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

Christoforo Colombo, not Christopher Columbus?

Statue of Christopher Columbus

Statue of Christopher Columbus counting the floors of the building on the other side of the Fifth Avenue

Yes, Columbus was Italian, so his first name was actually ‘Christoforo’ not ‘Christopher’.

But who cares about the spelling of his name? The main thing is that, if it wasn’t for Columbus, or Colombo, there wouldn’t be a Central Park Mall or a Central Park, or even a New York City.

When Christopher first sees his statue in the early morning fog at the foot of the promenade, he also misses a few minor details and thinks he’s wearing a miniskirt in the shape of a mushroom (possibly his robes being lifted by the wind).  What truly shocks him, however, is what happens next (see Central Park Story Book One)!

 

Mountain Lion, Cougar, Panther or Leopard? Which One is It?

Still Hunt statue in Central Park

Imagine coming across this while jogging in the park!

If you’ve ever gone for a jog along the Central Park Drive near 76th Street, you probably experienced the same shock as I did when I first spotted the menacing statue to the left.

It’s a very naturalistic sculpture of, well, let’s just say a ‘cougar’ for the time being. It was made by a man named Edward Kerneys in the 1880s and placed on a ledge in its current position in 1937. Since then, it must have scared millions of unsuspecting joggers and other innocent passers-by!

I’ve seen it called ever name in the big cat book, so I finally decided to look it up to see which one it really is.

It turns out that, yes, it’s a cougar (aka, mountain lion). It could also be called a panther but panthers encompass leopards and other big cats (except lions) and panthers that aren’t cougars give out a horrific cry whereas cougars only hiss and purr.

Still Hunt statue in Central Park

Lunch from the perspective of a cougar

This one definitely doesn’t look like it’s purring. At least, that’s what Christopher Middleton finds out when he heads past it in Central Park Story Book One.

The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir–a Billion Gallons of Beauty

The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir

For most of my youth, I was fortunate to be able to look out the windows of my mother’s apartment and see the reservoir in Central Park.

I didn’t care about its history. I didn’t care that it was a reservoir that supplied water to my sink and shower. What I cared about was that it took me miles away from the city and across imaginary oceans to places hitherto unknown.

I would take out my 80-power telescope and watch the winter birds that would land there by the hundreds, looking for a rare one and, as I grew older, would jog around its mile-long periphery to clear my mind of the cares of my life.

The reservoir wasn’t always this picturesque and beautiful however. The original one didn’t have the naturalistic edge that Olmsted and Vaux designed. It was square and looked awkwardly out of place in a city park. Fortunately, the older one was abandoned and the current one constructed to look more like a lake than a reservoir.

In Central Park Story Book One, Christopher jogs around it’s periphery on his way to beat Devon in tennis but it plays a more significant role in Book Three when it leads him on an adventure that even my childhood imagination could never have dreamed of happening!

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.

Indians in Central Park…Yes, and They Left a Cave Behind, too!

The Indian Cave in the Ramble

The entrance to the mysterious Indian Cave in the Ramble

Most people don’t know about the Indian Cave in Central Park.

First of all, it’s not that easy to find. Yes, it’s in the heart of The Ramble, but it’s also at the bottom of a series of stone steps that descend into a narrow gulley beside the lake–not exactly something that calls attention to itself.

Even so, it’s worth hunting for, if only because it’s a mysterious looking place with a mysterious past.

Some workmen first discovered it when blasting away rocks during the park’s construction. It was found to be quite large–some twenty to thirty feet long with a ten foot ceiling. It also had a wide flat floor and showed signs of having once been used as a shelter, most likely by Native American Indians.

It was a big attraction in the park until someone was found dead inside (in the 1920s) from an apparent suicide. After that, it was sealed off and pretty much ignored.

Now, if you’re a writer like myself, you’re not about to ignore details like this. This is the sort of thing that writers live for, and it had to be exploited to the hilt.

Hence, it features prominently in a number of episodes of my young adult adventure/fantasy series, Central Park Story, and I play with it in as many ways as my imagination can come up with.

 

 

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.

 

Thoreau’s Walden–Not Your Typical Backyard Camping Trip

Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond

Thoreau’s cabin near Walden Pond

Walden, a book by by noted Transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau,  is part personal declaration of independence, part social experiment, and part manual for self-reliance. Published in 1854, it details Thoreau’s experiences over the course of two years, two months, and two days in a cabin he built near Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts.

By immersing himself in nature, Thoreau hoped to gain a more objective understanding of society through personal introspection which, in many ways is what happens to Christopher Middleton, the main character in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.

Of course, it wouldn’t be possible without a little imagination and fantasy mixed in, but I wanted to prove to my readers, both young and old, that there are no limitations when it comes to nature.