Snapped: Spring in Central Park, New York

Life is a journey, not a destination. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s not easy to plan a trip to Central Park with an endpoint in mind, especially if you are easily distracted. This isn’t a bad thing – just something to be conscious of if time is of the essence.

Yesterday, I had some time.

These past few days, it really feels as if winter has left the City, especially in Central Park. It’s as if Spring took a brush and brightened its expanse with a fresh coat of paint. New leaves grow into winter’s space, filling it in with shades of green; baby buds and blooms garner attention – their stems and branches reaching out, decorated in different shades of yellow and pink.

Along with the fruits of a new season, Central Park has come alive with people. New Yorkers once again embrace the lush foliage of their extended backyard; ducks welcome newcomers to the water – they happily float alongside row- and remote-controlled sailboats.

Just as I was sidetracked on my last trip to Central Park, I was distracted again yesterday. Sheer determination got me to the Jackie Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, a place I’d missed out on seeing a few weeks ago for its cherry blossoms. I made it; I saw the blooms surrounding it. Yet, I was happier for having captured so many lovely moments along the way.

Life really is about collecting moments, isn’t it? I hope you’ll enjoy these.

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Central Park – Enter and be greeted with a vibrant pop of yellow. A sunburst, at ground level.

Spot bristly looking blooms, reaching for the sun.

How could you not be sidetracked by this skyline? A model view of Manhattan.

Midtown’s panorama: it looks so peaceful, standing on the sidelines at Sheep Meadow. Reason enough to love New York.

Whilst Sheep Meadow is still gathering strength before it opens its gates to sunbakers and frisbee throwers, there are plenty of other spots to retreat into. Millions of perfect settings in which to linger over a cup of coffee and indulge in an afternoon nap.

Open-air shopping at The Mall. It’s good to see its lined-up elms awake – the green leaves are such a contrast against those dark trunks.

In the background, an absolute delight to hear the sounds of the Australian Chamber Orchestra from the Bandshell. A reminder of home…

… worthy of a crowd. What a treat to stumble upon.

Road traffic against the Boathouse

Lunch: at The Loeb Boathouse.

The Conservatory Water, seen from uphill.

At the water’s edge, remote controlled wind-driven sailboats glide…

… and ducks float alongside; a couple take a breather on the rectangular buoys. Poised, one looks ready to dive.

This is a different kind of buzz taking place in the midst of the most bustling city in the US. A subdued atmosphere with a positive energy behind it.

Later… From water activity to a pink blossom sighting.

Bustle Alert. From above: a view of the ubiquitous yellow cabs. New York City symbolism.

Shadows on The Metropolitan Museum of Art – it sits in the grounds of Central Park.

More blossoms along the way. A divine fragrance, begging to be bottled. A few sprigs plucked; their sweetness saved for memory.

Green against amber against white against pink. Spring’s best offering – a palette of amazing colours.

The undeniable beauty of the magnolia bloom; so pretty yet so stoic.

Steps away… the Jackie Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. At its circumference, The Guggenheim can be seen through the tree branches – to the right…

… water – to the left, and a cherry blossom directly ahead. Another happy snapper in the midst.

Musings, under the shade of the cherry blossom tree….Maybe I should give jogging another try…?

West Side Story, framed by blossoms. A view of the Reservoir against Fifth Avenue. The Guggenheim is amongst those buildings, somewhere…

A lovely walk in the Park; a string of spring moments. Strolling into a block of townhouses, somewhere on the Upper West Side, in the 80’s…

Gorgeous entryways, detailed architecture… still in the peaceful 80’s. Where is everybody?

Spoke too soon. Steps away. Bustling New York.

For perspective, an interactive map of Central Park can be accessed here: Central Park Maps | Your Complete Guide to Central Park.

Impressionist-inspired Laguna, in memory of Vincent van Gogh

Happy Birthday Vincent van Gogh ~

Having just returned from a visit to the US West Coast, I’ve been looking through my photos and was inspired to pay homage to the great Dutch post-Impressionist artist (30 March 1853-29 July 1890) by sharing with you one of my favourites.

