Sunday, April 25, 2010

Heading North: Van Cortlandt Park

Last Sunday I (and a game Bill) finally got up to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.  I've been meaning to check this out for years, but somehow it just never happened.  It's not on any of my beaten paths for one thing, as numerous and varied as they are.  Usually I fulfill my craving for green space by going to one of my old favorites.  I don't get to see them enough, they change with every season, so new places don't get added to the rotation easily.  I think I may also have had it in my head that visiting this park would be a major expedition, requiring nothing less than a free day.  Then there's just the way routine carves itself into one's life.  I'd been living in this apartment for about nine months before it occurred to me that, upon leaving my building, maybe this time, instead of turning right (heading towards the subway, the grocery store, all familiar territory) I might just get a little crazy and turn left.  Just, you know, to see what was over there.  Whacky, right?  That's kind of shenanigans I get up to when I've a mind.   

So, a conversation with friends on Saturday reminded me of the Park's existence, then Sunday came with gorgeous weather and an empty schedule.  So off we went.  I already knew my local subway (the #1) would deliver us right to the park.  The final stop is called the Van Cortlandt Park stop, so I was confident a pair of savvy urban types like us wouldn't get lost.  And once I had actually looked at the trip, I realized it just wasn't that far.  The commute maybe took twenty minutes, and what's more, most of the ride was above ground.  I always get excited when the subway leaves its hidey hole, especially since that almost always means it becomes an elevated train.  Suddenly the windows actually look out on something, well, something besides stations, crowds and work lights.  My general resentment of concrete lessens considerably when I can see great distances and plenty of sky. 

As promised, the subway station fed us right into the park.  We didn't have specific destinations in mind, so with Bill's permission I headed us towards the woodsy-looking parts.  One of the first thing we both noticed was how small the crowds were.  A gorgeous Sunday in Central Park means wall-to-wall people.  That can be fun in it's own way, especially since the crowds are usually pretty cheerful (just watch for the kamikazi bike riders), but it was a surprising gift to have so much of the place to ourselves.  On a related note, I can't remember the last time I came across so many considerate teenage bikers. 

The park had evidence of former lives throughout.  I always find it exciting, if a bit scary, to see how vigorously plant life can take over when it's allowed to.  (You might need to click on the image above to make sense of it; there's a fence in there.)

We pretty quickly found a path that took us along side some large ponds, and a golf course.  Bikers and pedestrians were able to share the path cordially, in part, again, because there weren't that many of either group. 

Of course I was on the lookout for violets, and I wasn't disappointed.  Much to my delight, I discovered that my new camera gets pretty damn close to capturing the correct color.  The trick seems to be adequate sunlight.  Violets like shade, so maybe I'd just never put that to the test before this trek.  I hope you'll indulge me as I post several of those photos.  It probably won't surprise any who know me well that this collection is just the tip of the iceberg.  I've also made them all larger than the other photos, no doubt shortening the time before Blogger tells me I'm over my storage limit.  Don't care. 

These purple-throated white ones were also a fun discovery.  I think that's part of the charm of violets for me, I feel like I've found hidden treasure.  I love cherry trees and other extravagant blooms, for example, but they don't trigger quite the same sense of discovery.  I mean, you rarely stumble across them accidentally, know what I mean.  You see them coming for miles.  That's nice too, don't get me wrong, it's just a different experience. 

When I find big fields of violets, I want to lie down and roll around in them.  Having enough sense to realize this wouldn't do them a lot of good, I make due with lying beside them.  Having a camera gives one so much license.  Bill made sure I didn't get run over by bikers.

Another surprise: we officially walked out of New York City. I hadn't realized Westchester was so close.  The minute we left the park, the dirt path became a paved bike trail, and suburban houses (see below) sprouted up on one side.  On the other we heard the constant roar of the Sawmill Parkway.  I've been on that road several times, usually heading someplace fun and gorgeous, and getting to it previously involved an elaborate process of renting a car, maneuvering through Manhattan traffic to dive headfirst into Westside Highway traffic, etc.  To have come across it unexpectedly while out for a Sunday stroll was funny, and oddly freeing. 

Keeping my eyes peeled for violets meant I noticed these little darlings.  I don't know what they are.  Having had such good luck with the forsythia identification in the last post, I'm hoping my savvy readers can help me with this one too.  Does anyone recognize it? 

This might be a bit too Thomas Kincaide for some, but I'm pretending it's an homage to El Greco. 

Shut up.     

How about this flower?  I don't this one either.  Anyone? 

Little reminders of the urban life surrounding my green oases used to bug me, but over the years I've come to like them.  I'm not sure why; maybe it's just nice to be reminded that people created these parks on purpose, that I'm far from alone in needing this outlet. 

We rounded out the day with a nice malbec, some Chinese take-out, and the first bunch of lilacs I'd seen on sale.  They were half the price I'm used to paying, probably because I usually buy them farther south.  That will stand as another good reminder to head north every once in a while.   

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

April 4th: Fort Tryon Park

This year I missed the season when the heather in Fort Tryon Park reigned alone in the garden.  Last Saturday it may have no longer been alone, but it still held its own beautifully against the daffodils, pansies and flamboyant trees that were starting to bloom.  In the rest of the park, where things are left to be more foresty and wild-looking, some unknown-to-me yellow bush was starting to explode all over the place, looking like it might set the bare trees on fire.  Yellow was the dominant color throughout, and its effects as a mood elevator were pretty clear.  Combine this with long vistas, open sky, and bird song that almost drowned out the hum of the Westside Highway, and you have a good antidote for my Urban Brain Frenzy (UBF).  Is SO a disease.  Well, you wouldn't want to be around me during an attack.  Ask my local friends.  Oh, the whinging, the snarling, the snapping. 

I have a deep fondness for the George Washington Bridge, not only because it often is the escape route to some nice places (and yes, there are some very nice places in Jersey, you snobs), but I also just think the bridge itself is pretty.  And when looking from Fort Tryon Park, I even find the South Bronx rather pretty.  Amazing what trees and some distance can do to my outlook. 

Can anyone tell me what this bush is?  It's everywhere, and I love it. 

Sorry if the image on the right stirs up a wee bit of vertigo, but I liked the composition better at a slight angle. 

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Linkedy Link-Link: Next Fall: A Review

I have a review up of Next Fall, a great new play running right now on Broadway.  Go here if you're interested. 

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Bette Bourne: A Life in Three Acts

I was hesitant to write a review of the show I saw on Saturday at the St Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn, since as far as I can tell, it ended an extensive tour (mostly in the UK) the following day. Writing about it seemed rude, maybe even cruel, especially since I intend to rave a bit. I saw something great, you don't get to. Sucks to be you. I'm writing about it though, because I think the person at its center deserves to be celebrated.

A Life in Three Acts is a shaped recreation of interviews the playwright Mark Ravenhill did with his new friend, the performer Bette Bourne, about her life. As thrilled as I was at subject matter, having been a fan of Bourne's since the early nineties, I was initially a bit leery of this format. It's not without problems, but Bourne is a gifted storyteller with some fantastic material, Ravenhill a friendly presence, and the connection between them created a warm, relaxed atmosphere.