Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Park Roles

Coney Island is a sketchy place. It reminded me of a more established version of the inner part of the racetrack at the Oakbank Easter carnival. There has been talk about the whole place being bulldozed to make way for some fancy beach-side condos. According to one of the characters I chatted with, this has been something that's been talked about for years and he'll believe it when he sees it. I guess if you have a hankering for a dodgy entertainment throwback from yesteryear, get your skates on as the local rag (a little paper going by the name of The New York Times), with a quote from the mayor of NYC laying out some fairly serious looking redevelopment plans for the area.

On the subject of skates, I checked out Central Park, Harlem and surroundings. Harlem seems not to begin at the "Across 110th Street" mark as the Bobby Womack song would have you believe. Gentrification and the top crust of Manhattan property buyers have created a new area, SOHA (South Of HArlem). Well, actually a newish building development has acquired the name for a collection of ill-fitting modern inner city apartments. Seriously, how hard is it for architects to design a building that isn't a complete contrast to the older buildings around it? I know there is a certain amount of artistic flair an architect wishes to exercise when designing their buildings.. Anyhoo.. I wandered around Harlem, listening to a James Brown tribute playing on the local radio station in my headphones. Once I reached 125th street, things started to look a bit sketchy (cars on blocks, an inordinate amount of graffiti, odd looks indicating that maybe, possibly my kind did not belong in this hood), and I headed back down south, reaching Morningside Park, which eventually brought me to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. From the outside, the Cathedral looked abandoned and in desperate need of repair. I asked a passing guy what the story was about the place, and he suggested I check out the back entrance just around the corner. Ok. I wander up to an open gate, walked in and found myself in a deserted carpark, with a security booth that looked as if no one secured the surrounding area in years. Things looked rather dodgy and sketch, but curiosity got the better of me and I went through a nearby door which had been left propped open. Inside I found a small, modern looking corridor which looked out of place. I sheepishly walked in, and a smartly dressed woman walked around a nearby corner. She startled me and I asked if it was ok for me to be in the building. She nodded and pointed to a bigger door further down the hall. I thanked her, opened the door and found myself in a fully functional, extremely large Church. A strong smell of frankincense greeted me as I realised that the 80 or so occupants of the church were in the middle of a fairly full on, organ backed Sunday hymn.

I left the Cathedral and walked south down Amsterdam Avenue, eventually finding myself standing, salivating in front of the Hungarian Pastry Shop. A desire for Magyarish cakes (laying dormant for six month), awoke and I entered. I was disappointed to find out that the only Hungarian member of the staff was off that day. No throwing around my bastardised Hungarian. I grabbed a coffee, a little cake and fell into a conversation about genetics with a couple of girls sitting at a nearby table.

With my coffee finished and the subject of nature verses nurture discussed, I ventured down to Central Park to meet up with Audra. I have a good hour and a bit to kill beforehand and use it to venture around the northern part of the park. People played their park roles well, sitting around, playing football, entertaining children with squirrel spotting, reading the paper or enjoying an ornithological telescopic warm, overcast day. I saw a woman appreciating a branch full of blossom and I think to myself that while skiers chase winter and surfers chase summer; at that moment I was quite content to chase spring forever.

I arrived at the meeting spot about 20 minutes early and the thud of a nearby bass bin toyed with my attention and eventually dragged me towards a large group of people. In the middle of the crowd is a small oval track full of skaters with the middle part populated by a DJ booth (thankfully not carnies). Eventually I meet up with Audra and after about 30 minutes of watching people pass by on tiny wheels, we venture south down through some of her favourite parts of the park. She points out sections and relates stories from her time working here on The Gates project. It seems that being on good terms with the new mayor of New York can even tolerate golf cart racers around Sheep’s Meadow. We hang out near the ice rink and watch the daylight disappear behind the skyline and the lights switch on in the nearby buildings. We grab some pretty awesome Turkish food in the Meatpacking district (you read that correctly), and head home.

The following couple of days I venture over to Queens and further explore the west village. I didn’t really get a good look at Queens (I was bummed that PS1 was closed), and ended up hanging out around the shoreline, watching helicopters take off in front of the UN. chatting to random Australians, discussing punk music with barristers and hearing about the dangers of Queens from a stationary shop owner (I’m ok as it’s hard to steal any amount of paper that is actually worth something). I get back to the apartment and I have an invite to Providence waiting for me, which nicely replaces my Hudson Valley adventure plans.

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