Let me preface this by way of a bit of an explanation:

Van Gogh’s most notable works were painted after he’d discovered the works of the Impressionists in Paris, around 1886. Subsequently, he left for the south of France in hopes of establishing a community of artists in the city of Arles.

Captivated by the clarity of light and the vibrant colors of the Provençal spring, Van Gogh produced fourteen paintings of orchards in less than a month, painting outdoors and varying his style and technique. ~ metmuseum.org

It was during this time that he produced a number of masterpieces including Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers (1888), The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night (1888), Starry Night Over the Rhone (1888), Arles: View from the Wheat Fields (1888), and Still Life: Vase with Oleanders and Books. The latter may be viewed at NYC’s Met Museum of Art.

In the same vein, Laguna’s art scene evolved primarily during the early 1900’s, when artist Norman St Clair moved to the area and attracted an artist-following. Influenced by French Impressionism, the community became known as the ‘open air school’ as they found inspiration in the midst of Laguna’s landscape – rugged terrain, wild colourful flora, sunlight, and sweeping ocean vistas.

This is a photo I took of the fog unfurling over the Pacific Ocean, near Laguna’s Crescent Bay Point Park. In the background, the bark of seals could be heard though they were a sight unseen; a view obstructed by the thick mist and uneven rocky faced cliffs.

It was one of the most beautiful moments of the trip, and I hope you’ll enjoy the image.

If you hear a voice within you that says “you cannot paint”; by all means paint and that voice will be silenced. ~ Vincent Van Gogh

A few of my favourite things: The Cloisters, Manhattan (Finale)

Rockefeller wanted the objects to speak for themselves in harmonious surroundings that were not subject to modern whims or fashions. The Cloisters has been described: “as a structure… integrated with its monuments and objects, the reciprocal relationship being fundamental to the whole.”*

There is a substantial amount of art to peruse in The Cloisters museum and gardens – up to 5,000 works. Here’s a tour of some of those highlights. Enjoy!

Picturesque doorway ~ History, restored

Catch a glimpse at The Nativity tapestry (1500-1520) through the doors leading into The Late Gothic Hall.

It’s unbelievable that this 27-foot long by 13-foot high artwork had been vandalized prior to its acquisition by The Cloisters in 1938. In 1967, the Department of Textile Conservation found that the tapestry had been cut into four irregular pieces; as a consequence, badly stitched back together.

Pay heed to the admirable, laborious, and challenging undertaking of its restoration. Led by conservators, Alice Blohm and Tina Kane, the meticulous process of its conservation spanned from 1973 to 2009. The team restored missing yarns, reweaved damage and holes, and reconstructed missing areas.

It really is humbling to see a piece of history restored thanks to the dedication of artisans.

A 12th Century Canvased Camel

The camel seems to have been associated with the lands of the Bible. But also with power, luxury, and the exotic ~ The Cloisters

The Fuentiduena Chapel

Romanesque architecture with a barrel vaulted ceiling, wall paintings, and sculptures; it is easy to get ‘lost’ in the Chapel’s spaciousness.

More than three thousand limestone blocks, lent to The Cloisters by the Spanish government in 1957, constitute the twelfth-century apse that dominates this gallery…

The interior of the half dome is decorated with a Catalan fresco depicting the Virgin and Child in Majesty and the Adoration of the Magi from the church of the Virgin near Tredòs, and a magnificent twelfth-century painted Spanish wood crucifix hangs from the arch. ~ The Met Museum

Splash of Colour

Look, don’t eat: Spreading from China to India, both bitter and sweet oranges were introduced into Europe from Asia; the bitter species preceded the sweet species by five centuries.

Take a leaf out of this Chapter

If you were to rewind to the 12th century, there would be a meeting taking place in The Chapter House. Fast forward a few centuries, and how things have changed. In the 1800’s, prior to its purchase in the 1930s, the House was being used as a stable.

