I had another blog post written for this week, complete with photos. Then, New York City decided to break into spring – finally, after a persistent and painful winter, it was suddenly warm, sunny, and bursting with new blooms. I was compelled to take a dérive in Central Park, as it beckoned a block from my office. A dérive, as described in more length in previous posts, is an unplanned walk within an urban landscape. While Central Park is undeniably beautiful and delivers a much-needed injection of nature into our lives in the concrete jungle, it is still supremely urban. One of the best aspects of Central Park is the way that massive buildings line the edges of the park, like an irregular geometric frame around a lush Impressionistic painting.
Entering the park at Fifth Avenue and 79th Street, the first thing that struck me was the fields of daffodils in bloom. Something I love about NYC is the way Christmas trees are recycled each year. As depressing as it can be to see dried trees lining the streets waiting to be picked up in January, they are turned into mulch that is used in city parks to protect and fertilize the bulbs that create these oceans of yellow in April! Walking roughly south, eventually you run into the sailboat pond, full of remote-controlled small boats on clear spring and summer days. Gazing at the pond, unless completely covered in climbing children, is the famous Alice in Wonderland statue. Commissioned in 1959 by George Delacorte, whose philanthropy has enriched many areas of the park, it was designed to be interacted with by children. The statue of Alice was based on the sculptor José de Creeft’s daughter, and the face of the Mad Hatter is a sly tribute to Delacorte himself. Also looking at the pond with his back to the west side, is a statue of Hans Christian Andersen absent-mindedly feeding a duck while staring at the apartment buildings on Fifth Avenue (perhaps looking for a hawk’s nest).
Heading west, you soon come across the Loeb Boathouse, an elegant restaurant (and, with Tavern on the Green gone, the only place within the park that deserves getting dressed up for). They even have a shuttle along upper Fifth Avenue for those who are too dressed up to walk to the restaurant through the park. The Boathouse sits on the location of an old functional structure that was used to store the rowboats that have launched from this location since the late 1800’s (and you can still rent them next to the restaurant). There is even a gondola for hire!
Walking past the Boathouse, roughly west, you come across the majestic clearing surrounding the Bethesda Fountain. Unveiled in 1873, Bethesda Fountain was created to commemorate the Civil War dead, based on a passage in the New Testament about a pool that healed anyone who stepped into it. However, to me it is always the symbol of healing from Tony Kushner’s brilliant Angels in America, when Prior says about it, “This angel. She’s my favorite angel. I like them best when they’re statuary. They commemorate death but suggest a world without dying. They are made of the heaviest things on earth, stone and iron, they weigh tons but they’re winged, they are engines and instruments of flight.” (Epilogue.17)
Continuing to head west, you enter Strawberry Fields. Dedicated to the memory of John Lennon and recognized by 121 countries as a Garden of Peace, it is officially a “quiet zone,” but you are likely to come across a performer playing Beatles tunes near the famous Imagine mosaic. The mosaic was given to the city of New York as a gift by the city of Naples, and was dedicated on October 9, 1985, on what would have been John Lennon’s 45th birthday.
So much to see on even such a relatively short walk in Central Park! The Park belongs to all New Yorkers, not just those fortunate enough to look out the windows of their homes and watch the seasons play out throughout the year. If you’re not a New Yorker, you are as always welcome to explore it as our guest; perhaps someone will even offer to take your picture at the Bethesda Foundation.