Saturday, in the Park..

Ordinarily New York City is just a place where I work. I leave my home 54 miles away, 6 am in the morning and get there by 8. Then I settle down with a cup of coffee and start knocking things off my list of things to do while juggling meetings, e-mails, other pressing deadlines. Then I leave and come back home. The only New York I really know during the week is the slice of it that’s reflected back at me on the anti-glare screen of my computer, an image of the skyscrapers outside. I don’t even get the chance to glance outside my windows. Unless it’s raining. Manhattan drizzle, or misting, is hard to identify through the thick glass of window offices, the streets appear dry, and one needs to glance out to see if the pedestrians down below are carrying umbrellas.

So can I really say I go to New York everyday if the city fails to touch me in anyway? If one is traveling 54 miles one way, each day, to get anywhere shouldn’t the place to which one travels leave some sort of lasting impression? Shouldn’t one feel a deeper connection, a feeling of belonging, an attachment to the streets and sidewalks that one’s boots pound each day, as one covers a 12 minute long walk from bus stop to work, as if on autopilot? Needless to say, nothing like that ever happens. It is just a place where one ends up every morning, still groggy, but trying to walk faster than anyone else on the street, jaywalking, in such a hurry to do the same thing one did the day before and the day before that.

So visiting the city last Saturday, on a weekend was a whole new experience. I felt as if I was there for the first time. We couldn’t have asked for a better day to visit, perfect weather, the kind they call an Indian summer here, in these parts (has nothing to do with India – we all know what a real “Indian” summer is like), the sun was shining, glinting off the shiny window panes, the silicon crystals in the pavement seemed to glitter, the street vendors were displaying their wares, haggling, shouting out their pitches for fake Guccis, Louis Vuitton’s and Chanels, all along the sidewalks, and there were people everywhere! Well, there are always people everywhere, no matter what day of the week, but they were all very relaxed, walking at a leisurely pace. The colorful summer clothes were out and the final layers of winter clothing had been shed. Who said black was chic here? I didn’t see black anywhere, there was a profusion of color. And no one seemed to mind the tourists. People were walking all kinds of dogs, short ones, long ones, ugly ones, shorn ones, what a sight! And babies, so many strollers with babies and all the strollers seemed to be for twins. Twins, it seems, are not rare anymore!

Wonder of wonders, we even found metered parking on the street. We popped the coins in the meter and walked to “The Park”, just a couple of blocks away. The horse carriages were all lined up on 59th Street. We definitely wanted to trot along on a horse carriage this day but decided to save that for later. The rest of the day was ahead of us. Anoushka was walking between us holding both our hands and asking us to hoist her up every time there was a crack in the sidewalk, so she could jump over it. This activity tired her soon enough and she ended up on her favorite perch, her Dad’s shoulders, as we headed for Central Park West en route to the entrance of the park.

Central Park, a whole new world, an amazing, fascinating world within a world, six percent of Manhattan, 843 acres of greenery and serenity in the city that feels anything but serene on any other day of the week. I don’t know if Central Park feels the same on any other day of the week. To the numerous tourists who visit each day, perhaps it does, but I have never visited during the week. But this Saturday, even if it wasn’t July 4th, I found myself humming the band Chicago’s classic –“Saturday, in the park, I think it was the 4th of July, people dancing, people laughing, man selling ice-cream, singing Italian songs…” – this is exactly how it was!

My eyes wanted to be everywhere at once, there was so much going on wherever I turned, people had their picnic baskets out, toddlers were running around, scampering from parent to parent, riding their Dad’s shoulders like our Anoushka, dribbling ice-cream, running after their dogs, dogs playing Frisbee with their owners, lovers loving, sun-bathers sun-bathing, some real life was being lived here. This is how Elysian Fields must appear, I thought. My writer/cataloguer/chronographer’s mind kept trying to capture in words the elation, the pure, unadulterated joy I felt at being here, at being here with Anil and Anoushka, the joy of seeing their happiness, the bright smile on Anoushka’s face. She seemed so thrilled at being here with Mom and Dad. And just as I was enjoying this moment of infinite happiness a twinge of sadness crept in at the thought that in about ten short years or so, she will start distancing herself, rejecting her poor parents in favor of peers. But, hey, we were here to live in the present and the present was simply exquisite.

We continued walking through the park and came to a throng of people and some real jamming music. We had stumbled upon a skate-off. Here we saw people in all kinds of costumes and on roller blades (the baby-boomers on roller-skates) practicing the most difficult looking contortions and moves. How could they do all that on skates and blades! It was the most amazing thing to watch. I wished I could skate, I wished I could dance, I just wished I had the type of uninhibited personality that would have enabled me to join this group of skaters and dancers.

Time to walk on some more, to savor other joys that a deeper exploration would reveal. We were really trying to find the zoo within the park, but had had no luck so far, we had 843 acres to search, after all! There was a softball game going on in one section of the park and a bocci ball competition on the other side. Some folks were trying badminton and others had found a vantage point on top of a rock to sketch or paint. The writers were lying on their stomachs on the grass, filling up page after page and the readers were busy devouring their books. What a place to be! I didn’t want to leave, neither did Anoushka but it was getting late and we still had the horse carriage ride to take. So we continued our walk to 59th Street and got on a carriage. We got a nice look at that part of the city from our carriage, it was quite a surreal feeling to be in a carriage amidst the automobile congestion near Columbus Circle, but it was extremely enjoyable.

The ride was soon over and it was time to return to dreary suburbia, we still hadn’t found the zoo, it just gave us another excuse to come back, but not before getting one last thing done. There were sketch artists surrounding the park. They sketch people for $10 – $80 depending on the gullibility of each customer. We decided to get Anoushka sketched just as the dark clouds seemed to be rolling in.

The artist got to work on Anoushka’s sketch. He did a wonderful job with the eyes and then the lightning and thunder started. A big, round drop of water fell on his sketch pad and made us all say, “Uh –oh! The artists pulled out all kinds of temporary shelters and umbrellas so that their $20 didn’t disappear in the rain. Meanwhile we got soaked to the skin. There was no rain in the forecast but that’s how it usually is. We wanted to just give the guys their money and leave without the sketch but they wouldn’t let us go. By now, there was no point in leaving, so we let them finish and then made a dash for the car.

A rained out day, but it only served to heighten its memorability. We’ll look back and say, “Remember that day in Central park, remember how we got soaked to the skin while getting Anoushka sketched?” And this will trigger a flood of pleasant recollections reminding us of the day when New York came alive for us, underscoring the elation that this incredible city can inspire in the right setting, on a perfect day.

4 Comments

  1. nice narrative and lovely feelings. Good, Pragya.

  2. How one suddenly discovers that joy and happiness is all around you and that your mind often cannot see or feel it. One should look for it and feel it rather than pitying oneself. Good discovering yourself.

  3. Nicely written account of your visit to the park with your dauhgter and husband.It seemed as if I am in the park watching everything. One more thing, every parent go through that feeling of being alienated from his/her child's life one day . That is called the "circle of life".

  4. A visit long overdue Prags. Here I am! Said it elsewhere, but a lovely piece of writing again! 🙂


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