On the Upper West Side, we sauntered around under the sun on a steamy Saturday till we found an Italian eatery called Polpette tucked into one of the streets. Now if you come upon this modest place and see empty chairs and tables upfront, do not pray stride off into the sunset. In its rear section is a surprise of a garden, a square little affair enclosed by walls painted with murals. Festooned with vines and à la mode Edison light bulbs, it felt like we had been whisked off to the atmospheric back alleys of Roma. Checkered table cloths, rustic green chairs and dappled sunlight. Random joys from the random pickings of life.
An Italian waiter brought us two heavenly baskets of bread and fish and chicken dishes which were exquisite in their own right. A red snapper, accompanied by shrimps, doused in pomodoro sauce ripe with flavour, and a humble chicken dressed up in fragrant juice, redolent of rosemary. The Italians have mastered the art of infusing intense flavour into whatever they dish up and yet they use a few ingredients to achieve the effect.
The simplicity of the meal was heartening, and halfway through the act of uttering sighs of pleasure while masticating, we had to pick up our plates and rush into the eatery because it had started to pour. The waiter remarked that the weather would be quite so the entire day. Did I detect a smirk?
We got out, taking nimble steps under our small umbrella, but the glory of it is that it seemed, as if from above, someone had turned the tap off. The rain petered out, the sun peeking out albeit hesitantly.
We walked through leafy avenues, flanked by rows of pastel hued and brownstone townhouses originally built in the 19th century, vintage street lamps lined up alongside.
Then, Central Park. Finally.
And that spot in it, the Bethesda Fountain, ‘where if you sit there long enough, the entire city walks by.’ Matthew Perry had pointed it out in Fools Rush In.
Or wait, if you are one for Gossip Girls, remember Cyrus quoting Herman Hesse as he married Chuck and Blair beneath the arcade, ‘we are not going in circles/we are going upwards/The path is a spiral/we have already climbed many steps…?’ It was one of my favourite scenes from the show.
So there we were, right at that iconic spot which you and I have seen numerous times in TV shows such as Sex and the City, movies such as Home Alone 2 and One Fine Day. One of those pinch-myself-is-this-really-happening-to-me moments in my book of life.
A wedding shoot was taking place when we walked into the arcade. The bride in her bustier wedding dress, wrought in lace and sparkling diamanté, must have been burning up in the heat of the noon. Oh but look how gracefully she stood there, a sparkling tiara atop her head, a posy of white blossoms in her hand, and a smile radiating from her pretty face. Bridesmaids in gowns of delicate pink hues stood in front of her, one of them passing by and flashing us a ravishing smile.
The arcade was the stage for many acts. In the backdrop, a guy in a white tunic and pants made of shiny latex, golden sneakers on his feet, stood frozen in a ballet posture. Just the sight of latex on a scorching summer’s day, uncomfortable levels of humidity in the air, can do things to you. Not in a good way, I mean.
Meanwhile, outside the arcade, an artist stood under the rays of the afternoon sun, a mini canvas mounted upon a tripod. Despite the sweltering heat, he found his inspiration in the angel that stood poised above the fountain in front of us.
A perfect swathe of clouds billowed in the backdrop of the Angel of the Waters – the statue that not only symbolises healing and love but was built upon the very foundations of love. How, you might ask? Well its sculptor, Emma Stebbins, was a lesbian who was in love with a leading actress of the American and British stages of the time, Charlotte Cushman.
Picture the mid-1800s when lesbian artists of the time were deemed the ‘female jolly bachelors’. These artists were among the first few women to be in relationships with others of their own sex and they all rallied around Cushman who is said to have given Stebbins the kind of support she needed to design the statue. It induced in me, a flash of emotion, a surge of pride. Stebbins was the first woman in New York City to have designed a public piece of art. For feminism creeps into you from the day you truly open your eyes to the world, isn’t it?
Now the changes have been negligible since the day it was unveiled to the public in 1873. The vista has really remained the same. The angel and her cherubs and then the beautiful lake framed by the woodlands, the colorful gonfalons (medieval-style banners) adding the necessary touch of majesty to it all.