50 Favorite Places #19
First off, that name: Vale of Cashmere. Whisper it to yourself. What do the syllables bring to mind? For me, they promise magical forests, enchanted pools, knights bold and ladies fair.
In fact, the Vale of Cashmere is a small section of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, tucked away in its northeast corner and accessed by one of several winding, descending walks. And although its name always puts me in mind of Arthurian legend (the “vale” part, I suppose), it’s actually grounded in Orientalist fantasies (the Cashmere part). The name was bestowed by the wife of Brooklyn’s then-mayor, who lifted it from an 1817 poem by the Irishman Thomas Moore. Moore’s poem recounts the legend of Lalla Rookh, a princess engaged to a prince who falls in love with a poet who – surprise! – turns out to be the prince in disguise. (Under a different spelling, Lala Rokh was the excellent Persian restaurant, now sadly closed, where I celebrated surviving the 2017 Boston Marathon. But I digress . . . ) Continue reading
50 Favorite Places #18
Okay, so it’s not a “place,” exactly. It’s many places, scattered across the borough. Perhaps it’s better described as a style, a statement, even a culture. But the creative things that Brooklynites do with their tiny front yards deserve a shout out. For instance, I’m not sure why the folks in the Park Slope building depicted at the top of this post turned their yard into an amusement park, but I’m glad they did. If I had the ability to embed video, you’d see those sparkly rainbow pinwheels spinning wildly and it would be guaranteed to make you smile.
In fact, many tiny Brooklyn yards seem calculated to make you smile, like the one below, in the Gowanus section. (“They must be Italian!” was the reaction of an Italian-Canadian friend.)
50 Favorite Places #17
My world, like everyone’s, has shrunk these last two months. I no longer live in a vast metropolis, one in which $2.75 lets me hop on the subway in brownstone Brooklyn and emerge, a little over an hour and one change of trains later, at Pelham Bay in the Bronx, an easy jog from Long Island Sound. There’ve been no trips to Coney Island, or Plumb Beach or Fort Tilden or any of the other favorite places that take me away from the city while being very much of it.
Instead, there’s my block. The surrounding blocks. Prospect Park. Green-Wood Cemetery. The Gowanus Canal.
This week, I expanded my “stay at home” radius. Continue reading
50 Favorite Places #16
Leonard Bernstein, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Horace Greeley are buried there. So is “Bill the Butcher,” the thuggish nativist killer depicted in Gangs of New York. The names on its tombstones echo those of Brooklyn streets – Suydam, Havemeyer, Joralemon – and call to mind half-remembered pages from U.S. history texts – DeWitt Clinton, Boss Tweed, various lesser Burrs. It contains the highest point in Brooklyn. Its 7,000 trees beckon migratory birds in the spring and fall, while raucous green parrots nest year-round in the Gothic spire of its main entrance.
It was, at one time, the nation’s second-busiest tourist attraction, after Niagara Falls.
Until recently, it was hard to imagine Green-Wood as a busy tourist site. Continue reading
50 Favorite Places #15
Can you have a favorite place that you’ve never been to IRL? Stuck at home, except for socially distant runs/walks and more-or-less harrowing resupply missions, I’ve started watching the Cornell Ornithology Lab’s live feeder cams – and in particular, the one trained on the fruit feeder at Panama’s Canopy Lodge.
My inspiration came from someone on Bird Twitter whom I’ve never met (how did I come to follow a guy from Patagonia who now lives in the UK? dunno, but I’m glad I did). He posted something about wood-rails, along with a photo. Instantly, I was consumed with burning wood-rail lust.
That was a week and a half ago (March 29, if you must know, when I had expected to be heading back to Mexico City from Oaxaca via Puebla). Continue reading
50 Favorite Places #14
April Fool! No, the condos that have sprouted like so many 12-story mushrooms along Fourth Avenue in Park Slope aren’t actually among my favorite places. In fact, I think they’re hideous. But one’s dislikes can reveal as much as one’s likes, or possibly even more, and so I’m devoting this post to them – and in particular, to thinking through just why I find them so awful. Continue reading
50 Favorite Places #13
A short, scenic bus ride from Mexico City’s Taxqueña bus terminal, Tepoztlán is part traditional Mexican town, and part new age retreat. It’s the kind of place where the central market offers both chapulines and gluten-free baked goods, where you can relax by chugging down micheladas or undergoing a hot stone massage, and where you can indulge in a pre-hispanic vegan menu or share giant skewers of grilled shrimp (distance from the coast be damned).
Tepoztlán’s primary claim to fame – aside from its beautiful natural setting and general charm – is Tepozteco, a peak topped with a small pyramid dedicated to Tepotezcatl, the god who brought pulque to humankind. His mother was the goddess of the maguey plant, and his father discovered fermentation, so it was only natural that Tepotezcatl would draw on this lineage to ferment maguey sap into a tart, viscuous drink. (I’ll have more to say about pulque later.) Continue reading
Mexico City excels at many things, and one of them is street art. I’ve done a lot of walking and admiring these past two weeks. On this, my last day – surrounded by loose clothes and half-packed bags – looking back over the photos I took along the way makes me feel a little less sad to be leaving.
50 Favorite Places #12
Let me say first off: I would have loved the Bosque de Tlalpan under any circumstances. But in these fear-stalked, plague-ridden times, I love it even more. We all need more nature in our lives right now. Every breeze, every birdsong, every falling leaf and fluttering butterfly feels like a little bit of normalcy that also happens to be beautiful and soul-soothing. Continue reading
50 Favorite Places #11
Get there early in the morning, before the sun is fully up, and you’ll find the Viveros de Coyoacán already alive. Birds twitter and chirp as runners circle the perimeter path, their feet making crunching sounds in the fine red gravel.
The Viveros are part park, part nursery. They date from 1901, when Miguel Ángel de Quevedo – an engineer and architect who was also a passionate environmentalist, known in Mexico as “el apóstol del árbol” – donated a plot of land to be used as a public nursery. The idea caught the attention of Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz. Díaz was an asshole, but he was also genuinely committed to the beautification of Mexico City. In his autocratic eyes, making the city more beautiful meant making it more modern and European, and that meant ornate architecture and wide, tree-lined boulevards.
Where would all those trees come from? Why, the Viveros of Coyoacán, of course. Continue reading