the sidewalk, you feel like you’re walking through someone’s personal space, a private business suddenly panoramic around you. There was almost universal mask-wearing on the streets and the paths of Central Park, which is in itself something to get used to. But there was also nearly as much traffic in the park as I was accustomed to on a nice Sunday afternoon pre-pandemic.

After our lunch on the grass, we set out to find the south end of the Bridle Path, always one of my favorite park trails for its softer dirt surface and variety of flowers.

I’m really starting to get the hang of floral macro close-ups with the new camera (though it still struggles with blue and purple flowers, for whatever reason), and today I also got to play with some bird close-ups that I’m not dissatisfied with — robins, house sparrows, and … starlings?

But mostly I took pictures of flowers, straying often off the Bridle Trail to the little side gardens.

Shakespeare Garden

Because I was enjoying the flower photography so very much, finally getting a handle on the macro function and the niceties of autozoom, I decided we should make the Shakespeare Garden our midway point before turning around and walking back down towards the car near Lincoln Center. The Bard’s memorial did not disappoint.

Hudson River-side

After I left the church job, walks in the park were no longer quite so convenient, but my new job up in Washington Heights was convenient to another kind of after-work outdoor exercise. By that time, Citibike had come to the Upper West Side, and sometimes I would grab a bike around the corner from the 79th Street Boat House and ride down the Hudson River Greenway to the PATH train at World Trade. Or when the days were longer and the weather particularly nice, I might take a bus straight across town and walk down the Hudson from farther upriver.

More recently, when I think about the Hudson side of Manhattan, it’s thoughts of the West Side Highway and the protest bike rides my partner has been participating in that have often taken over all five lanes of one side of that artery. As we were leaving the city, we decided to take the highway down, as the sun was descending over Jersey, to take the lower tunnel under the Hudson. It was beautiful.

It was a good day.

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