Prospect Park in autumn

I feel like I’ve walked into that iconic image from “When Harry Met Sally”.* Okay, so it’s Prospect Park, not Central Park, and I’m by myself and not hanging out with a young Billy Crystal, but fall has come to New York City and it’s glorious.

It doesn’t hurt that the temperature is around sixty-five degrees.
I’ve already waxed a little too poetic about my love of fall these past few weeks, so I apologize now for all that’s to come. All I can say is that it’s my absolute favorite season and I know it will end far too soon, so it’s time to savor it.
I’m sitting on a bench next to one of the park’s paths and there are leaves everywhere on the ground. They rustled as I kicked them on my way to the bench. They’re mostly yellow and brown, but across the path I see some red mixed in. An older couple pauses to pick up some especially beautiful ones. I try to ignore the garbage mixed in to the carpet of leaves—there’s not too much of it, and the leaves smell so lovely, I can’t care.
I really should remember what kinds of trees these are. One is a maple—easy enough to distinguish—but my leaf-identifying days are too far behind me to be of any use. I crunched some acorns under my foot on my way over so there must be oak trees. One of my favorite trees when I was growing up didn’t turn pretty colors, just brown. It was the magnolia in our back yard, and I remember loving those leaves’ distinctive smell and how they felt like suede between my fingers.
Last fall at this time, Prospect Park was a sad place to visit. Superstorm Sandy had torn up trees and cracked branches and blown the leaves to the ground. It’s wonderful to see the trees getting ready for winter as they normally do, instead of the process being rushed. And it’s wonderful to see all the people out, biking, jogging, rollerblading, walking and talking, or just walking. Or just sitting, like me.
If I were eight years old, I’d find a rake and make a big pile out of all these leaves. I’d find a friend, and we’d jump into them. And then we’d stare up at the sky and talk about nothing.
Actually, that sounds pretty nice. But let’s skip the leaf pile part, because like I said, there’s trash under these leaves.
*After this outing I went home and watched “When Harry Met Sally”, because how could I not?

Some photos from the ramble I took after writing this. Enjoy, and then tell me about your favorite places to spot fall foliage, in NYC and elsewhere.

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From the roof of the Met

I have a fondness for viewing things from a height. When I traveled to Italy in college, I climbed to the top of something (usually a cathedral, but once a tower) in most of the cities we visited. When I studied in London, I climbed to the top of St. Paul’s, and loved the view from there much better than that from the London Eye. There’s something about being up high and out in the air that makes a view so much crisper than it is when viewed through the thick walls of the Eye’s capsule, or through a window in a building.

It’s been years since I’ve been to the top of the Empire State Building (I’ll write about it if I ever go again), but I’ve come across a few spots that cater to my love of Being Outside While Up High, and neither of them requires climbing 320 steps, like my trek up to the top of St. Peter’s in Rome did. One spot is the view from my office’s roof, mentioned in my September 11 post.
The other is the view from the roof garden at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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I first found my way to the Met’s roof garden on a visit to the museum sometime last year, while the Cloud City exhibit was there. Cloud City was a twisty, reflecting structure that visitors could climb—perfect for me, only my sandals weren’t flats, and flats were required for entry. I was disappointed, but I still took time to lean against the wall of the garden and look out at the view.
The next time I visited, I brought a friend from home, and I was wise enough to take pictures. Here’s what the view from the Met roof garden looked like on an afternoon back in June. (You may notice a striking resemblance to the header of this blog!)

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I love the way the skyscrapers frame the park, and the way the park stretches out toward the skyscrapers. The roof garden is a tiny observation deck overlooking a huge, sprawling green space. The skyscrapers look small in comparison, but they form a fence that keeps the park tame and doesn’t let it creep out into the streets. Someday I want to be up there at sunset.
The garden (and its café/martini bar) is open from May till late fall, weather permitting, and there’s an exhibit there now that closes after November 3. I don’t remember seeing the exhibit there in June, but it sounds interesting. If you can, go visit this weekend. If you can’t, make sure to check back next spring!
Any suggestions on tall buildings worth visiting, in NYC or elsewhere? 
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Spotlight on Clinton Hill and Fort Greene

For my first few years in NYC, I lived in a big, poorly maintained apartment in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, with friends. I’ll save our horror stories for when I get around to writing about the hellish process that is apartment hunting, but the neighborhood (and the cheap rent) almost made up for the apartment’s deficiencies.

