Summer walk in Central Park

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4AA note from Pinay New Yorker: There are times when I want to write a post in a very detailed manner that it ends up languishing in my drafts folder for ages. There are times when they end up like this one, forgotten. Many months after that walk in my Central Park, I found this and just realized I never published it. Now well into winter, I have finally decided that I will hit the publish button finished or not. It’s my own ode to the summer of the pandemic here in New York City. (12.30.20)

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A couple of weeks ago when I braved returning to the city, I had the chance to do my daily walk in Central Park. This is a much delayed post, but before the summer is totally over, I wanted to share my walk around this favorite part of New York.

One of the things I have always tried to aim to accomplish in any given year is to visit Central Park all four seasons. I’m starting a bit late this time, having skipped spring, but I had the chance to explore and visit some of my favorite spots a couple of Saturdays ago. This isn’t exactly this previous weekend, but for this summer, this is my Central Park trek.

Central Park is a big patch of green in Manhattan that spans acres of land. I have yet to reach the upper fringes of the park, but have gone enough times to have my personal favorites. One place I hope to visit with Angelo one of these days is The Gill where he used to play among the rocks. Maybe one day one he is up for a picnic lunch and things are not as different as they are now.

For this particular day in the park, I had my goals set modestly to walk towards the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain. It’s deep enough into the park to be not that easily accessible from the outer perimeter, but close enough that you can go back the same way you came in from 59th street.

I chose it not only for its beauty and serenity, because it’s one of the more iconic spots here. I have beheld it several times before, and I knew from which vantage point to best take the pictures. In all honesty, the best time to visit the park is in the early fall when the leaves change colors, but the trees have not shed its leaves to prepare for winter.

I was ready with my mask, my disposable gloves in the pocket of my leggings, and a small pocket sanitizer tucked in the other pocket. The things you have to bring now that we are all social distancing and trying to be careful.

There were a lot of people in the park, but not quite as many as there used to be on a weekend. Even with the open space, I still try to avoid areas where there is just too big a mass of people breathing into the air that I might eventually breathe. So I walk in the opposite lane or detour six feet away from people.

Central Park Summer 2020
Gapstow Bridge

I always prefer to enter the park from the 59th streets perimeter where the Gapstow Bridge of Home Alone fame can be found. (The pond was dry as the setting was winter in the movie.). If you are ever in New York City and can only spare a few hours in Central Park, this is one of the best places to go to for pictures and to get a taste of our backyard here in the city. The pond itself offers several photo opportunities around it, and there are ducks and sometimes unusual birds that take a dip in the water, or who fly around the lush flora and fauna. The bridge itself is not very long but provides a view of the skyscrapers surrounding this side of the park, and sunsets and the evening lights provide a gorgeous reflection off the water if you are lucky enough to catch it.

Central Park Summer 2020

Looking Up

One thing I like about this part of the park is that it provides such a picture perfect view of the concrete jungle that Manhattan is, with the greenery of Central Park in the foreground. Depending on where you’re standing and what time of the day it is, sometimes you can get lucky and see a mirror reflection of the buildings around in the water in this pond. Not today for me.

If you are ever pressed for time and don’t have the leisure to go in deeper into the park, this iconic spot is representative of the beauty of Manhattan’s backyard.

This wasn’t a random walk. I knew where I wanted to head to. While I have another part of the park that is special to Angelo and I a little further on, my personal favorite part of this expanse is actually the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain seen below.

Central Park Summer 2020

It entails a bit of a walk from 59th street, but is a focal point of the lake that borders it, and will take you through another favorite portion here called The Mall. It is a stretch of walk bordered by elms on both sides, fenced in to help preserve its beauty. The benches that line the entire stretch of this wide walkway are an interesting bunch of names and dedications. One time, I actually found Jim Henson’s bench.

