Columns

Just saying: Peace in the park despite the pandemic

It was an October day for the ages. An exuberant thought for sure, but October so routinely delivers such sublime days that it’s easy to forget the last, best, most beautiful, autumn day that was awarded that ultimate moniker. (Last year, no doubt.)

I’m talking Octobers in the Northeast, be they on the Island or in the city, in Mashomack or Central Park. (The ultimate ultimate? Vermont, in a rout.)

Last Saturday I was in Central Park, doing my morning constitutional, wandering about in the east-central region and its familiar sights. We are spending a bit more time in the city as Jane awaits hip surgery.

We interviewed two surgeons for the job, and the X-rays show the startling image of a hip bone and a ball joint as one continuous chunk of calcium with no space between so that the hip can move as a hip is supposed to, allowing for, say, the act of walking.

I bought her a $23 cane and she has crutches from some other orthopedic adventure, but the pain remains extreme.

On such an October morning, the park is awash with dogs walking/running their humans and little kids overseeing their parents. There is an overwhelming sense of peace during these mornings in the park. The usual balances of power are forsaken and everyone is totally fine with that.

My route takes me four blocks west to the 79th street entrance, a popular gateway to various delights. Almost without exception, I stop at Cleopatra’s Needle, an obelisk given to America by Egypt around 1880 in return for our not trying to meddle in their internal affairs as Britain and France were angling to do.

When we got it, it had resided in Alexandria, Egypt, a 200-ton spear of red granite about 60 feet high. Some Egyptian pharaoh ordered up some hieroglyphs in 1,200 BC, but the New York weather has pretty much worn them away.

The Needle arrived on a steamship and took 32 horses hitched in pairs to get it from the East River to Fifth Avenue where it was installed on a knoll just to the west of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I tell you all this because this stoic silent artifact has a significant calming effect on me when I sit in its presence. (There are always several people in deep repose when I go there, so I’m not the only one to pick up on this vibe.)

Occasionally, someone leaves flowers on the brass plaque that tells its story. That never occurred to me, but this ancient chunk of stone has been playing with the minds of countless souls for about 3,500 years.

I suppose that’s what gets me, its simple lasting power to arrest one’s brain waves. I’m going to slip behind the guardrail sometime and touch it, just like Cleopatra did thousands of years ago. (She had nothing to do with its coming to be; the name is a nickname.)

But enough of obelisk rapture. My walk can take me anywhere: the zoo, Belvedere Castle, the open air theater where Shakespeare in the Park is performed or simply the Turtle Pond, which turned chartreuse from God knows what toxins back in the 1970s when the park, unimaginably, was a vast ruin.

On the way home I miss the hot dog cart from the olden days, whose operator would somehow spot me from 30 yards away and have a chili dog awaiting as I reached his window.

The city’s pulse has somewhat returned, but it’s not the same. The most obvious change in our neighborhood is the restaurants have been allowed to take over portions of the streets to construct protected seating areas that in some cases provide more outside seating than they had inside, pre-plague.

I suppose it’s only a matter of time before one of these two-by-four-ed additions is ignited by the heat lamps intended to prolong food service into early winter.

For now, we definitely prefer the street-side dining areas over the Third Avenue options with their rumbling bus and freight truck traffic at table-side. But any commercial step forward is welcome during these strange times.

As I write, we’re heading out to the Island home tomorrow. There is a garden to weed and firewood to wrangle into the storage ring on our porch, among other chores.

The Island quiet is pervasive in October, but a wholly different flavor than Central Park.

With Jane’s hip there will be no Mashomack hikes, but we’ll figure something out to promote peace. As far as I know, there is no obelisk to help us get there.