My old roommates would be able to tell you more about the great restaurants to be found in Clinton Hill and Fort Greene. I, sadly, am a picky eater, so I’ll tell you about my favorite pizza place, and some of my other favorite spots around the neighborhood.
Luigi’s is a tiny hole-in-the-wall pizzeria on Dekalb Ave, between Washington and Hall. It has a counter, and a window, but no seating. And it sells the best NYC plain slice I’ve come across. Big, hot, cheesy and greasy, with good sauce. I miss the pizza from home, with its chewy bread-like crust, and Luigi’s is nothing like it, but it’s my top pick for a cheap slice. None of the pizza places near my current apartment can touch it.
Once you’ve acquired your slice at Luigi’s, it’s a half block walk to the Pratt University campus, the perfect place to sit and enjoy your pizza. The campus is surrounded by a fence, but it’s open to the public during the day. The portion near Luigi’s is especially lovely. I’m a sucker for grassy courtyards, and Pratt’s is enhanced by an eclectic sculpture park filled with huge works of art. It’s also home to the “Pratt cats”, a number of strays who wander in and out of one of the buildings on campus.
If it’s a Saturday, it’s worth wandering over to the Brooklyn Flea, located in the warm months at Vanderbilt and Lafayette. After November 23 it will move into the beautiful building at One Hanson place, over near Flatbush Ave (also fun to visit!). The Flea has everything from junk you might find at a tag sale to expensive hand-carved furniture, so it’s great to wander when you’re looking for nothing too specific as well as when you’re on a mission. The real draw of course is the food vendors. Again, I’m not big on food recommendations, but even I can tell you the popsicles at People’s Popsare amazing, as are the hotdogs at Asia Dog.
If you’re looking for something slightly healthier (and it’s still a Saturday, any time of the year), head over to Fort Greene Park, at Dekalb and Cumberland, for the farmer’s market I mentioned last week. The cider donuts there are my favorites, and the market sells all the normal fruits, veggies, baked goods, etc.
The park itself, designed as Central Park was, by Olmstead, is small but lovely, with a hill to climb up or lie on in the summer. While you can’t quite get lost in it – the nearby buildings are visible – the city does recede slightly, there.
I’ve skimmed the surface on these neighborhoods. There are tons of restaurants here, the Brooklyn Academy of Music is nearby as are Atlantic Mall and the Barclays Center. But when I lived there, these places I’ve described were some of the places that became part of my routine, my first routine as a New Yorker, so they hold an especially warm place in my heart.
Any favorite spots (in Clinton Hill, or in your first neighborhood) to share?

Crushing on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade (or really, its view)

I have a crush on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, and on the part of the Brooklyn Greenway that runs parallel to it. It has no idea I feel this way, because I visit so rarely, and haven’t told it about my growing affection, but since my last stop there I’ve resolved to spend more time enjoying the area.

