Arcadia and Other Lands
It’s a muggy morning. Somewhere in between the tropics and autumn. As my eye flits around our apartment it catches sight of various psychedelic Halloween decorations Boy has made, though I have a feeling the ones hanging on the fruit bowl are in danger of being ingested. What was once a pagan all hallow’s eve is, in New York, a month long celebration of all things “spooky”. There are even posters on the streets reminding us of the “30 days of Halloween”. I half wonder it will only be a matter of time when an October “advent” calendar will make it’s appearance, with a vampire gummy to eat a day paired with “spooky” facts. If only I had thought of it in time, I could have manufactured it myself, and printed daily ghoulish political observations to synchronize with the presidential race.
Every weekend this month you trip across children in costume. I’ve discovered I am a purist – if a costume is not ghostly or ghastly it’s simply inappropriate for the celebration. Mums and Dads: tell your daughters to save their princess costume for a birthday party, now’s the time to honour their inner witch. My sister in law and I watch the kids trail by, as we chow a hearty brunch in the gentrified Upper West Side. Moments earlier, the genteel walk-your-tiny-coiffured-dog atmosphere on Columbus Avenue was bulldozed as one thousand skateboarders raced southwards to the financial district finish line. The official version had been cancelled on account of the city refusing to grant a permit, but, thanks to social media, it went ahead unofficially nonetheless. Post boarders (the last, bringing up the rear, donning a tutu) came a wave of police sirens hot on their wheels.
What a world away from the stroll the morning began with, heading north to The Cloisters of Fort Tryon park, built from five medieval French cloistered abbeys disassembled brick-by-brick then shipped over and reassembled mid 1930s. Within a few feet of their entrance my sister in law and I head downhill and within a breath are cocooned in forest flora and fauna. As we negotiate another bend a sheltered lawn opens up beneath us – a sanctuary in mottled sunlight. Turns out Arcadia is just north of 190th street.
Reluctantly leaving the park on the other side, we are zapped into another world. Heading north on Broadway every shop sign is in Spanish, samba blares celebratory out of each. How the employees manage to work with that relentless background beat without breaking into dance or feeling like they’ve drunk ten espressos in a row, is beyond me. The numerous barber shops are filled with men snipping their way to their Saturday best. Shoppers load up on fresh fruits and vegetables. The first English I hear when we reach Dyckman street is from my lips as I ask directions to the subway. I can’t shake the feeling the lady who helps us is somewhat confused as to why I am not speaking the native tongue. Once again, my appearance, atypically English, leaves me feeling like a failed Hispanic.
I doubt that there are many cities on the planet where you can get almost run over by a thousand skateboarders, escape to a forest idyll, saunter into Little Cuba and sit amongst ladies who lunch – all in a single day and within a few (hundred) blocks. And so, yet another love song to New York – no place better for restless souls to ramble.
Sara Alexander and her husband Cory English (formerly of Walworth NY) are actors, who met in the London acting community. They live in London, with their two children, but are currently living in New York, while Cory performs in the Broadway show “Chicago”.