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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Irish Hunger Memorial

Look, up in the sky. It's a park…it's a garden…it's a sculpture…No, it's the Irish Hunger Memorial! This park-on-a-platform seems to cantilever up and away from the corner of North End Avenue and Vesey Street, aiming at the Hudson River.

Entering from the river side and wandering through, you get a look at a reconstructed Irish cottage and stone walls dating from the era of the great famine of 1845-52.

But what makes this a park, even if they don't call it one, is the greenery, which includes Connacht wetlands flora (blackthorn, ling heather, burnet rose), and the paths and views.

Each of Ireland's counties is acknowledged with its own inscribed stone:

As a unique, intriguing fusion of park and art object, conceived by artist Brian Tolle, this place works well. As a memorial to the victims of the Irish famine, not quite as well in my opinion. Aside from the rather grim-looking county stones, the park is lush (in summer, at least) and inviting and certainly doesn't make you think of hunger or any kind of suffering. Even the cottage suggests picturesque ruins, not a devastated society. Nor does the whole thing seem particularly Irish, at least not to the un-clued-in.

Perhaps the park's thrust into the sky is supposed to evoke hope, or rising above adversity. But whatever its symbolic or iconographic significance, the Irish Hunger Memorial is unlike anything else in the city and well worth a visit. Stop by next time you're downtown.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Riverside Park

Riverside Park: a superb spot for a summer sunset.

The jutting hump of grey schist in the photo above might look more like ice than rock, but it's part of the unchanging topography of this long, thin park, which stretches for some four miles along the Hudson River from West 59th Street all the way north past Grant's Tomb along the western fringe of Harlem.

This view north along the bike path shows the George Washington Bridge in the distance. (For a view of the bridge from the opposite direction—the distant north—check out Wave Hill.)

A pretty sunset with boats is always nice:

But it isn't in too many places where you can get tunnel vision like this at the very same time:

All these pictures come from a section of the park just north of the 79th Street Boat Basin (which explains the sailboats at rest above). But Frederick Law Olmstead, the mastermind of Central Park and Prospect Park, was involved in the original design of Riverside Park, which now extends over 266 acres, and there's plenty of this kind of scenery as well:

It was nice to have a reason to visit Riverside Park (a friend's birthday party) besides biking through, which is how I normally see it. It's a favorite treasure for thousands of Manhattan west siders, and New Yorkers of all ages.

And the flowering plants are sweetly colorful in spring and summer.

Of course, it would take a number of visits to fully explore Riverside Park. Miles to go before I sleep... UPDATE: Click here for a visit to the northern section of Riverside Park, which includes Grant's Tomb.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Green-Wood Cemetery

Cemeteries usually fall outside the purview of this blog, but as New York City's great historic rural cemetery, Green-Wood (you can tell it's old because of that archaic hyphen, like the New-York Historical Society's) easily deserves an entry here.

Loaded with beautiful landscapes, Revolutionary War history, and—oh yes—quite a few dead people (including a good number of famous ones), Green-Wood Cemetery dates from 1838. Its 478 acres became one of the nation's most popular tourist attractions in the mid-19th century, with half a million visitors a year, and according to its official website its "popularity helped inspire the creation of public parks, including New York City's Central and Prospect Parks." Like those parks, Green-Wood is enormous, lush, and topographically varied, as you can see even in these early-spring pictures before the full green of summer has descended:

Re-enactors took over the cemetery last summer for a commemoration of the Battle of Brooklyn (also called the Battle of Long Island), which took place in 1776 and resulted in George Washington and his army's dramatic escape to fight another day (considered a "victory" for the colonists at that difficult early stage of the Revolutionary War). It all happened here and in the surrounding area.

The cemetery also contains the remains of and memorials to Civil War dead.

This female re-enactor is dressed in the spirit both of Revolutionary times, and of this place, one of gaudy death as well as life standing tall.

A quieter day lends itself to more solitary reflection:

The cemetery is still very much an active place, home to any number of the freshly deceased...

…along with the long-dead, including (deep breath):

"Boss" Tweed, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Henry Ward Beecher, Leonard Bernstein,
Samuel F. B. Morse, Lola Montez, Elias Howe, Fred Ebb, Horace Greeley, "Bill the Butcher" Poole, various Steinways, Tiffanys, and Roosevelts, both Currier and Ives, and the Wizard of Oz himself—Frank Morgan.

Summertime again, on the slopes of Battle Hill, which also happens to be the highest point in Brooklyn:

The photos here don't really convey the impressive beauty of the setting. Americans don't make cemeteries like this any more; there are only a handful like it in the country (another is Mount Auburn in Cambridge, MA). I've been here in almost every season, at many times of day, for all kinds of events and non-events (including getting locked inside once after closing...). Without a doubt Green-Wood Cemetery is one of New York's great outdoor spaces, and if you haven't been there, go. Just go on any nice day, or pick a day when there's an event—but leave time for exploring.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

St. Vartan Park

It's an unexpected and unpromising spot for a park, but there, right by the entrance to the Queens-Midtown Tunnel in an unpicturesque part of Murray Hill, lies St. Vartan Park, 2.76 acres of mostly ballfields between First and Second Avenues. It's named for the adjoining St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral, a building worth a look in its own right.

Built in the 1960s, the cathedral is meant to resemble the fourth-century Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin, the world's first cruciform church. St. Vartan (Vartan Mamikonian) was one of ancient Armenia's great military and spiritual figures.

Saintly from the start, the park was originally called St. Gabriel's Park when the city created it just after the turn of the last century, then renamed after the Armenian church in 1978. The viney fence along the south side looks more lush than anything inside:

A variety of flowers bloom in July:

A tunnel access road cuts off the western end from the main body of the park, while the eastern end—the only peaceful-looking, green section—lies locked behind iron bars.

But you can get a look.

And in a part of town dominated by vehicles, any open space at all is welcome. Moms and kids were certainly enjoying St. Vartan on this hot July afternoon.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Zuccotti Park

This is one of those parks that can get so clogged with people, it's hard to see there's a park at all underneath all that human flesh. But you can still manage to make out the contours of Zuccotti Park, formerly called Liberty Plaza Park and recently renamed after after the real estate baron who financed its renovation after it was drowned in 9-11 debris. (The park is catty-corner to what we are no longer calling Ground Zero.)

Re-opened in 2006, the park is much greener than in its previous incarnation, with over 50 trees on just three quarters of an acre.

The big red sculpture is Joie de Vivre by noted sculptor Mark di Suvero, who just happens to be married to New York City's Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs.

According to Wikipedia, di Suvero was born Marco Polo Levy in Shanghai, China—a much more interesting if less musical-sounding moniker if you ask me. (No one asked me, but it's my blog.)

Looks kind of like something you ought to be able to climb on, if you ask me (no one asked me, but, well, you know). Anyway, if you can find a place to sit, Zuccotti Park is a nice lower Manhattan break from the skyscrapers and traffic. Here are some flowers in late spring:

And the same oval in early autumn: