The East Coast was pummeled with a perfect spring Saturday this weekend, prompting me to head in to New York for a while. A walking tour focusing on Central Park’s 19th Century history was the lone item on my agenda. So, of course, I took a train that pulled in to the city with barely enough minutes left for me to rush by foot the approximately 30 blocks to the starting point. 19th Century New York had long drifted away by the time I halted inside the East 65th Street entrance. So I began to soak up the atmosphere of Central Park in the here and now. The sights within the park as well as the surprisingly awesome views of Manhattan projecting itself above the trees ended up occupying the entirety of my day.
I’ve touched Central Park before. Many times I have seen horses lined up on the south entrance with people climbing up to embark on the classic horse-drawn carriage ride through the park. Once, I rode in the back seat of a car through the few streets that allow traffic. My boyfriend and I have dined just inside the park’s west side at the famous Tavern on the Green (which neither of us thought was very good). I’ve spent hours wandering around inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which stretches for several blocks along its Fifth Avenue boundary. But I’ve never walked around inside the park itself.
Saturday I was in. So I stayed. Just several steps within the park the cacophony of the city ceased, leaving me with a bit of an out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere feel.
Long ago I’d read that Central Park is approximately as big as the principality of Monaco. 843 acres is small if you are a self-governed land. But if you are a park, you are vast. This Monaco-esque area of New York holds two zoos, 26,000 trees, 9,000 benches, almost 50 ball fields and playgrounds, and 55 sculptures. As I strolled, a man behind me spoke to his small daughter – “Sculptures or rocks? Which do you climb better?” A few steps later and I saw why he asked. Dozens of children were crawling all over a group of large animal sculptures while parents looked on. This is apparently a popular activity in Central Park. The rocks of which the man spoke jut out of the park’s surfaces in many large formations, giving park-goers rather comfortable spots on which to sit or lie. Many people choose to recline on the grass. I chose a large slab, shared by a man napping with his bicycle.
Another sort of sculpture exists in the park, which I have seen as I’ve touched its periphery in years past. Here and there performance artists painted in silver or bronze stand atop small pedestals, frozen in place just long enough to convince you they are metal. Then – motion. I walked up behind one silver person-shaped object from behind, not thinking for an instant that it was anything other than a statue wearing a tutu. But the “it” was a ballerina, I discovered, when she began moving gracefully from one pose to another.
One sight I have previously twice traveled to Central Park to see is Strawberry Fields, a small wooded area dedicated to the late John Lennon. When I first visited this spot just inside the West 72nd Street entrance, I came immediately upon the colorful Imagine mosaic built into the walkway. Some years later I returned to visit this and was disappointed to find it under renovation with all of its color washed out and surrounded by objects preventing people from getting close. Saturday I found Imagine again, this time greeting me in grey and black. Am I misremembering that many years earlier this mosaic was multicolored?
Colors blossomed up from elsewhere, though, proving, as if I had any doubt, that this was a perfect day to discover Central Park. Trees blooming with purple and pink lent the park a gorgeous post-Easter feel, their blossoms so thick it seemed they were trying to hide the city which stood just behind them. In part, they succeeded.
Within Central Park are possibly the grandest views of Manhattan that I have ever seen. The view was so sweeping it seemed as if it could stretch as far south as the Brooklyn Bridge. Walking around its serene and silent lake and its grassy, wooded hills while gazing up at the massive buildings just blocks away on streets throbbing with traffic makes the park feel like a secret, perhaps somewhat unreal, spot on earth.