Archive for the ‘Central Park Story – Book Four’ Category:

Buskers In Central Park: An Unexpected Treat

No blog on Central Park would be complete without mentioning the buskers that frequent the Promenade, the Terrace, and the Castle.

Their talent, virtuosity, and, on occasion, genius, add a new dimension to the cultural milieu of the park.

Though Olmsted and Vaux never would have imagined such performances taking place beyond the confines of the Naumberg Bandshell where formal concerts were sometimes held, it demonstrates the flexibility of their original design that it could accommodate such changes in the future.

In my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, Christopher Middleton, the main character, happens upon an unusual performance on the Bethesda Terrace, conducted by none other than the Mad Hatter himself!

Here’s one of the many performances that take place along the Mall on a sunny afternoon:

Summerstage, New York Marathon, Rock Concerts, Shakespeare–How Much More Can You Fit Into a City Park?

New York Marathon

Feeling claustrophobic? The New York Marathon will test you to the max.

How many different free cultural activities can you fit inside a city park?

If you want to know the answer, you needn’t look any further than Central Park in Manhattan.

First, you have all of the free performing arts festivals such as Central Park Summerstage and the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, which take place every summer and are free admission.

Add to that the New York Marathon, an annual event since 1970 which has ballooned to over 50,000 participants, and traditionally ends in Central Park.

Shakespeare in the Park

Shakespeare in the Park with the Castle in the background…pretty magical, no?

Then there’s Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater which features the best of Shakespeare and has been attended by over five million spectators since its opening in 1962 (also free on a ‘first come first serve’ basis).

Speaking of the  60s, let’s not forget the many free rock concerts such as Simon and Garfunkle, Carole King, America, Elton John…the list goes on and on.

Simon and Garfunkle concert

A mere 500,000 people attended a concert bu Simon and Garfunkel in 1981!

But if you think the list ends there, think again; which is why I had to be extremely selective in deciding which free cultural events to include in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.

 

 

Frederick Law Olmsted: The Revered Father of Landscape Architecture

Portrait_of_Frederick_Law_Olmsted

Portrait of Frederick Law Olmsted

In the 19th Century, there simply was no profession called Landscape Architecture. Law, Business, and Medicine–yes. Landscaping, however, fell under the auspices of horticulture, while architecture was a profession unto itself.

Given that it had to be created out of thin air, it’s no wonder it took some time for Frederick Law Olmsted to discover the passion that was to become its seed.

In fact, it happened almost by chance. He was at loose ends (as usual) and in sore need of money when he heard of a competition to create a plan for a park in the middle of New York City.

Calvert Vaux, a respected architect, asked if Olmsted might like to partner with him and submit a proposal. The answer was an immediate ‘yes’, and thus began one of the most amazingly productive partnerships and careers of the 19th Century which, quite literally, changed the landscape of America forever.

Making Frederick Law Olmsted’s Christopher’s great, great, great grandfather is, of course, completely fictitious, as explained in the preface of Central Park Story Book One. Even so, I wanted to see Olmsted’s legacy carried on in spirit. Hence, the character of Christopher Middleton was born!

 

Serendipity’s Shot at the World’s Most Expensive Sugar High!

World's most expensive dessert

Where’s the ice cream?

Forget about Christopher’s favorite triple fudge chocolate ice cream sprinkled with Godiva chocolate bits and gummy bears. Get a load of this over-the-top dessert served at Serendipity III to the tune of $1000! (Yes, that’s a one with three zeros after it!)

The description alone is worth at least a dollar or two: ‘made with 5 scoops of the Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream, Madagascar vanilla covered in 23K edible gold leaf, drizzled with the world’s most expensive chocolate, Amedei Porcelana, and covered with chunks of Chuao chocolate. It is suffused with exotic candied fruits from Paris, gold dragees, truffles and Marzipan Cherries and topped with a tiny glass bowl of Grand Passion Caviar. It’s sweetened and infused with passion fruit, orange, and Armagnac. The sundae is served in a baccarat Harcourt crystal goblet with an 18K gold spoon, a petite mother of pearl spoon, and topped with a gilded sugar flower by Ron Ben-Israel.’

World's most expensive dessert

Here’s seconds, though I still don’t see the ice cream.

