Covid-19 Lockdown in India (in its third phase) is a blessing or a pain depending on how one looks at it. There is no cutting corners or streets and ‘locked up in the house’ is the new creative genre.
This post is a re-post of my first blog post (December 2009) about my first Central Park. The ‘First’ nostaligia was triggered by watching (by chance) a rerun of television series GOSSIP GIRL, the convoluted American teen drama (2007-2012) based on Cecily von Ziegesar’s book of same name. The shenanigans of the devious upper class priviledged youngsters of Manhattan Upper East were insignificant compared to visuals of Central Park, my favorite stomping place from 2009-15. In 2015 our daughter moved to Canada and my long stays in New York ended. There were short visits later on but with limited time for visits to CP. (I have added pictures from differnt years to the original post.
My first visit to Central Park, New York was in the winter of 2007 and was greeted by a snowscape, an ice symphony played out by the setting sun with the snow. The image stayed with me even when the Park presented itself in different avatars in different seasons from full bloom, chirping and excitied to winter snow shrouded, covered and in hibernation. The 2007 stay was all about the Park and every afternoon, for a week, I would religiously stroll the ice-bound paths catching the train from Chelsea (from friend’s residence), Manhattan West.
Two years later, 2009, the trip was in autumn when the Park was an electrifying and dazzling package of nearly 25,000 trees landscaped into a nature retreat from 59th Street East /West to 110 Street East/West Manhattan with in-between patches of green and aqua adding to the openness of the Park.
Central Park is divided into three…. north to south. North End, north of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir; The Mid Park between the reservoir and the Lake and Conservancy and the South End that is south of the Lake. The added attractions are the five visiting centers…. Charles A. Dana Discovery Center; Belvedere Castle; Chess and Checkers House; The Dairy and Columbus Circle.
Park Walk: Day 1…I started from Bethesda Terrace, located on 72nd Street Cross Drive as it was closer to my daughter’s house on 3rd Avenue East and 78th street. I would cut across the Avenues to reach the Park to find the Terrace crowded with loungers, passersby or visitors like me, adding to the mysterious romance and vibrancy of the surroundings.
Bethseda Terrace, an architectural marvel of sandstone and bricks, was one of the first structures constructed and completed in 1863. The Upper and Lower terraces are connected by two grand staircases and over the years, on my yearly vists, became my oberservation points. The focal point of the Terrace is the Fountain said to be the largest in New York measuring twenty-six feet high by ninety-six feet wide.The sculpture at the center is an angel standing above four small cherubim representing purity, health, temperence and peace. The staue is known as Angel of the Waters
From here my steps continued on to the Bow Bridge, considered one of the most beautiful and romantic spots of Central Park. The Bridge spans the Lake connecting Cherry Hill and the natural jumble of the Ramble. Apart from its construction it is the breathtaking iconic view of west side of Manhattan that made me stop for a short break. further ahead is The Conservancy and the Mall or the Promenade, the only straight line in Central Park. The Mall runs from 66th to 72nd Streets and is framed by a canopy of American elm trees, making it a photographers delight. The straight line ends into Literary Walk flaunting statues of renowned writers such as Fitz-Greene Halleck, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and William Shakespeare. The ‘odd man out’ is Christopher Columbus.
From here went on past the Lake and the Loeb Boathouse towards Belvedere Castle, the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Met (entrance is on the street side) on to East Meadow.
A short break, a couple of hours, to oogle walkers, joggers, tourists, dog walkers children, cyclists, pram pushers, seniors, nannies turn the Central Park into an island of activity.
Called it a day and walked back home.
Day Two: The next day was the turn of West Side of the Park. I cut across to the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, a 106-acre body of water constructed in 1862 feeding the Pool and Meer. The Reservoir stretches from 86th to 96th Streets and offers a fabulous view of West Side skyline. The man made reservoir boasts of the iconic 1.58 mile running track (around the water body), the all time favorite of famous New Yorkers. Not being any, I strolled backwards towards the Great Hill ((103rd-107th) considered one of Central Park’s highest points for views of the northern Park and Manhattan skyline. There is a sprawling Meadow surrounded by trees and benches to call it a day or enjoy famiy time.
I continued on towards the Summit rock (83rd Street) that offers a beautiful view of the area. Being on an elevation, the highest point in Central Park, it is perfect for large gatherings and weddings especially during Fall. On another visit I was witness to an evening wedding with setting sun providing the backdrop (cannot find the picture). The mesmeric image of the bride, a going-to-be mother, in orange dress with matching flowers in her hair, is imprinted in memory.
Further ahead is the Arthur Rose Pinetum, north of the Green Lawn, a four-acre arboretum featuring a collection of 17 species of pine trees. It is like an everygreen forest and there were a few people in the middle of day. Picnic tables are inviting and one can imagine surrounding apartments emptying out during vacation and weekends.
Shakespeare Garden, (79th and 80th Streets) my next stop, is one of the must visit spots of Central Park. A hidden gem, between the Belvedere Castle and the The Swedish Cottage one can smell the ‘roses and the flowers mentioned in Shakespears plays….primrose, wormwood, quince, lark’s heel, rue, eglantine, cowslip, flax… Again on another visit had the opportunity to watch ‘Merchant of Venice’ at Delacorte Theater, home to Shakespeare in the Park public theater.
Strawberry Fields (West Side at 71st-74th Streets) is dedicated to John Lennon and named after one of his favorite songs, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever‘. The memorial is located across the street from the landmark Dakota apartment building, his former home, and on the site of his tragic death in 1980. Lennon was a frequent walker in the Park.
By now I was tiring out and continued towards the Tavern on the Green (West 67th St) and onto the Rink (59th Street) the starting point of the Park. The Rink is named after the Wollman family who had donated funds for its original construction. The rink is open for ice skating from late October to early April and from late May to September is transformed into an amusement park for children. In addition to seeing the popular sites this was a phased-out nature walk to savor the serenity and the theatrical production of colors around me. With guide in hand tried identifying the trees and leaves. The American Elms, in abundance throughout Central Park, are the color suppliers with their dark green oblong, serrated leaves, now a brilliant yellow. Thereds and oranges are the Callary Pear heart-shaped leaves and along with Norway Maples and Pine Oaks, found at Strawberry Fields, along the 59th Street Pond and the Dairy lawns, add to the riot of deep yellows, russets and bronze. The Spotted Red Oaks, the stately Silver Linden with symmetrical oval crowns and green and silver leaves and the Willow Oaks that line the Great Lawn, the Bow Bridge and Loeb Boathouse. The russet glow of the Cedar crowning Cedar Hill above the Glade was a sight to behold. Not to be missed out were the Ginkgo, the Beech trees, the nodding Eastern Hemlocks and the easily identifiable Weeping Willows casting their shadows in the algae green. Coming from tropical hot India, most of the trees were alien to me, I revelled in the identification parade.