Friday, December 18, 2015

Saturday morning canned champagne


New York City, unlike London, hides beneath a lot of affectation. Walking down the street requires lots of assumed runway swagger. Fine athletic wear or a fur vest is de rigueur for a stroll through the park on a Sunday morning.

The park on an unseasonably warm December Saturday morning is a dog lover's paradise.
Canned champagne in the park, while walking the Maltese Bichon, is a couple's paradise for brunch.
Women holding hands in chic pants walking drooling Alaskan malamutes. Three beautiful huskies, unrelated tumble over each other, frolicking through the yet-uncovered leaves.

A cockapoo leaps gracefully over a fence to retrieve a ball thrown by his master. It is the most effortless, seamless leap ever witnessed.

I stare at all the dogs running and rolling all over the lawns, soaking in the sight. I love this. This is a different scene from my dark morning runs in the park.

But I love those runs, too. I pass the same runners each day. The twins who run with the exact same delicate clip. The woman my age who, no matter how cold it is, wears running shorts. The man and the woman who walk together at a brisk pace, from 96th street down towards Columbus Circle, laughing and talking energetically about business deals going through and the day ahead. The shaman who lives down the road from me, where all the black cats hang out, who speed-walks past the Lake.

I recognize them all each morning, like clockwork. Rain or shine, wind or muggy fog, we greet each other quietly to start the day. The city feels quite small in the mornings in Central Park, before the sun comes up. Just Orion in the sky and the sound of footfalls on the pavement.

I love the sight of the stars over the foggy morning city, and the quiet rustle of human and leaf moving on the ground.

If you want to know a city, morning runs are the best time to get to know it. In London, on my first morning run of many, I tripped on a flagstone, and swore at the ancient sidewalk. Then I laughed. For I instantly understood London. Philadelphia is quiet and beautiful in the mornings along the Schuylkill, and the Museum of Art shines in the morning sun. Washington D.C. in the morning is stuck in the mist and fog of its history. Paris is magical and delicate. Kolkata is noisy: always noisy.

And New York. New York, during these morning runs, is not a mystery anymore. It is just faking it til it makes it. It forgets its past to race towards the future. It is a series of small villages all smashed together on one island. It pretends to be cosmopolitan but is really quite insular. It is cozy and confined, like a provincial town, ensconced in quiet satisfaction with its own merits.

One year ago, I felt stifled by New York. I was overwhelmed by its urban sprawl. I felt trapped by the buildings and squashed by the skyscrapers.

Now, I love it the way you love the small suburb you came from. For New York is no more and no less than just another city. There is a whole vast world outside of New York; New York is not the world, I scream at the city, trying to take it down a peg. Trying to free myself from its spell.

But New York is a monolith. An enigma, and despite its squalor and crassness, it possesses a well-cultivated allure which is none the less charming for being a sham. Or there's some truth to the sham. Maybe.

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There are two blue jays in the park. They are robust and healthy, singing musical rebukes at one another, dodging each other from branch to branch. They are vibrant, living blue. In high relief against the backdrop of dead leaves and forest behind them. They are so natural and free from manufacture. They do not belong in the dead wood. But they still sing together, turning the winter Saturday into spring.

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