New York City – some thoughts and mediocre photography

I mentioned in my last post that I recently vacationed in New York City.  I’m from southern California, and I’d never before been to the big city, so I experienced, in many ways, a sense of culture shock throughout my short visit.  We crammed an astonishing amount of adventures into our five days in the city, but my favorite moments were spent in Central Park, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and the Hungarian Pastry Shop across from the cathedral.  I’m not saying that the other stuff was deficient, but those three places resonated most strongly with me.

New York's Central Park (click photos to enlarge)

Pardon the terrible photography, please.  I used my cell phone as my camera during this trip, and it is difficult to focus and stabilize.  In addition to that, I’m definitely not a photographer, so these images are twice cursed.

There were a few things that I really liked about Central Park.  I liked the way it sounded–the noise and bustle of the city muffled somewhat by all that nature.  I liked the barren trees.  In my little corner of California, there aren’t very many deciduous trees, so it’s hard to notice the passing seasons.  When you’re surrounded by naked trees, you can’t forget that it’s winter.  Finally, I liked that so many people used the park in different ways, walking, running, singing, sitting on benches… it is a public space that actually gets used.

This winter has been a trifle mild (especially compared to last winter) across the northeast, so it shouldn’t have come as any surprise that the trees and plants were celebrating an early spring while we were there.

Tulips springing up in early March (Central Park)

I almost walked by these flowers without noticing them, but my husband pointed them out to me.  That’s my hulking shadow at the bottom-left corner.  Having no talent for growing anything that isn’t a drought-tolerant plant (thanks to my southern California climate), I didn’t realize that flowers could start to bloom before the plant is fully emerged from the soil.  It seemed that these tulips were so eager to see the warm sunshine that they just couldn’t wait for the rest of their foliage to get it together.  I like impatient things.

I wish I could have devoted an entire morning or afternoon to the park, but we just didn’t make the time for it.  The time we spent in the park, though, was wonderful.  We walked through a good portion of it (at a fairly brisk pace) one day, pausing occasionally to take pictures or listen to various groups performing in the park.  The next day, my husband and I ventured alone into the park and sat on a bench to enjoy the morning.  Even though it’s silly, I envy my sister for living so close (comparatively) to that park, for having endless opportunities for experiencing and enjoying it.  That said, there are lovely public spaces that I never visit located within a few miles of my house.  I think what I envy is not necessarily the proximity to such a space but the inclination to go there, to enjoy it.  I suspect culture is at work: in New York, the park is large and centrally located, and most of the residents in Manhattan aren’t able to cultivate their own little gardens, so they use the park for this quasi-bucolic enjoyment; in California, everything is spread out, and suburbanites like me can muck around in their own patch of soil (or hire people to do it for them)… in order to go to a park, one must drive and find parking… it’s all so damn inconvenient!  Maybe I don’t envy my sister at all.  Maybe I appreciate the burgeoning differences in our regional cultures as she becomes less and less a Californian and more and more an “other”.

Half-eaten pastries at the Hungarian Pastry Shop

I thoroughly enjoyed myself at the Hungarian Pastry Shop.  I had an almond pastry (that semicircle of goodness at the top right of the image above), my husband had a prune pastry (that gorgeous bit of pie crust and prune filling at the bottom left), and my sister had a fresh strawberry pastry (a sort of deconstructed cobbler-ish pie with an almond pie crust shown at the top left).  The pastries were really tasty, but the best part about the Hungarian Pastry Shop was that it was dark with tables set uncomfortably close together, but it still managed to exude an air of comfort and quiet relaxation.  The walls were covered with strange art, and the bathroom was decorated with snatches of misquoted poetry, phrases expressing political discontent, and the ubiquitous “Linda is a lesbo”.  We stayed there for over an hour, and I am so grateful that we didn’t rush ourselves.  Since having kids, I haven’t taken the time to pursue one of my favorite hobbies: sitting in a coffee shop enjoying conversation (or silence) mixed with the background noise and bustle of espresso machines, other patrons’ conversations, and the clink of forks on plates.  I had forgotten how much I love those little moments spent both isolated from and together with humanity at a neighborhood coffee shop.  Also, I love almonds.

I think I’ll write about the cathedral in a separate post… It was so amazing, I suspect it deserves its own billing.

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