The idea for the Brooklyn Heights Promenade was developed when Robert Moss was planning the route of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway back in the 1940s. Wealthy residents of Brooklyn Heights protested his scheme to have it barrel straight through the neighborhood, and instead he stacked the expressway near the water, with the Promenade, a narrow park walkway, built over it, presumably to muffle the noise. It works—at the east edge of the park, traffic is dulled, where by the railing overlooking the Greenway the noise picks up to a more noticeable level.
The Brooklyn Greenway will someday be a fourteen mile path, but currently is made up of small stretches, including one near Brooklyn Bridge Park. On the Promenade there are benches, and down near the water, along the Greenway, there are more benches and a grassy space from which to enjoy the beautiful fall weather.
What is most impressive from the Promenade and this particular bit of the Greenway is the view. From here there is a spectacular perspective of the harbor, from Governors Island and the Statue of Liberty over to the Brooklyn Bridge nearby, with lower Manhattan laid out in between. On a clear day in the late afternoon, the setting sun makes everything sparkle.
A few pieces about falling out of love with New York, and being priced out of New York, came across my Facebook feed this week. One said something about how we convince ourselves that we love New York partly through those kinds of cinematic moments I’ve mentioned on this blog. Seeing that gave me pause, and made me wonder if I’m trying too hard, if I’m trying to talk myself into something.
But here’s the thing: Beauty is important to me. I get the same shivery, heart-tightening joy from looking at the sweep of skyline between island and bridge as I did sitting beside a lake near a mountain in Wales or lying on my back in a field in Connecticut looking up at the stars. If taking time to really notice those moments, to write them down and remember them, lets me hold on to that joy for a little bit longer, then it’s worth it.
Plus, maybe my written declaration will help convince the Promenade I’m not going to cheat on it with Battery Park. No promises, though.

Bryant Park and square dancing

Last Friday night, I went square dancing in Bryant Park. I have a special love for Bryant Park. Right before I moved to New York, I came in for an interview, and that summer evening I went with two friends to the park and sat at one of the tables in the twilight and fell for the city because of the blue shadows the trees cast on the sidewalk. I tell that story to pretty much everyone I’ve ever been in Bryant Park with, but the park still has a bit of that magic for me each time I visit.

I started going contra dancing (similar to square dancing but not exactly the same) in New York about a year and a half ago. I’d done some line and square dancing on choir retreats in college, and it seemed like a fun idea for a birthday outing. I dragged some friends with me (birthdays are useful for that), had a lot of fun, and started going once in a while to dances in Brooklyn. There’s always live music, the people are nice, and dancing is both fun and awesome exercise. Plus sometimes they have dances in neat locations, like at Dekalb Market, or the Brooklyn Waterfront Museum (which is a boat).

This square dance in Bryant Park was a bit different. For one thing, it was free. For another thing, it was in a hugely visible public outdoor space. These two factors meant that the majority of people there had little or no experience with square dancing, making it perfect for beginners. It’s less ideal for non-beginners as you have to wait through explanations, but my square picked up the moves pretty quickly and had a blast. Our favorite move was one that the caller explained and then discarded as too difficult for beginners. It involved two dancers slingshotting a third dancer across the square, back to her partner. We figured it out just fine.

The park is hosting another square dance this Wednesday evening, details here: http://www.bryantpark.org/plan-your-visit/squaredance.html It’s free, and the dancing starts at 6:15 and goes till 9. You can show up with a partner or alone, and it looks like the weather is going to be gorgeous. Fall is a perfect time to dance outside—cool enough that you don’t get sweaty but not so cold you’ll freeze between dances. If I didn’t have choir rehearsal, I’d be there!

An evening in the park

I’m sitting in Washington Square Park on a late summer evening. There’s music blaring from speakers, but I have my headphones on and am playing the kind of sound that this scene, and the strong breeze that accompanies it, deserve.

Only, through the headphones comes the crying of the little girl who went by in her stroller, and the guitar of the guy sitting on the grass, and that same blaring music that I can’t quite identify.

The sun is starting to go down but some of the trees—not the ones I’m under—are still lit golden-green from above. The sky is blue to blue-white behind them, and the water cascading—can water cascade up before cascading down?—from the fountain is a milky white. Some of the street lamps are dimly lit.

I’ve been to the park at lunchtime before, in springtime when the newly warm weather draws everyone outside and there’s nowhere to sit that doesn’t have at least five people in earshot. Tonight isn’t like that, and yet there are still so many people here, probably hundreds. Walking and sitting. Teaching a toddler to throw a football—sort of.

The wind rustles the trees and I think of the movie Chocolat, where a certain kind of wind meant it was time to go, to move, to be somewhere else, be someone else.

With my music in my ears it feels like that, but in the gap between songs, the reality of New York grounds me—at least till the music starts again and the breeze blows, and I look at all the people and think—Maybe.