High life

The glory days of Central Park

30 April 2022

9:00 AM

30 April 2022

9:00 AM

I celebrate two Easters every year, the Catholic one and the Orthodox one, which means I get very drunk on two successive Sundays. Both days were spent with very good friends, which is a prerequisite at my age when under the influence. The Orthodox Resurrection ceremony at midnight in the cathedral was followed by a sumptuous Greek dinner at a gastronomic Hellenic restaurant, hosted by George and Lita Livanos, that ended around 3 a.m. Then it was time for a Southampton outing and yet another Greek lamb Easter lunch at Prince Pavlos’s not so humble seaside abode. And then it was time to hit the gym non-stop for the next 96 hours in order to get rid of the tonnage devoured in this most Christian of holidays. The good news is that karate balances out the self-destruction, and I have yet to figure out what I enjoy more, fighting in the dojo against younger people or drowning the demons after training.

The Greek Crown Prince Pavlos has joined my dojo and is training hard with Sensei Amos. He will be a good one, if he sticks with it. Living next to Central Park as I do helps with the hangovers. All one needs to do is slowly walk two blocks west and then get busy. By busy I mean getting the heart rate up by speed walking and breathing in some good air. Doing push-ups against a bench the other day, I burst out laughing at the sign: ‘From the Helmsley’s to the people of New York.’ Not only was the apostrophe redundant, the multibillionaire Helmsleys were two rather unpleasant people who are no longer with us, ensuring their names appeared on a small bench that I could do push-ups against. I suppose it was big of them to do it. Leona Helmsley did some hard time for tax evasion 30 years or so ago, but the book was thrown at her because of what she said rather than what she did: ‘Only the little people pay taxes.’


And speaking of the gentler sex, an unpleasant woman of a certain age was doing tai chi near me the other morning, and making a meal of it by exhaling loudly while jabbering away on her telephone. Never have I had a greater urge to tell a woman to shut up, but I kept quiet because on a scale of horrors from one to ten taking place in the Bagel, this was not even close to one. What is extremely rare to encounter in the park nowadays is anyone not breaking the law: bikers use pedestrian paths, motorcycles and electric bikers go full speed through red lights, and music is blasted out in supposedly quiet places. In fact, many of the freedoms that we took for granted in the past have been chipped away by people who confuse freedom with anarchy and do whatever they feel like doing and to hell with others. The idea that one cannot freely walk on paths designed for strollers only without some asshole bearded biker either screaming at you to stand aside or running you down is as unacceptable as it gets. I scream back and am ready to fight at all times, but what about those who cannot? Cops watch and do nothing.

Needless to say, it wasn’t always that way. Once upon a time the park was a tranquil oasis of sorts. Some even considered Central Park to be the most important American work of art of the 19th century. (They forgot Winslow Homer.) In the early 1800s the city had quadrupled in population and civic leaders called for a great public park where New Yorkers could escape the teeming and unhealthy streets. Frederick Olmsted, America’s greatest landscape architect, decided to go Brit, with natural flowing gardens, rather than Frog, with geometric formal plans, and came up with Central Park. Olmsted announced that the park was for everyone, and it was for a very long time until a reverse Attila the Hun, Mayor De Blasio, came along and the park reverted to what it had been back in the 1970s, a place where even armed thugs felt unsafe after dark. Rudy Giuliani had turned things around, and 20 years ago it was safer to sleep in the park than it was in one’s own home. No longer. Women are regularly attacked when walking alone, and although there is a police presence of late, the fuzz does not stop speeding bikers on electric machines going the wrong way, nor do they interfere with antisocial behaviour.

In fact, all one hears about around here is how free America and its people are. How free is a nation where tech founders deliver censorship, gun-toting mobs burn down buildings and are given a pass if the perpetrators are minorities, and where using one wrong word while telling a joke can mean financial ruin and the end of one’s career?

So back to the park it is, with its graceful paths, arching trees and grand views, as long as one is ready to rumble. It’s a great place, but softly spoken people with gentle demeanours are advised to stay away.

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