Had enough? If not, they serve another sundae that costs a mere $25K (I’m not bothering with all the zeros) and needless to say, set another world record. For myself, I think I’ll stick with one of the thousand dollar variety (I’m on a tight budget these days).

To tell you the truth, I ate at Serendipity with my mother on a special occasion (I forget what it was). I think I wanted a banana split but wasn’t sure my mother could afford it, so I ordered a scoop of vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce instead. I ended up getting the banana split as I recall. That to me was enough to set a world record. The desserts that Christopher and Ashley enjoy in my young adult fantasy series Central Park Story or the over the top dessert to the right never even came to mind. But I loved the banana split.

 

World's most expensive dessert

Enough! I’m totally sick, but I finally found the ice cream. It was melted on the bottom!

 

 

Bethedsa Terrace–the Heart and Soul of Central Park

The Bethesda Terrace and Fountain

A view of the Bethesda Terrace and the Angel of the Waters with the Ramble in the background

It amazes me that the only formal element that Olmsted and Vaux envisioned for Central Park is the Mall that leads to the Bethesda Terrace. The rest of the park is, quite simply, devoted to nature.

When I looked at thirty-odd original submissions in the competition to create America’s premier urban park, most of them were full of formal elements–everything from parade grounds to Eurpean-style gardens!

It’s a tribute to Olmsted and Vaux that they were able to capture the spirit of their fledgling country through their realization that nature was what set it apart.

That’s what makes the Mall and the Terrace true works of genius. They lead one through a kind of open air church to the altar of Nature Herself.

There’s too much to say on this subject to fit in a simple blog. In fact, it’s part of what inspired me to write my young adult adventure series Central Park Story,  but in a single stroke, Vaux managed to bring man and Nature back together in the true spirit of harmony and peace.

The Underground Arcade at the Bethesda Terrace

The mysterious and beautiful arcade in front of the terrace from where one can view the Angel of the Waters and the Ramble beyond

He even suggested that the statue of the Angel that graces the terrace be dedicated to Love, and one can understand why. Only love could have formed such a work of simplicity with the potential to draw man and nature back together as one.

As you will hopefully discover when you read in Central Park StoryBook Two, this isn’t lost on Christopher in his search for meaning in his own chaotic life.

 

Homelessness in New York City

Homeless man in Central Park

Homeless man in Central Park (2014). Could be you, or me.

Over 100,000 people go homeless in NYC every single year. Of those, at least 38,000 live in shelters.

This is a statistic from 2003, over ten years ago. Since then, the number of homeless in shelters and on the street has nearly doubled!

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes feel more kinship with the homeless than with the rest of humanity. Their life seems more real to me because it’s more immediate and desperate. At certain key points of my life, I’ve also felt I was only a few steps away from where they were. As a struggling writer, I may find myself in that position again.

Probably the first thing we can do to help solve this ongoing problem is to realize that, in a very real sense, we are them and they are us. That, at least, would be a start.

I purposefully contrasted the scene of Christopher and Ashley having dessert at Serendipity in Central Park Story Book One with Christopher running into Old As Time, a homeless man who lives in the park, in order to show the seeming unreality of one versus the hard reality of the other.

May we have eyes to see every man and woman as ourselves. Otherwise, the problem isn’t with the homeless, the problem is us.

What’s a Swedish Cottage Doing in the Middle of Central Park?

The Swedish Cottage in Central Park featured in Central Park Story

The Swedish Cottage, once a schoolhouse in Sweden and brought to the US for an exhibition

Good question!

The answer lies in a visit that Olmsted made to the US Centennial Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia.

The Cottage was an original schoolhouse built in Sweden and brought to the US as a part of the Exhibition where it caught the eye of Olmsted and was bought (for $1500), dismantled, and installed in Central Park.

Like so many older buildings, it’s had a history of various uses, but in 1947, it seemed to come into its own as the headquarters of a marionette troupe. For decades, it has delighted thousands of (screaming) children with its many performances, from Hansel and Gretel to Sleeping Beauty.

I’ve been both outside and inside the building and seen how beautiful it is (wouldn’t mind living in it, as a matter of fact), so I’m not surprised that it caught Olmsted’s eye.