Whenever any important business has to be done in the monastery, let the Abbot call together the whole community and state the matter to be acted upon.” So Saint Benedict began “Chapter 3 of his Rule for Monasteries.” ~ The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Here, the space evokes a sense of calm.

Take a seat on one of the wooden bench encircling the room – versus a stone-hewn one of the Middle Ages – and take in the beauty of The Chapter House’s work; its pillars are decorated with carvings of roses and pinecones, and the rib-vaulted Gothic-inspired ceiling is really beautiful. The arched windows that line it to one side illuminate the space with a soft light.

A Breather

The West Terrace makes the most of The Cloisters’ position, perched on the highest point of Manhattan. From this vantage point, as if on a fort, you have a great view of the Hudson River, the New Jersey Palisades, and the George Washington Bridge in the background.

Private Time

Named for the early Netherlandish masterpiece, the Merode Altarpiece, The Merode Room features works of art intended as aids to private devotion.

You’ll be enchanted by its stained glass windows, and the central chandelier.

Lend Some Support

Columns such as the one below were used as decoration in the Benedictine abbey of Notre-Dame de la Grande Sauve. From here, you can see the leaf motifs up close.

Myths and Mysticism

Though the gardens may be waiting for a sprinkle of Spring magic, the Unicorn Tapestries are always abloom. Their backgrounds feature millefleurs (millions of flowers); these plantings are reflectied of the museum’s Trie Cloister Garden.

Traditionally known as The Hunt of the Unicorn, these tapestries were woven in wool, metallic threads, and silk, and include the depiction of 101 species of plants, of which over 85 have been identified. The vibrant colors still evident today were produced with three dye plants: weld (yellow), madder (red), and woad (blue). ~ The Met Museum

Note: symbolism is interwoven into the planted background of Middle Ages tapestries; landscape was treated as more than just a place to inhabit physically – it was used to create ambiance and emotion.

The pomegranate tree, featured in several of the tapestries, symbolized the chastity of the Virgin Mary, the union of faith, and peace. The fruit’s red juice represented Christ’s blood, and redemption in a paradise garden. ~ Corey Eilhardt, The Cloisters

Austrian, glazed and stained

Light shines through The Gothic Chapel’s tall fourteenth-century Austrian stained glass windows. Splashes of colour brighten a chapel fashioned in the thirteenth-century, filled with tomb effigies.

Pause before Exiting ~ Doorways and Candelabras

This doorway looking into the Langon Chapel is a thing of Gothic-inspired beauty.

A Paved Farewell

The driveway is made of original Belgian blocks from old New York streets. Tread carefully!

*Landmarks Preservation Commission, 1974, Number 4, LP-0835

More Information: The Burgos Tapestry: A Study in Conservation.

Birds and the Bees: Fort Tryon Park and The Cloisters, Manhattan (Part One)

It’s tough being a tourist in New York.

In a city that is constantly changing, evolving, and generating new talent, there’s bound to be an exhibition, restaurant, or landmark that you’ll jot down on the To Do – Next NY Visit list; it’s too hard to see and do it all in a matter of a couple of weeks, let alone – a few days.

Strolling from East to West; subwaying Uptown and Downtown; taxiing from hotel to restaurant to bar, and back to hotel; you’ll find yourself hard pressed to even make it to the northernmost part of Central Park.

That said, it’s pretty fair to say that the area that constitutes Fort Tryon Park and The Cloisters, located in the Far North of Manhattan, doesn’t make it on many traveler-radars. Speaking from experience, I only visited the area today – as a resident – and I first visited NYC as a tourist in 2001.

