Central Park, un-blossomed

I leave for Toronto in a day and a half.

I haven’t packed. I don’t know where I’m staying (Well, my friends do, but I’ve neglected to ask. We’re also flying in on different days). Don’t ask me why I’m leaving New York’s somewhat chilly weather for Toronto’s somewhat chilly weather. But here and there, warm weather creeps in (At times it oddly feels like summer).

It never lasts.

Good news is, the warmth has dragged people out from their caves. Weekends are filling up. Work is picking up. Things are happening. Everyone is nicer, in a way New Yorkers are not supposed to be (For the record, I haven’t encountered a particularly mean New Yorker, born and bred or otherwise). They hold doors, let you sit on the train and even sing a jingle or two while skipping to the subway. Or maybe that’s just me.

I haven’t laid out an itinerary for Toronto, but I’ll be sure to document it here. For now, here’s Central Park, un-blossomed.

I did manage to take pictures of non-cherry blossom things that day.

I focused on color.

And people.

There was something funny about a Zamboni on an extremely warm day.

And a guy smirking while a strange girl took his picture.

Crowds gathered around the mystery bagpiper under the bridge.

There were buckets on heads.

Some peace and quiet, too.

People openly loved.

Finally, notice the sign. Notice the legs behind the sign.

Wanderlust, explained

I was at a book reading the other day (and when I say the other day, I should probably say other dayS). I’d gone there alone, as I often do anywhere in the city, not realizing what a social event book readings actually are. There was a lot of “Wow, it’s so great to finally meet you,” friends reuniting, and, the true sign of a social event, wine*.

As everyone talked, I was looking at books, which suddenly seemed like the odd thing to do despite it being a bookstore. It was a really neat bookstore actually, dedicated to travel. Everything was arranged according to destination. Soon there were dozens of people crammed in this tiny bookstore, and when I got tired of staring at people’s chests (a major plight of the vertically challenged. I’m seriously writing my Congressman about this), I sat on a bench by the window and read.

About 30 to 45 minutes after the scheduled start time, the room quieted long enough for an informal introduction and, of course, the reading. I’m a reader — I’d rather read the news than listen to it or watch it, for instance – so listening to people read felt unnatural. Maybe it’s because reading is such a personal thing. It’s why people get so angry when their favorite books are made into movies. Characters and situations rarely appear in movies as they do in our heads. I wanted to imagine the authors in these places they spoke of, but it was impossible with the distractions. For one thing, someone’s camera kept making that irritating fake clicking sound, and I could see everyone’s reactions and random movements since I sat off to the side.

One essay eventually got my attention, however. In it, Elisabeth Eaves talks about her inability to stay in one place. Wanderlust, she says, is not about what’s being left. It’s about the person who’s leaving:

“A hallmark of the wanderlust-plagued is that we favor experience over inherited knowledge, however sensible the latter might be. The best kind of travel – the kind I wanted to experience – involves a particular state of mind in which one is not merely open to the occurrence of the unexpected, but to deep involvement in the unexpected, indeed, open to the possibility of having one’s life changed forever by a chance encounter.”

And everything clicked.

She articulated something I’ve always felt but never could explain. I don’t know if it’s because I spent chunks of my life in different places (the Philippines, the Bronx, Virginia), or maybe it’s because I grew up in a relatively strict, authoritarian household that quelled my adventurous side. Whatever it was, I always pushed my limits and refused to fall into submission. When all things failed, I read, wrote and dreamed. I dreamed of summer camps and boarding school. Of leaving for college and seeing the world. And when I got the chance, I did.

It’s why I interned in small towns in the summer when I was in college. It’s what I relished most about my quirky newspaper assignments – the opportunity to go somewhere I wouldn’t have gone otherwise, to talk to people I wouldn’t normally have encountered. It’s why I studied abroad in a country where I knew no one, and it’s why I want to conquer New York, not just pass through it.

There’s just something about discovering things on your own, being incredibly uncomfortable yet surviving, and in some cases thriving. Though it gets lonely, the solitude frees me up for introspection; my flaws reveal themselves. Like my tendency to think too much before I speak or to be overly critical of everyone, including myself. Instead of hiding behind the safety of the familiar, I’m left to face everything head on. Don’t get me wrong — I have amazing people to turn to for support. It’s just that I like having the freedom to be by myself, too.