It also catches Christopher Middleton’s attention in Central Park Story Book One when both he and Jennifer go inside to watch one of the marionette performances, only to be surprised by what appears on the stage.

 

 

Ashley’s Townhouse on East 68th Street

Some of the Many Expensive Townhouses in NYC

The sort of residences where I would expect Ashley and her family to live–only one that combined all three!

I don’t know who owns #168 East 68th Street (I believe it’s part of a day school), but I had to come up with an address for Ashley when Christopher goes to meet her parents in Central Park Story Book One, so I chose one of the nicest streets in the city and slapped on a number.

I also don’t know who owns the townhouses pictured to the right, but in my mind, I would imagine Ashley’s parents owning one that encompasses all three of these facades with a doorknocker that would make the Queen of England green with envy!

 

 

 

 

 

Bet You Didn’t Know Even Half of These Amazing Facts About Central Park

Painting of Central Park dated 1863

A pictorial rendering of Central Park dated 1863

I spent several years researching Central Park for my ongoing young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, and, in the process, I came across a number of features of the park that surprised and, in some cases, shocked me.

Here are a few of them, and I’d be most curious to know if you were aware of any of them yourself:

–The Mall is the only formal aspect of the park, the rest of the park being devoted to nature.

–The Mall points due north (the rest of the city points north east, so the Mall is at an angle to the actual grid of the city).

–There are three waterfalls in the park, all of them run artificially by hidden pumps.

–The Ramble Lake is terraced with concrete and is only seven feet deep in the middle (it used to be a swamp). This was done to protect skaters when it was used as a skating rink from the 1860s to the 1950s.

–A cave was discovered in the Ramble when the park was under construction. It was a popular tourist attraction until the 1920’s when someone was found murdered there, and it was finally sealed. It was called the Indian Cave because it was assumed to have been used by Indians as a shelter before New York was settled by white men.

–A village of freed slaves once existed in the area near Belvedere Castle, and was abandoned in the 1850s when the park was being built.

–More dynamite was used in the construction of Central Park than was used in the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War.

–A casino once stood where the Naumberg Bandshell stands today. It was frequented by the mayor (Jimmy Walker) as well as a by gangsters, and was only torn down in the Great Depression under Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. Its menu was more expensive than that of the Plaza Hotel at 59th Street and Central Park South (a rib steak cost a whopping one dollar!)

–A herd of sheep used to graze in the Sheep Meadow but were removed during the Great Depression when people started slaughtering them for food.

–General George Washington’s main headquarters was once located next to the Harlem Meer in the northeastern end of the park (Fort Fish). Washington was forced to abandon it under threat by the British and didn’t return to reclaim New York until after the Revolutionary War was over. (He was made president in Federal Hall on Wall Street).

–an actual fort (block house) still stands in the northwest corner of the park at 110th Street. It was built in 1812 to help defend the city from the British. The British never came, but the block house remains there to this day.

–The north end of the park was designed to resemble the Adirondack region of New York, a region that was popular with the wealthy as a location for their summer homes.

–The northeastern side of the park was used as an encampment by Union troops during the Civil War and housed an orphanage called St. Vincent’s where Frederick Law Olmsted and his family once lived.

And the list goes on…but at least it gives you a taste about what an amazing cultural treasure the park really is!

Belvedere Castle in Central Park

View of Central Park today (2015)

 

 

Montessori Schools and the Future of Education

Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori was an amazing educator who emphasized engaging and exploration as opposed to being spoon-fed information

More than 100 years ago, Dr. Maria Montessori, Italy’s first female physician, inspired the birth of a worldwide educational movement.

Drawing upon her scientific background and clinical understanding, Dr. Montessori observed how young people learn best when engaged in purposeful activity rather than being fed information. She recognized that children’s cognitive growth and development requires the construction of an educational framework that respects individuality and fulfills the needs of the ‘whole child.’

Her pioneering work created a blueprint for nurturing all children— from gifted to learning disabled—to become self-motivated, independent, and life-long learners.

Throughout my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, education is a theme. I didn’t intend for my books to be only amusing or exciting (of course,  I tried to make them that, as well!). I wanted them to pique the imagination as well as help the reader come to terms with issues, such as education, in their broadest sense.