"This Park is Central," Commonweal,
22 April 1994, p. 30.
Following the path of a woozy mastodon of old, I cross Central Park from upper east to upper west each morning, and from upper west to upper east each afternoon.
The park is its own country, bigger than Monaco, the undulating green valley amidst the mountains of Manhattan. Crossing in the morning, past the Trefoil Arch, along the Terrace, past Bethesda Fountain, along the drive, I pass every day a serious Frenchman hustling intently from west to east. He has a young boy on each hand, one fluttering like a jib, both chattering to Papa as they go, their buckled black book bags flapping on their backs, their free hands rapidly gesticulating, as Papa leads them along.
There are camera-bearing tourists in the morning, in serious groups, who scrutinize me as an object of study as they troop into the park from the subway stop at 72nd Street and Central Park West. Their eyes are focused straight ahead, their backs are to that elegant monument, the Dakota.
On these spring days, the park is speckled with golden forsythia. In the afternoon, in small rustic gazebos with benches by the side of the lake, there are book bags thrown down, and couples talking seriously together. The Vaux iron bridges reach from one side of the lake to the other, carrying children with their dogs, and from the other side back, with a traffic of elderly German couples on promenade.
By the Bethesda Fountain, as usual, there is an advertising shoot in progress, with two tanned perfectionists in flawlessly pressed chinos, poised against the lake as background, being teased by a blue-jeaned photographer and his black-clad crew, all laughing.
As I approach the east side, which at this time of day and this latitude is the children's side, I see the wee folk clambering over the statue of Hans Christian Andersen, and I hear violin music from the far side of the boat basin.
There I find an elderly violinist in shining black playing to orchestral backgrounds ribboning out of his tape player. He is surrounded by babies, mothers, nannies, a young woman with two white Samoyeds, an oblivious crowd sitting at the small bar by the boathouse, luxuriating in the sunlit breezes. A tiny little boy in a down vest dances joyfully at the violinist's feet. The violinist, intelligent and benign, peers alertly down through his horn-rimmed bottle glasses with the diffident geniality of a Life senior editor, and plays on.
From here in the middle of the park, the tall buildings of Manhattan sparkle in the distance, clean and humane. Here I see no homeless, no prostitutes. There are no buildings beyond the scale of Belvedere Castle and the boathouse. The tallest and worst of the towers in the distance may look from the street as cold and claustrophobic as a Frigidaire, but from the park it is the turret of a castle glimmering in the sunlight.
It is a magical view, but not majestic, across the meadow to the towers below 59th Street, across the park to Central Park West and Fifth Avenue. It makes the walker feel privileged, like a visitor behind stage at the Metropolitan Opera, or like a welcome guest on a great estate. Unlike the view from a tall building, it is without grandiosity. If Satan had wished to tempt Jesus with modern Manhattan, he might have taken Him to the World Trade Center. No one could be tempted to power, standing in the welcoming forsythia-blooming magic circle of an April afternooon in Central Park.
Mary Campbell Gallagher, a graduate of Harvard Law School, teaches other lawyers how to write.
© Copyright Mary Campbell Gallagher, 1994.