Saturday, June 12, 2010

finding rest in the city that never sleeps

New York City.  The concrete jungle that never sleeps.  The bright lights.  The grid packed with over 8 million inhabitants.

Sure, it seems exciting when you first arrive.  Soon you realize that half the people you meet are just like you – awestruck New York newbies, moving in and setting up shop, searching for the dream.  How exhilarating.

Until the late-night garbage man, combined with the clanging old radiators, combined with the sirens down the street make it all but impossible for you to either:
      a. sleep
      b. recall any notion of silence

When you settle in at a two-person table at Starbucks only to find that you will always be joined by at least three other strangers scooting your latte dangerously close to the table's edge, you come to a sudden realization – there are people everywhere.

Just where, for instance, are you going to make a private phone call?  Assuming you don't yet have that lush corner office and your apartment walls are deplorably thin, you've got quite the predicament.  What do you do?

If you're like me, you find ways of pretending you're alone, finding silence in the muffled roar of the streets.  Keep walking fast and it's like no one can hear you scream into the phone at your husband.  Really.  No one can hear you over the taxis honking.  Not even your husband.

But then there are the parks.

I moved to the city in September 2009, while the winter was still at least a month away and the parks were bustling with all those New Yorkers.  For all the noise and all the concrete, NYC to me is a few skyscrapers nudged between a lot of parks.

And highest on my list?

Washington Square Park.

I fell in love with Washington Square Park (WSP) the first day of graduate school at NYU.  I scheduled my reading assignments around the levels of light in the park.  And somehow, even with all those people crowding all those benches, even with kids yelling on the playground and musicians bombarding the air with competing melodies, even with all that bustling activity, I found it to be my place of quiet.

Soon after this love affair began, I found myself sitting next to an environmentalist on a flight to a conference.  Clearly a lover of nature himself, he said to me, "In other places, a park is just a park.  But not in New York.  New Yorkers NEED those parks."

I got to thinking about just what need these parks fill.  Sure, the chance to sit outside and feel the breeze is never to be underestimated, but just what do these spaces of paved walkways, fenced-off plots, and carnivalesque oddities facilitate?

Armed with my love of WSP, my need for stillness in a city of action, and my joy in meeting new people, I'm heading into Washington Square Park.  Lucky for you, I'm already there most days.  Follow me as I find out just what is in WSP – who comes to it, what do they find in it, why would you need to go anywhere else?

So tell me, what's the strangest thing you already know about WSP?


  1. Don't want to dampen your day, but did you know that Washington Square Park was used as a graveyard for yellow fever victims back in the day? Want another one? It was later used as a site for public executions. Hmmmm....

  2. Thanks Kenny! I actually did know that (thanks to an extremely creepy tour guide). According to creepy-tour-guide, WSP is full of ghosts . . . but could he have been mistaking for ghosts those pasty-white New Yorkers emerging from a winter indoors?

  3. There are a couple of middle-aged, hippie-professor-looking ladies who spend a lot of time feeding the squirrels on the eastern edge of the park. Sometimes they lure them really close and pet them or catch them for a minute. Since the construction fence went up, I've seen one of them throwing nuts over and through it at least once a week.

  4. Too funny – I saw a woman doing that once but I didn't know it was a recurring incident!