Central Park Summer 2020

When dusk sets in, the lamp posts on both sides are lit and a soft glow descends upon the corridor. You will find musicians and artists dotting the whole area. A staple of this particular patch is Jazz musician Ralph U. Williams, who has been there forever since I first walked this part of the park two decades ago. He is a fixture in the park through all four seasons, filling the air with his music . You can catch him on any given day, and enjoy his park concerts from the benches lining both sides of the mall. If you hear the smooth notes of a sax, it’s him. (I am trying to upload a 3-minute video of his performance which I shot while seated across the way from where he was playing. Rather than wait for that, though, I would like to see this post finally published.)

I found myself walking in circles the day I decided to do my 10,000 steps in Central Park. I actually ended up doing almost double that, but for all the extra steps and exhaustion, it was well worth exploring one of my favorite parts of New York City.

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It’s the penultimate day to the New Year, and I have double these pictures to share of that one day that I was able to roam Central Park freely — even if donning the required mask. I haven’t gone in the fall nor yet, this winter. I have always tried to make one year where I can visit all four seasons. Maybe 2021 is the magic year. For now, I write with the memories of this day I took to explore and just bask in the beauty of this huge patch of green in the concrete jungle that is Manhattan. In two days, it will be 2021, and if I can visit in the next couple of weeks, that makes for the first of the four seasons. Central Park will be there, waiting.

Chocolate and memories of holidays back home

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4APreface: The post below was created a week or so ago while trying to dictate my thoughts to my phone as I walked. I know I should’ve edited it sooner to retain the flow of thought, but it was Christmas week which was busy for everyone. I tried not to edit the actual content too much because I also wanted to see how I composed the post in this fashion.

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I always found myself composing blog posts in my head as I walked, forming sentences in my head. At least one blog post idea pops up, and then when I get home, I forget or I sometimes lose the motivation to write. I simply get overwhelmed by all the other things I need to do.

The last couple of days, I found myself inspired to write again. There are times I find myself unable to write for long periods of time which can get very frustrating when I look at what I have and have not written down. There is a sense of loss for the thoughts that didn’t find their way here.

So I’m trying to write more, even just short blurbs that I can expand later on. When I walk, I usually have music blasting in my ears from my phone. Lately, it’s been the music from the Netflix show Emily in Paris that has kept me company. I usually walk from an hour and 15 minutes to as long as two hours- depending on the combination of walking and jogging that I do.

Much to my surprise, I have managed to walk every single day for the last six months, and always at least 10,000 steps for the last 133 days as of December 26. That’s really a big accomplishment for someone like me who has never really exerted effort to exercise or do any physical activity in my entire life.

It’s really all about taking better care of myself given my age and my health history. Both my parents are diabetics. I remember when I used to be too lazy to even use my gym membership at work. These days, I can’t believe that there are days when I fear that the weather outside would prevent me from going on my walk. So yes, I have walked in the rain and not so much in the snow, but after a snow storm.

I have taken to walking in the evenings lately because work has been rather hectic the last couple of weeks. I actually like it better at night. I don’t have to worry about having to put on the sunblock. Vanity, I know. Secondly, there’s less people walking around or driving around. It doesn’t mean that there’s totally no one around, but there’s just less people traffic.

It’s the weekend before Christmas and I’m trying to get all my Christmas cards written, stamped and sent. I’ve done a whole lot better compared to last year. I was actually sending out Christmas cards on Christmas Day. This time, I had all my Christmas cards ready weeks ahead, but of course life and work took precedence. I had wanted to prepare some packages to send out to friends, but ended up postponing that.

I’ve always been very big on Christmas. It’s actually my favorite holiday. It’s not so much the giving of presents or the traditions that have embodied the holiday for me, but more because it signifies a new beginning. Christmas is the birth of Christ and like all births, symbolizes a fresh start. Personally, I find it a very joyous occasion. No matter what challenges I may be facing or may have faced in the months preceding it, Christmas is always a happy time.

It’s also one of the times that I miss home the most where it is twice as Christmasy than it is here in New York City.

