Springtime in New York City took me by surprise. I hadn’t expected so many blooming things–hyacinth, tulip, daffodil, redbud, and lots of stuff I couldn’t identify. I didn’t expect the streets in my neighborhood to become so vibrant or the parks so full.
Playgrounds were a hive of small moving bodies. Families picnicked all over the grass. Every ballfield and racquetball court was a scene of lively competition, mostly conducted in Spanish.
Flowers were everywhere–and this was just in my neighborhood.
“You should see Bryant Park,” said my daughter. “It’s like Paris in spring.” And she should know, having been there in spring.
A few day later I went, although the perfect days had passed, and so had a lot of the tulips and daffodils.
The only association I had with Bryant Park was of Fashion Week and TV’s Project Runway. So I had only the most hazy notions of something big and green near the Garment District. I had no idea it would be so enchanting.
Even on a chilly, cloudy day when most of the spring bloom has blown away, Bryant Park invites you to stroll along the promenade, to sit at one of the 4500 little green tables and chairs, to have a coffee and a pastry, and to enjoy the view.
In some ways, this attraction is hard to understand, because basically, the park is a big lawn with a fountain surrounded by shady green stuff. (200 London Plane trees along the twin promenades.) But there’s something gracious about the design. Something expansive and cozy at the same time.
Along the south promenade is a baby carousel and over there is the kids’ reading area. And nearby Alex and Jordan, the Bryant Park Jugglers, are doing their thing. And beside them is a tableful of board games for, oh, anyone who cares to play.
The park hires Alex and Jordan to juggle for a couple hours a week. Sometimes they give lessons, and sometimes they interact with the kids–big and small. The day I visited, they were riding herd on a family of rowdy boys. “Give them the balls,” said Alex. A bag of tennis balls appeared, which was marginally successful as a deterrent from getting beaned with the plastic pins flying overhead.
There are pretty little food kiosks run by ‘wichcraft, a New York institution that knows how to do great food in small spaces. There is ping pong; there is an adult reading area with newspapers and a selection of books; there is chess, checkers, and backgammon, both competitive and friendly. There is pétanque. Yeah, I never heard of it, either, but it’s very French and is played with big silver balls and a small wooden one. Apparently, Bryant Park hosted the Pétanque World Cup qualifying rounds a few years ago. Who knew?
Even the bathrooms are in classic building with fresh flowers and classical music. Not what you’d expect from the busiest public park in the world. (That’s what the park people said. This is New York, dude.)
In summer, 10,000 people gather on Mondays on the lawn to watch old Hollywood movies; in winter, the longsuffering lawn becomes the Pond–a free skating rink.
There are lessons (tai chi, yoga, knitting) and exhibits and performances and concerts, large and small. It’s hard to think of an outdoor activity that doesn’t happen at the park. Polo? Downhill skiing?
(For the record, Fashion Week is now happening at Lincoln Center. Boo.)
Even without all the razz-ma-tazz. Even on a cloudy Tuesday in April, the park was magical. I wandered around. I ate lunch by the fountain. I watched people come in and the world go by.