PART ONE – Fort Tryon Park

Originally inhabited by the Weckquaesgeek Tribe, who lived in the area until the early 17th century, this densely forested high ground at the northern end of Manhattan was “Lang Bergh” or Long Hill to the early Dutch colonists. The Continental Army called the strategic series of posts along the Hudson RiverFort Washington” during the summer of 1776, until Hessian mercenaries fighting for the British forced the troops to retreat. The British then renamed the area for Sir William Tryon (1729–1788), Major General and the last British governor of colonial New York.*

Exiting the 190th Street Subway, you’ll immediately find yourself in the midst of Fort Tryon Park, located in the Washington Heights region of NY.

Land initially purchased by John D. Rockefeller in 1917, in 1935 he donated it to New York City when his vision for the Park was completed; it took 4 years for head designer, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. – son of the architect of Central Park – to design and create the space that is the Fort Tryon Park we are able to enjoy today.

Fact: Fort Tryon Park is one of the highest points in New York. Don’t be deceived by those Midtown Manhattan skyscrapers.

Despite the twisting pathways, stonewalled terraces, steps upon steps, and steepish slopes, this is a manageable and relaxing park to explore. You’ll enjoy views of the Hudson River and the Palisades State Park, located on the other side – Rockefeller also purchased this parkland in order to preserve Fort Tryon’s views.

Rows of benches make the Park an ideal spot for daydreaming whilst overlooking the Hudson River and its Valley.

Fact: Fort Tryon Park fell into decades of neglect and its cleanup efforts were spearheaded around 1995 by the divine Miss M, Bette Midler.

I was so upset; I didn’t sleep for weeks… People were throwing their garbage out the window, leaving their lunches on the ground. Finally, I realized I needed to actually do something – even if it meant picking up trash with my own two hands. ~ Bette MidlerGood Housekeeping Magazine

Initially recruiting friends and family, Bette set about removing garbage from Fort Tryon Park and Fort Washington Park in Upper Manhattan. What began as a grass roots effort led to her founding the non-profit New York Restoration Project (www.nyrp.org).

What a testament to the spirit of New York. Regeneration, restoration, revival, rebirth – reverberations of these words are constant in an ever-changing city.

Stretch the legs and take in the beauty on a stroll through the English-inspired Heather Garden; spring has surely sprung. Listen to the chirping of its birds. It’s all about looking down, rather than skyscraper-up; flowers in purples, yellows, whites beckon buzzing bees and announce the onset of a new season.

Pause at the plaque dedications on those Garden’s benches located in the seating alcoves that punctuate Stan Michels Promenade. It’s impossible not to notice a clay head sculpture, or two, or more; part of a proposed public art project, they flank the Promenade’s benches and demand attention.

FACT: Stan Michels Promenade is named for New York City councilman Stanley Michels – an ardent supporter of environmental reform and park restoration.

Step it up to Linden Terrace at the Garden’s edge, and into the shadows of its linden trees, strewn on the pavement. Pause here – more benches available for daydreaming.

Or simply gaze at the Hudson River; you’ll catch a glimpse of the George Washington Bridge from here too.

See the tops of The Cloisters building through the thick of bare tree branches.

… Your next destination beckons… To be posted in Part Two

The Cloisters opened in the north end of Fort Tryon Park in 1938 after Rockefeller bought sculptor George Grey Barnard’s (1863–1938) collection of medieval art. Inspired by Romanesque monasteries, the museum includes several cloisters, or courtyards, from actual French monasteries. Now a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it was designated an official New York City landmark in 1974.*

*http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/forttryonpark/history

The Met’s Secret Garden

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (The Met) is what the Musee d’Orsay is to Paris, and the Hermitage is to St Petersburg. It’s an outstanding museum in a big city, simply too large to explore in one day; housing spectacular collections, fascinating exhibits and some of the most awe-inspiring artifacts and archaeological finds from around the globe.

Bustling Grand Hall

Abutting Central Park on its Fifth Avenue side, around 82nd Street, it’s a rare privilege to have such an institution in, what I term as, my “much extended backyard” of Manhattan. Whenever I visit, I know that I’ll walk out of The Met more inspired than when I went in. Whether it be a result of being surrounded by so many of Monet’s masterful Impressionist works, or from viewing the voluminous amount of Egyptian artifacts on display, or from being mesmerized by the glorious glitter of pre-Columbian gold – the experience is akin to a feeling of otherworldliness and just makes me want to travel, really.