Tsokolate

The other day, I made some hot chocolate from cocoa I had brought home from my last trip to Manila in 2019. Cooking the Christmas chocolate has always been a task my father used to be responsible for. I remember him requiring certain special butter to add to the mix, and he had a wooden mixer to make the tsokolate frothy and thicker. He would put the handle between his palms and shake it while submerged in the hot concoction. The chocolate always had to be a certain consistency with just the right amount of butter and evaporated milk added to it. This was a staple for the Christmas Eve feast, and in the Christmas morning breakfast we serve our guests the next day.

We’d usually have it with some sweet ham, sliced from a whole leg and that sharp Edam cheese. I close my eyes and I am there again. It was sweet and rich and just such a decadent drink of merry and joy.

I miss Papa. He has been gone years now, but every time I have some of this local cocoa, I am back with him again. It makes me pine for holidays in Manila with the rest of the family.

And those snapshots of christmases past run like a montage in my head as I walk, or when I catch a whiff of the tsokolate as I hold the cup up to my lips to take a sip.

“Me” Day on a Covid holiday

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4AI don’t get to go around much anymore, and everything has changed so much that things just don’t feel like they used to. Manhattan is still there but with a different “flavor”. Although I work there and used to be there five days a week, I only really got to explore and enjoy the city during those days I got to go around leisurely. Those would be the days I went in specifically to go around and do errands or take visiting friends or family to see the sights. Thursday was an errand: a doctor’s appointment.

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Like most others, I try to get the usual annual appointments done before the end of the year. I should really do better than that and try for earlier, but insurance will usually not take the appointment until after 12 months from the previous one. (It is supposed to be “annual”.). It went rather quickly with an hour’s wait only– I guess the ladies held their babies in and no one went into labor, so my gynecologist sauntered in pretty much on time. Hooray!

I wanted to get the steps in so I walked from 34th and Madison towards Bryant Park on Fifth and 42nd. It was a cold but beautiful day but I dressed for the weather and had my mask on. I was all set.

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The steps to the New York Public Library are usually full of people seated on them enjoying the sunshine. Famous for movies like “Sex In the City” (venue of Carrie Bradshaw’s non-wedding) and “The Day After” (where Toby McGuire and company holed up until they could be rescued). To me it was an early discovery way back when I had just arrived in New York in 2000. I would pass the time here between exploring the city and heading home. One day when they let us back in, I will write a post taking me back to that time. For now, no visit to this corner of Manhattan is complete without stopping by to take a picture.

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The rows upon rows of park tables and benches were mostly empty. Used to be abuzz with locals and tourists, any time of day. One would usually have to walk the length and breadth of the park to find an empty table, or wait for those seemingly about to finish their meal and scoot on over when they stood up to leave. Not this day. Or the previous or coming days.

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I am hoping they will put up a bigger Christmas tree like in previous years. This clump of regular sized Christmas trees are usually replaced at a later date with a beautiful Christmas tree, a mini version of the one in Rockefeller Center, although it’s not exactly a small tree. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if this is all we get this year.

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To make way for social distancing, only a third of the shops were allowed to sell in this year’s winter village. My favorite cheese house wasn’t there, so I went for my other favorite: the Crepe Cafe. This is one of the original food outlets that has been here every year.

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I always order the Banana Nutella Almond crepe here, and this was lunch for the day. I found my space on the periphery by the 40th street side, sat down and took off my mask. There were only a handful of food outlets allowed to open, and the pop up indoor restaurant was not put up this time around.

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Sitting down and looking around, Bryant Park felt more like a Sunday than the Thursday it usually was. People were walking around and there was a smattering of others trying to enjoy lunch like I was doing, but a very thin crowd it was. But I enjoyed the quiet.. and just taking in a beautiful day enjoying a favorite treat.

So much has changed in our lives since the pandemic began. Any semblance of normalcy is a breath of fresh air in our now masked existence. Literally. I have actually gotten used to going around with a mask, being that I actually do my usual hour and a half walk/jog with a mask on.

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The children’s carousel was still there. At least the kids still get to have their fun, even if at half capacity. When the weather gets too cold, this beauty will be shrouded and covered until things warm up again.

