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

European Parks vs. Central Park . . . A World Apart!

Hyde Park

Hyde Park in London, though still on the regal side, comes closer to what Olmsted had in mind for Central Park than its other European counterparts.

European parks had their not-so-humble origins as playgrounds for royalty. Olmsted visited many of these parks on his overseas tours and took voluminous notes of what he saw. Much of what he saw he tried to avoid in his design of Central Park.

Rather than massive fountains, overbearing statues, and cleverly manicured gardens, he and his partner, Calvert Vaux, allowed for only one simple, but beautiful, fountain, one beautiful but elegant statue (the Angel of the Waters on the Terrace) and zero manicured gardens (the Conservatory Garden at 106th Street was only added after Olmsted and Vaux had passed on).

The result was a striking degree of relaxed elegance through naturalistic beauty and simplicity. Their goal throughout was to let nature be the central focus. After all, wasn’t it nature and our natural resources that made our country stand out from its European counterparts?

Throughout my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, I have tried to underline the unique vision that Olmsted and Vaux brought to the idea of a public park.

the Jardin du Luxembourg

..like the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris.

 

Olmsted and Vaux’s Three Separate Ways: Their Greatest Innovation

Arch at 110th Street.

An arch at 110th Street that allows cars (or carriages) to pass over pedestrians

Probably the most influential innovation in the Central Park design was the “separate circulation” system for pedestrians, horseback riders, and carriages along with the sunken traverse roadways that allowed commercial traffic to pass to the other side of the city unnoticed.

The overpasses along the traverses allowed visitors to walk from south to north end of the park without being aware of the traffic that made its way from east to west, while the three separate circulation systems allowed visitors to pass one another without getting in each others way. This allowed one and all to spend their time enjoying the serenity and beauty of nature which was the sole purpose of creating the park in the first place.

Gothic Bridge

…and another next to the reservoir that allows pedestrians to cross over horses

Calvert Vaux designed 36 unique bridges and arches, no two alike, that would allow this clever circulation system to work.

He could have designed them according to the same basic template. Instead, he came up with an array of designs, from stone to iron, to massive boulders, that boggle the imagination.

Try coming up with 36 unique designs for bridges yourself, and you will see what a genius he was.

Emerson’s ‘Nature’ and it’s Subtle Influence on Central Park

emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the inspiration behind Transcendentalism
in the US.

“Nature” is an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, published in 1836. In it, Emerson put forth the foundation of Transcendentalism, which suggests that the divine, or God, suffuses nature, and that reality can only be understood by studying nature.

Emerson explains that to experience the “wholeness” with nature for which mankind is naturally suited, we must be separate ourselves from the flaws and distractions imposed on us by society. He believed that solitude is the single most important mechanism through which we can fully engage with the world of nature.

Whether Olmsted ever read “Nature” is impossible to know (Olmsted’s education was sporadic and piecemeal, at best), but his design of Central Park certainly acts as a living illustration of Emerson’s philosophy of Transcendentalism.

Olmsted’s goal was to suffuse nature back into the soul of each visitor to the park by creating a sense of nature’s wholeness that was completely separate from the distractions of the surrounding city. He did so by creating inspiring vista after inspiring vista, as if one were walking down a gallery of paintings, until one made contact with the inner genius of nature herself.

If Emerson brought the philosophy of Transcendentalism to the intellectual world of his day, it is fair to say that Olmsted brought it to the urban world.

In my own, lesser way, I try to bring it to the world of teenagers in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.

 

Education in America…in Crisis Mode

American Schools

What goes in…

It is well-known that, ever since the 1950s, American schools have been in crisis mode, falling behind other countries such as Russia and Japan and China in core subjects such as mathematics and science.

Congress passed the National Defense of Education Act in 1958, and over the ensuing years, a series of other legislative acts, in an attempt to rectify these problems; but according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in 2012, American students ranked 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading compared to students in 27 other countries.

To give you an idea of just how big a drop that is, America once ranked #1.

So, what is the cause, and what can be done to stop its seemingly inexorable slide?

In my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, I attempt to resolve the issue by asking a slightly different question: what is education and how exactly do we learn? If we know the answer to that, the former question might become moot.

To cut to the chase, I don’t offer my readers a scientifically precise answer. After all, I am writing a fictional story meant to entertain! But in clarifying (and dramatizing) the issues, I suggest that a more open curriculum where mentoring plays a major role, is absolutely key.

This puts the burden, not on the curriculum or even the students. but on the quality and training of the teachers and the way they teach.

American Schools

..must come out the other end. But what happens in between? That’s the trillion dollar question.

As is the teacher, so is the student.

 

 

 

The Guggenheim Museum…A True Masterpiece of American Architecture

Guggenheim Museum

The curvilinear form of the museum stands in stark contrast to the surrounding buildings.