Monet's "The Four Trees"

Part of a Tiffany glasswork

As much as I seek it out, too much inspiration can be overwhelming. When a pause between gallery-room-hopping is required, I pay a visit to The Met’s Secret Garden (aka Ming Scholar’s Retreat).

Located within the Asian Galleries on the second floor, the garden’s seemingly hidden entryway, despite being flanked by two stone lions, is mostly passed by. Only a handful of people are here at any one time, which makes you feel like you’re the recipient of a golden ticket.

Moon Gate

Formally called Astor Court (after it’s visionary and founding supporter Brooke Russell Astor), the garden is modeled “on a small courtyard within a scholar’s garden in the city of Suzhou, China, called Wang Shi Yuan, the Garden of the Master of the Fishing Nets.”[1] Whether or not one is inspired to study or write here, the space undoubtedly allows for quiet contemplation, or for a sit down to take a break (oh, the weary feet; ah, the aching lower back).

The 'thinking' visitor

The design and craftsmanship of this lovely retreat is as authentic a setting as one found in China. Influenced by the Ming Dynasty style and Yin-Yang principle, the courtyard was completed in 1980 and “assembled by expert craftsmen from China using traditional methods, materials and hand tools”.[2]

Moon-Viewing Terrace

Walking through the moon gate entrance, topped with a plaque that poetically translates to ‘In Search of Quietude’ (tanyou), you immediately enter the spacious and tranquil moon-viewing terrace. Appropriately named, for the space is outfitted with a skylight roof through which you could literally see the moon, if you were here late enough. That said, it wouldn’t have been such a crazy idea today given the lunar eclipse.

Walkway

Central to the terrace space stands a doorway donned with its own plaque that translates to, ‘Elegant Respose’ (yashi). The surrounding walls are punctuated with windows of varying lattice patterns, exposing the green of bamboo and grasses, as if to show what the landscape would have looked like beyond. A sheltered walkway hugs the perimeter of two of the garden’s walls, that also functions as a place under which one can sit.

Terrace doorway

Latticed patterns

The ssshh of the waterfall from the Koi pond is the only pertinent sound heard in the  hushed surroundings.  Dark grey Ying limestone and eroded rock formations from the bottom of Lake Tai (China) adorn the terrace, alongside various leafy plantings.

Koi pond and waterfall

During the Ming Dynasty, such a terrace would also be used for poetry readings, gatherings and tea sampling. If only they served tea here, as they do wine on the Great Hall balcony!

Ming Room

Straight off of the terrace is the Ming Room, also known as the Scholar’s Retreat. Furnished in a collection of pieces inspired by those of the Museum’s own collection from the Ming Dynasty, the space would have been used for work and entertainment. Its façade and the other wooden constructs are made from materials imported from China: ginko and camphor for the latticed doors; the ceiling beams are made of wood from fir trees; the pillars are from nan wood – an evergreen prized for its durability and soothing honey colour. Some of the room’s more ornate decorations include a beautifully blue glazed porcelain Meiping vase, pewter candlesticks from the Ming dynasty and a turquoise and aubergine glazed porcelain God.

Wooden ceiling beams

God of the North, Zhenwu

Ornate decorations of the Ming Room

With its conceptualized design and detail, Astor Court is as much a gallery as the other rooms of the museum. However, it serves the double purpose of being an aside to its more populated counterparts. Soaking in the art at The Met, whether all at once or over various sittings, is made easier with a time-out at the Secret Garden. Though I have written about it here, here’s hoping that the garden stays just that…. a secret for those of us (now) in the know.

A quiet corner


[1] Murck, Alfreda; Fong, Wen, A Chinese Garden Court: The Astor Court at The Metropolitan Museum of Art Reprinted from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Winter 1980/81. p. 10 [2] nyt.com