Following in the footsteps of Holden Caulfield in Central Park today brought out the kid in us all. Fun fact about Catcher in the Rye–the New Yorker wouldn’t publish a short story version of it for five years because they didn’t want to be seen as encouraging runaways.
First, we admired the Delacourt clock but missed the animals circling when the clock struck. Boo. Our circling would have to come later.
I didn’t know that the Central Park Zoo was formed when people dropped off their animals like goats, and the resulting menagerie grew into what we see today.
We gawked at the Victorian Gardens carnival, no doubt just as those two kids did.
Then it was time for the circle. How long has it been since you rode a carousel? Right in Central Park, a real old fashioned carousel. Pretty great!
Apparently, the animals were originally used as a Coney Island draw. When they were no longer needed for that purpose, the animals were put in storage. In 1952, right around Holden’s time, the original carousel burned, and new life was given to the horses and other figures in storage.
Another fun story is that the carousel was originally mule-powered. The barker would stamp twice for the mule to go, round and round in a circle, and stomp once to stop. Apparently, children would lie on their stomachs to see underneath the carousel, fascinated to watch the mule work–more of an attraction than the ride itself.
I really got a kick out of our ride. Thanks to Helen for the treat. Holden told his sister Phoebe to go for the brass ring, a tradition on the carousel. If you successfully grab the ring while going around, you got a free ride on the carousel, while grabbing the brass ring of life as well.
We wandered off the tour at that point, and Helen introduced me to Hans Christian Andersen in the park. We lucked into a magical storyteller giving us an African origin story, accompanied by a musician playing a kora–a traditional string instrument–that really added to the experience. Evocative.
Our time in the park ended as the day turned tropical and sultry. We ducked into the Whitney for the superb Hopper show and then the Guggenheim for the transformative James Turrell light work. The nautilus interior of the museum has never been more heavenly. To my perception, it morphed from 3D depth to impossibly flat. Weird and almost psychedelic. If you haven’t seen it yet, make the trip, fight the crowds. It’s worth it.
Kinky Boots held no surprises, but the vegan Japanese shojin meal at Kajitsu was full of gastronomic delights. Shojin ryori developed in Zen Buddhist monasteries, based on the avoidance of taking life for their food and on simplicity. Their tea ceremony grew into shojin ryori, the devotional practice of the meal I had.
I sat at the chef’s table, and my meal was prepared right before me, the silence in the room only punctuated by the sound of the Chef’s wooden clogs. Every so often, a server would bring him a tiny cup of something to drink that he would toss back. Sake?
The quiet, a true rarity in New York restaurants, and the only decoration on the beige-gray wall a sprig of green leaves with small white, feathery buds, diminutive on the long wall reinforced the spare, Japanese aesthetic.
The food was oddly textured to my American palette, tending toward soft, but very flavorful. Each course had some kind of exotic sauce to mix in myself– one sticky, another thick. The server explained each dish. “Chef recommends,” she would say, instructing me on how to mix the sauce and dish.
For the soup course, I mixed kelp broth with many ingredients–seaweed, tofu skins, morel mushrooms (food of the gods!), miso… I think. I could hardly understand the server, who was very sweet to explain it all nonetheless. Etiquette? Pick up the bowl and slurp.
I had four courses, considered the tasting menu, served very slowly, and wrapped up with matcha and candies. The matcha is dark green from the green tea and thickly bitter like espresso. You start with the candy, then sip. Chef whisked the tea for me, delivered it, bowed silently , then moved on.
Others nearby were having ten courses or chef’s choice. I was plenty content with four–the end of a feast of a day!