Friday, July 22, 2011

Central Park, naturally

Recently, I was in the other great American city.

You might have heard of it?

After a fun lunch with an old college friend, I hopped in a cab to meet up with my oldest friend.

“Which way do you want to take?” asked my cab driver.


“I don’t know. I’m not from here,” I admitted, immediately opening the door for him to ask where I am from.

Where am I from? Am I from Detroit? Where I was born?

Am I from New York, where I currently reside?

Or am I from the places – Poland, Italy, Germany - my family immigrated to the United States from several generations ago?


Well, on this day, I was from New York.

“So which city do you like better?” my cab driver asked. I could feel a fight coming on.

“Well, I live in New York,” I said, hoping the obvious was obvious.

“What do you like so much about New York?” Like a panther about to pounce on his prey, I could see the hairs on the nape of his neck stand and his muscles tense up.

“Well,” I paused. Where to begin?

“I love Central Park,” I started.

“Oh but we have parks too.”

“Not like Central Park.”

While I haven’t visited every park there is, and since Central Park is the closest that I get to nature between trips out of the city, I’m really biased here. Really, really, really biased.

And yet, I’m pretty sure that a lot of people would agree with me on this. Unlike the great national parks such as the Grand Canyon or Yosemite, the Park lacks majestic, jaw dropping natural wonders. In fact, the whole thing is man made.

Unlike some of the great urban parks like Park Guell or Grant Park, the Park lacks breathtaking, groundbreaking pieces of art. So there’s a cute statue of Alice in Wonderland, and Balto, and a few generals and other people, it’s certainly not as iconic as this mosaic lizard in Barcelona.

There’s no national monuments in Central Park either – nothing to commemorate a great historical moment nor to honor all the soldiers who have fought and died for our country.

Besides the rogue wolf, there’s no wildlife in the Park - unless you count squirrels and people from New Jersey.

And yet for all that Central Park lacks in natural resources and artistic showpieces, it makes up for in characters.

Where else can you see Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Florence and the Machine, the New York Philharmonic, the MET Opera, play softball, soccer, cricket, even quidditch?

It’s where we go to get our tan on, where first kisses and marriage proposals happen daily, where bottles of wine are more plentiful than barbecues, and where you can ride a ferris wheel, play hockey, practice your backstroke, and row boats.

Recently, I enjoyed one of Central Park's great events: Shakespeare in the Park. Sadly, cameras are not allowed so I cannot share any pictures. Words will have to be enough.

The play was Measure for Measure, a Shakespearean tragic comedy which I was not familiar with going into the show.

In short, the theater is a simple curtainless stage, in the back open to trees and bushes with Belvedere Castle poking out from behind. The stage has one open balcony and two sets of stairs which the players moved around to the change the scenes, along with a few sparse props such as a bed and a table.

The actors were amazing. Comedic, and though the setting of the play was decidedly of the Shakespearean era, a few cheeky gestures and innuendos acknowledged both the audience and it's 21st century world.

The most magical part of the play for me was outdoor theater setting. As the sun set, the sky changed colors and lightning bugs appeared. The occasional bird swooped low through the crowd, and you could hear a smattering of children yelling or a siren here or there. I enjoyed the sensation of watching a play with the semi-awareness of the going arounds outside of the theater.

There was something very romantic about this place.

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