Like in London, Paris or any other hub of human activity so centered around concrete buildings and fluorescent lighting, New Yorkers love their parks. No doubt your mind is first being drawn to the great Central Park, but I will be talking of a smaller, though equally characterful oasis of green. Washington Square Park has already been mentioned in my blog as the heart of the NYU campus. (See not a bad commute) Being a stones throw outside of the laboratory window it is perhaps no surprise that so many people, myself included, welcome the park as a delightful, inanimate lunch companion. As I have said, the love of oases of relaxing green within the hustle and bustle of the metropolis is an all-prevailing feeling. It is a great equalizer, people of all ages, creeds, jobs, hobbies and loves flock to parks and as such they provide, as best as you could hope to find, a snapshot of a living, breathing city.
Figure 1 Washington Square Park: the heart of NYU
The park follows people through their whole lives. The long winding paths are seldom without troops of nannies, and young parents, parading their young charges through the friendly plazas. The two play parks are always thronging with toddlers and young children, and summer camps of teens from within the city meet up on the grass beneath the trees on the east side to play ball games and picnic. Being so close to NYU the park is permeated with students, either trudging to lecture or enjoying a lunch. Equally prevalent are the young professionals, wearing the uniform of office city workers and reveling in the relief from fluorescent lighting and office chatter that the park provides. Adults of all ages seem to return through and relive exactly the same stages, taking their babies for walks, escorting their kids at the play parks, suffering the traumas of university open days and sitting with their younger work colleagues for lunch. The park is a haven for the elderly or retired, and I can quite easily see the attraction of sitting down in the beautiful scenery to feed the birds, play chess and listen to the music of the performers and the birdsong all day long. Whoever you are, if you are a native of the city, a park has seen you, and a million others, through every step of your life.
Figure 2 Clockwise: The view from my lunch bench, One of the borders, The bench that I call my family from (damned 5 h delay)
The park is a treat for the senses. The beautiful borders of bright flowers lining the pathways around the central plaza are teeming with colour and life. The feel of the cooling spray from the great fountain is enjoyable to even the most aquaphobic of people. But the sense that is most entertained, and directly inspired the writing of this blog, is that of hearing. Those who wear headphones whilst waking or sitting in Washington Square Park are fools. Amidst the backdrop of conversation and the lessening din of the city, music fills the ears. Music of equal colour and variation as the borders that surround you. It is purely impossible to capture the sheer brilliance, breadth and variety of music played in the park, but I shall attempt to do my best. A common staple is the saxophonist who serenades the park with his light jazzy notes, so associated with particularly this region of NYC. String quartets, Jazz sets are also an essential feature. But these are themselves far too normal to dwell on. Sights and sounds I have also seen beneath the great marble arch include a large, wooden piano, cheerfully ringing out the uplifting notes of the Maple Leaf Rag, a trombonist who (and my family can testify this) played the familiar, if damning tune of Darth Vader’s Theme as I first walked through the park (now that is an ego trip). But the truly outstanding performance to date was a kind of brass-strings-kazoo amalgam that piqued my interest one lunchtime. Yes… a trombone, tuba, banjo and kazoo orchestra. And what was even more amazing was the mixed up rendition of when Jonny comes marching home and play that funky music. Now I would credit disbelief of this so I have included two images of these marvelous musicians as well as a sample of their work (100% worth a listen).
Figures 3, 4: See they do exist… Listen!!
Being in the centre of such a liberal, thinking city, amongst the students and young professionals, the park has a distinctly thoughtful atmosphere. The kind of place where discussions of the arts, of science and politics has never felt more at home. And, whilst my feeble two dimensional writings have only scratched the surface of this intangibly beautiful place, I hope I have conveyed even a small sliver of the awe this place demands.
Figure 5: An intellectual park
Washington Square park is like few other places. The vibrancy astounds. The beauty soothes. And the atmosphere envelopes. I am happy to say without any doubt that it has earned its position as one of my favourite places in the entire world.