Olmsted’s Curse

There is no such thing as a “shortest distance” between eastern and western Manhattan when Central Park is in between—every route seems longer than it should be. Whether you take the subway all the way downtown and back up, or face Olmsted’s curves, the park is a part of your trip.


On Saturday we were heading from the Met to Lincoln Center and decided to try the walk. Less than five minutes in, we had already been on three different paths and were walking in the wrong direction. I would be embarrassed to admit this, except that even reviewing a map this afternoon makes me a bit dizzy. At the same time, this is not without its upside. A naturalistic escape by day, Central Park becomes almost otherworldly at night. Along the way we crossed through the ornate underpass of Bethesda terrace, peeked in a pavilion to find preparations for an extravagant dinner party and happened upon ponds, carriages, strange rock formations and other evening wanderers.


On our way home from a party later we opted for the subway. This went more or less as expected—the ride took upwards of an hour all told and was a bit unexciting, but it was comfortable enough and we were tired.


In such a fast-paced city, getting from one side of Manhattan to the other is surprisingly inconvenient. But New York is also about options and Central Park’s dose of uncertainty offers a healthy contrast to the rest of the city. It is as if all the forces normally repressed by Manhattan’s grid—nature, mystery, disorder—are quarantined in the city’s dark heart and are thriving there. What would New York be with a linear formal garden a la Versailles or simply more gridded streets instead of Central Park? Olmsted may have cursed us with a longer commute, but sometimes curses make for the best stories.


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