After the reading, I bought the book and finished Eaves’ essay on the train ride home. Her words strengthened my own wanderlust. I knew I was where I needed to be.


*Unfortunately I couldn’t enjoy it because I’d taken Tylenol (hi, acetaminophen, ruiner of livers) an hour or two beforehand. I’d tried to defy my own body for working against me. “Ha!” I scoffed. “I’m going to this book reading whether or not you, er, I hurt!”

Of course, in defying myself I’d ended up hurting, well, myself.

(Photo: Under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, 2007)

The Cherry Blossom Hunt

“You’re sure enjoying that book.”

I looked to my left, and there he was. Sitting on a patch of grass not too far from my patch of grass, this unidentified stater of the obvious had been there for who knows how long, apparently watching me read.

“Yeah,” I said, almost directly into the book.

Normally, I don’t mind talking to strangers – it’s almost inevitable when I venture out solo – but it was getting dark. I’d spent the day wandering around Central Park, taking pictures, before sitting down to read in an area with significantly fewer people than the periphery of the park. Fully engrossed in my book, the sun had begun to set without me noticing.

Books are usually effective deterrents of uninvited conversation. Mine proved futile in this case.

“What are you reading?” he said.

“Oh, you know, a book of travel essays… by women.”

“Oh? That’s good,” he said. “It’s good to read about what you’re interested in.”

Though there were quite a few people around — families, couples, small groups of friends – we had enough space between us to not have to hear each other’s conversations. This stranger obviously had no intention to leave me in peace, all the while sending off major creepy vibes. As he talked about something or other, in my head his words were replaced with, “Don’t worry, I’m just really, really lonely… and sometimes I kill bunnies for fun.”

Maybe it was because he was wearing a beanie in 70-degree weather or maybe it was because he chose to sit dangerously close to me in a park of many patches of grass. Or maybe it was the essay I was reading, eerily depicting much of what I was experiencing at that exact moment. In the essay, the author writes about how as a woman traveling by herself, she often has to depend on strangers, which, as was the case with some creepy male attendants she’d met, can be unsettling. She eventually realized that by sitting alone on the platform at a train station in India, she had unintentionally sent a signal to creepy men everywhere that she was not one of the good girls.

He asked me a few more questions. I told him I was a writer, and he, in turn, said he was an artist. As for what kind of art he did, I’m not sure because I was too busy plotting how to exit the conversation. I wanted to be polite enough to seem casual, but not so polite to give off the impression that I wanted company or to exchange e-mail.

Just then, Lucas* appeared.

He’d somehow freed himself from his owner and, leash and collar in tow, circled the stranger and me in a euphoric gallop.

“I’m free! I’m free!” he seemed to say.

He ran to me, getting close enough for me to pet him. Just as my hand grazed his scalp, he tore off in full speed, his owner pleading for him to relax.

It was the perfect escape.

“Nice talking to you,” I said to the stranger as I gathered my stuff before walking away.

I didn’t bother to look behind me.

*Note: Lucas may or may not have been his real name. It was the first name that popped up in my head as I wrote this, so that mutt shall forever be Lucas, to me at least.

Last year’s trip to the Cherry Blossom Festival in D.C. was ridiculously fun
, and I’d captured my trek with friends in photos. This year, with no plans to revisit the festival and still yearning for some blossoms, I spent a beautiful afternoon on a Cherry Blossom hunt in Central Park.

There were several scattered throughout the park and in the city. Though majestic, the trees themselves weren’t very interesting, so I aimed to capture the activity around them. I hope these images evoke the stark contrast between the serenity at the park and the constant movement of Manhattan. It’s as if once entering, people immediately disassociated themselves from the quick pace of the city, which, while visible through the trees, seemed worlds away.

I love the colors in this picture, especially compared to the people under tree,
all in dark colors and dressed much warmer than necessary.

Urban quiet.

I was tempted to do the same, but the hunt wasn’t over.

Loved the light that day.

It gets kind of treacherous when you cross without looking. Cyclists
and joggers are pretty serious about their space.

I’d wandered from 59th to the Met, and stumbled
upon cute elderly Asians touristing across from it.

Pink girl, pink trees.