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The rink is alive with a six foot barrier to keep those watching on the sidelines safely distanced from the railing that some of the skaters hang on to. There are still tables and chairs around the rink, but socially distanced.

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The temperatures have held to decent “cold” and we really haven’t had snow yet, so my favorite Josephine Shaw Lowell Memorial Fountain is staying pretty without a load of ice just yet. Truth is, it’s quite a sight when you see it laden with ice and still flowing. They cannot shut the pipes or it might burst, so they keep it flowing even in the cold of winter.

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We’re all trying our best to cope. The Bryant Park Cafe run by Bryant Park Grill has put up these dining huts and the park has a few available for groups like the one on the right. (not sure that’s the proper term). For the ones provided by the park, a notice is put up after the space has been sanitized. It’s just sad that the Governor has just shut down indoor dining and outdoor dining might follow next. At the very least, it is good to know that there is this option.

I walked uptown to view the Rockefeller Center but I will save that post for a possible part II of this post.. before I headed back to my bus stop, I had to decide which treat I would go home with. The line to Angelina Paris NYC was too long and I just didn’t feel like taking the chance even when social distancing. So I opted to grab some of my other happy food over at Magnolia Bakery.

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I miss those days when I could just walk down from my perch at work and grab a cup from the branch in the Grand Central food court. I went to the one on Sixth Avenue. These days, the lines that used to snake around the corner are no longer there, but they are still making their special cupcakes, cakes, cookies and yes, their heavenly banana pudding. I walked in before leaving the Rockefeller Center and found that they now have the banana pudding by the cashier. I was lucky to grab some red velvet banana pudding (a specialty flavor), and a second tub of their old time original. (Calories be damned! Lol)

I did the rest of my errands — stopped by Whole Foods near 42nd Street to grab some steaks and ground beef for my big guy, and headed home. Like always, it was nice to be able to spend an afternoon in a leisurely fashion for some “me” time. It’s a different kind of Manhattan now– and a different way of going about the things we had gotten used to before the pandemic broke out. While things have improved from the second quarter when everything shut down, we are far from normal.

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The threat of things going from bad to worse is hanging over our heads at the moment. It makes it all the more imperative to enjoy life while we can– without forgetting the new limitations and requirements of being socially responsible while we do it. (Masks on, please..). Life goes on, indeed. Even if not in the same way we used to go about it.

A different kind of holiday season

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4ADecember has always been my favorite time of the year — no matter where I am, and even if memories of Christmases in Manila make me miss home all the more. Christmas in New York is a little less festive because we don’t all do Christmas– depending on one’s faith, it might be a Hanukkah .. or Kwanza..

Last Thursday, I was in the city for a doctor’s appointment and I decided I would go around and visit the usual places which were the festive manifestations of the holiday. This year, the lions adorning the front of the New York Public Library, Patience and Fortitude, have their customary Christmas wreaths, but are now masked.

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I wanted to check out the shops at the winter village in Bryant Park behind the library and found out that only a third of the usual number of stores and food outlets have been given space to allow for social distancing.

This side of the park right behind the library used to have two rows of shops facing each other but now have been left empty.

No booths on this side of Bryant Park this year

The seasonal restaurant is not up this year, and the skating rink facilities are all outdoor so there is no longer any enclosed waiting/changing station. What few shops that set up still bring us the holiday spirit, but it isn’t quite as festive as years past.

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The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is now cordoned off and the nearest you can get is at least 10 feet away through a directional path, where security personnel and denominated circles on the ground let you make your way closer to the tree.

The crowds were visibly thinner and there was a horde of security and police present.

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Even going through the main walkway where the angels with their trumpets blaring lead you towards the front view, allowing you to see the tree with the statue of a Prometheus under it as the skaters glide on the rink are now controlled and directed. Which is good given the current state we are in.

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The usual decorations have sprouted up again but the crowds aren’t there. Although that makes taking pictures a whole lot easier, a visibly thinner audience around all this display of the holidays makes it less festive than we have been used to. But that is life now as we know it.