On a balmy summer evening, with a serene lake littered with ducks and tortoises, reflecting majestic New York skyscrapers as a backdrop, I watched as a wedding took place. The couple, surrounded by a small group of people, was taking vows while the minister blessed them. The minister announced “you may now kiss”. The two men, both middle-aged, overwhelmed, hugged each other in response. The small group surrounding them broke out into applause.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, onlookers like me continued on our walk, run or returned to our books or mere contemplation. It was simply another day slipping into evening in Central Park.
Created in the 1860’s as the first public landscaped park in the USA, Central Park is spread over 843 acres. It has lakes, theatres, ice rinks, fountains, tennis courts, small castles, baseball fields, meadows, elm trees, statues and wooden alcoves. It is also home to the Central Park Zoo and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The list of what it contains would be long, even more difficult is to capture what it represents.
A visit to Central Park is invariably listed as one of the must do things in New York. For a visitor, who has barely half a day to stroll through, Central Park represents a microcosm of the cosmopolitan, varied, pulsating energy of New York. Although one can see only a small part of the huge park on a short visit, it leaves an ever lasting impression.
If you enter from Fifth Avenue and walk the path lined by graceful statues of great writers and numerous American elm trees, towards the Bathsheba terrace, you reach the fountain where many Bollywood movies have been shot. Maybe you cross the Bow Bridge and walk through the rambles on your way out; mesmerized by the thick foliage, and multicolored birds chirping in the heart of the megapolis. In corners, people play music, enthrall children with puppet shows, or sell the ubiquitous hot dogs or pretzels.
For long duration residents of Manhattan, who can walk in Central Park on a regular basis, it becomes an integral part of life. Walking a dog or walking with someone you love, in any season can be an uplifting experience. During spring, flowers of all hues bloom across the meadows, trees and hedges. The grass is lush green, trees in full splendor, and people are out doing all the things they love. Summer sees the disappearance of flowers, but the activity and hustle bustle in the Park take on an energy that is palpable.
Autumn brings another riot of color. As leaves change color from bright yellow, burnt red, majestic maroon to myriad shades of brown, Central Park is crowned in the colors of autumn. As the winds cool down, leaves fall rapidly and once snow captures the landscape, the Park becomes a sheet of snow. Encircled by bare brown trees, the snow laden grounds become an arena for people frolicking in the snow. Whatever the weather, Central Park remains a magnet for people. Even when it rains, people are there with raincoats and umbrellas.
A walk through Central Park will take you past lovers lost in an embrace, solitary reapers of books under a tree, children playing, groups on picnic, teachers of zen or dance with a bunch of students, or newlyweds posing for photos against its iconic structures. People run to stay fit, horse-drawn carriages with mesmerized tourists float down its pathways or a horse mounted NYPD cop waits patiently while his horse drinks from a fountain. You can come across protest marches, support groups, music concerts, plays, impromptu performances or get your portrait sketched for ten dollars. You turn a corner and under a stone awning, a lone artist would be playing music to earn a living. Myriad nationalities walk its spaces everyday; the strangest languages hit your ears as people pass by. The water bodies in the park have ducks, tortoises, and even otters. There is life, movement and joy spread out.
It is but a park, a public space for people to enjoy, but Central Park is special. It throbs and pulsates with all that encompasses the human spirit. Freedom sways in its trees, beauty blossoms in its flowers, respect and heritage reside in its statues, endeavor is strung across its pathways and open spaces. It inspires hope and makes one acutely aware of the potential of life.