The Guggenheim Museum at 89th Street and Fifth was first conceived as a “temple of the spirit” that would facilitate a new way of looking at modern art.

Numerous locations in Manhattan were considered, but Mr. Guggenheim felt that the site’s proximity to Central Park was important. The park afforded relief from the city, while the building itself embodies architect, Frank Lloyd Wright’s, desire “to render the inherent plasticity of organic forms in architecture.”

In an equally subtle manner, this masterpiece of architecture embodies the same principle Olmsted himself espoused in the construction of his beloved park; that nature rules supreme.

Guggenheim Museum

…while it’s interior is reminiscent of the inside of a nautilus shell.

I attempt to echo these same sentiments in the thoughts and actions of Christopher Middleton, the protagonist of my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, who uses nature as a catalyst for change in his own life.

The Cheshire Cat in Central Park: A Head Without a Body

AliceOnMushroom

Alice in Wonderland with the Cheshire Cat’s head visible over Alice’s right shoulder.

In Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Alice first encounters the Cheshire Cat while visiting the Dutchess’ house, then later outside on the branches of a tree, where it appears and disappears at will. The cat sometimes raises philosophical points. When sentenced to death, it baffles everyone by having made its head appear without its body (as in the statue in Central Park). At one point, it even disappears until nothing is left but its grin, prompting Alice to remark that she has often seen a cat without a grin but never a grin without a cat!

Such references to the Cheshire cat aren’t original to Carroll. Many others can be found. Cheshire being an area in England that is replete with dairies, it is sometimes suggested that the famous cat got its grin from the abundance of milk produced in the district.

In my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, I have the cat appear again and again to similar comic effect.

 

Does the Dormouse Have Anything to do with a Common Mouse?

dormouse

Note the furry tail!

The answer is ‘no’.

The dormouse is a rodent mostly found in Europe and known for their long periods of hibernation.  Although they may resemble a mouse, their tail is furred, and they are arboreal. (Seen any mice hanging out of trees recently?)

So how did the dormouse get mixed up with the common mouse?

dormouse

..add to that the fact that they climb trees to eat berries…

Their name comes from Anglo-Norman dormeus, which means “sleepy (one)”, due to their hibernating at least six months of the year…Hence, the sleepy behavior of the dormouse in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

In my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, the Dormouse appears on several important occasions, though I make little distinction between its being a dormouse or a common mouse. After all, they’re both cute and they’ll eat almost anything!

dormouse

…and sleep half the year, and you get a very different animal than a common mouse!

The Seven of Spades…Lucky or Not?

The-Playing-Cards-Painting-The-Rose-Bush,-Illustration-From-Alice-In-Wonderland-By-Lewis-Carroll-1832-9

The Spades in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland discussing how to paint the white roses red.

In Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Alice first meets three cards (the 2, 5 and 7 of Spades) in the Queen’s garden.
One of them explains that they accidentally planted white roses. Because the queen hates white roses they have to paint them red or the Queen will behead them. After the Queen arrives, she finds white roses and orders the execution of all three of them!
In my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, I take a gentler approach by having the seven of spades appear in the Queen’s losing hand against the King, only to be vindicated and return to the Queen’s favor.

Europeans Versus Indigenous Americans–Was Conflict Necessary?

Native-American-Warrior

Indigenous Americans were about as different from Europeans as you could possibly get, but was conflict really necessary?

At the time of first contact, the indigenous cultures were quite different from those of the proto-industrial Christian immigrants. Some of the Northeastern and Southwestern cultures in particular were matrilinear and operated on a more collective basis than Europeans were familiar with. The majority of Indigenous American tribes, for instance, maintained their hunting grounds and agricultural lands for use of the entire tribe, while Europeans at that time had patriarchal cultures and had developed concepts of individual property rights with respect to land that were extremely different from those of indigenous Americans.

These differences in cultures between the established Native Americans and immigrant Europeans make one question whether it made any sense for one to try and assimilate the other.

One of the most beautiful things about our world is the variety of cultures it sustains, and to see a culture disappear, especially by force, is tragic.

I try to raise this point throughout my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, by illustrating that different cultures don’t necessarily have to collide, but can live side by side in harmony…assuming there is respect and restraint exercised on both sides.

 

The Mayflower Compact: The First Truly Democratic Document in America

mayflower-compact

Though the original has been lost, this copy, written a few years later, still exists.

.The Mayflower Compact was the first governing document of Plymouth Colony. It was written by separatist Congregationalists (later referred to as Pilgrims) fleeing from religious persecution by King James of England.

It was signed aboard ship on November 11, 1620 by 41 adult male Pilgrims (out of 101 men, women and children on board).

It reads in part as follows:

In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, defender of the Faith, etc.

Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

I have included a reference to this in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, both in recognition of its importance as the first democratic document written in America (by a non-native, that is) and to point out the inherent flaws in the democratic institution that it professes to embody.