New Yorkers suffer exorbitant rents and ridiculous commutes, but we get amazing pizza and Central Park in return. We are masters of the trade off. So when you propose an escape from the city, a skeptical New Yorker might ask, “What exactly am I giving up my breakfast bagels for?” Well, if you’re headed to Austin, the answer is: A LOT.
If you’ve ever been to Las Vegas, you know that everything there is magnified and exaggerated by a factor of 1000, and it’s easy find yourself with whiplash from taking it all in. I have somewhat mixed feelings on the “More Is More” mantra, but one thing I remember being notably impressed with was the stunning ceiling of glass flowers in the Bellagio. I didn’t know it then, but that was my first experience with Dale Chihuly’s masterful craft.
If you follow us on Instagram, you might have caught whiff that I’m heading on a trip to Japan. My family lives half a world away so we try to meet up somewhere we can all have a fun vacation, and this year we agreed on Kyoto. I’ll spare you the ugly details on how many WhatsApp messages it actually took for all of us to reach a consensus — we’re one of those weird families that’s not remotely alike. (Truth be told, my older brother is still wishing we were headed to a beach.)
The workaround with our diverse family usually involves large swaths of time in the schedule that are “open”. During those periods we split up and do whatever our hearts desire. I have no doubt I will spend many of my open slots dining solo: my family isn’t quite as food-obsessed as I am, and for God’s sake, I’ll be in Japan. I’ll want to eat every fifteen minutes! My parents will likely find themselves in many of the gardens Kyoto has to offer, as they have long been fans of horticulture.
Serendipitously, on a recent visit to the New York Botanical Garden, the exhibition that occupied the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory was NYBG’s annual Kiku exhibition. (As an aside, the Victorian-style stunner is one of our favorite buildings.)
Kiku, which means chrysanthemum in Japanese, is a flower that has been long revered in Japanese culture. Kiku has been said to embody the idea of perfection, and is also viewed as a symbol of the sun. It’s featured in the Imperial Seal and the Japanese emperor sits on the Chrysanthemum Throne. The art of growing and training the flowers is a dying tradition in Japan, so the long-standing alliance between the New York Botanical Garden and the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo has been mutually beneficial. Shinjuku Gyoen trains NYBG staff so that the craft lives on and enjoys worldwide attention.
In 2003, Lynn and I — as well as our motley crew of cats, Felix and Chloe — up and moved from Cleveland, Ohio to Scottsdale, Arizona on a whim. This radical decision was predicated upon a number of factors: we were incredibly weary of the long winters; we could no longer envision a future filled with opportunities in our professional lives; and there was a discernable feeling that we were in a rut, living out lives that seemed alarmingly predictable and comfortable given our relatively youthful ages. A malaise had set in, as well as a soul-crushing ennui. Something had to change. And so something did: we moved.
The next nine years of our lives were spent in Arizona. Unexpectedly, the change of scenery revealed more about what we’d left behind than what we’d discovered at our destination. In particular, we found a new appreciation for the finite change in seasons we’d previously taken for granted. Sure, there’s a “cooler” period in Arizona, but a mild drop in temperature a change of seasons does not make. Absence, as they say, makes the heart grow fonder.
Even when you love this city as much as we do, there comes a point in the summer when it becomes unbearable. It’s as though the skyscrapers bend, crowding around you, imposing their crushing weight of glass, steel, stone and concrete. The streets are open blast furnaces filled with throngs of sweaty human kindling. The claustrophobic subway stations become pressure cookers filled with the suffocating, putrid stew of slowly tenderizing bodies. Even your daily commute isn’t immune. The trains travel slower, the buses less frequently, and foot traffic runs at an even more uncivilized, frenetic pace than usual. Soon, your emotional armor, so methodically constructed and maintained, goes from disheveled to distressed to nonexistent. That thick, calloused skin — the pride of all New Yorkers — is peeled right off, unceremoniously, like a discarded rind, mercilessly exposing the raw, tender nerves just beneath. Under such dire circumstances, there’s only one solution: you must leave. Even if just for a night, a day, a few hours.
Though some abscond to holidays in distant foreign lands, and still others opt for remaining in the general vicinity by way of The Shore, there is an option that constitutes a much lower hanging fruit: Governors Island, a landmark oasis a mere 800 yards off the coast of Lower Manhattan.
When MoMa made the decision to allow free access to its Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden in September 2013, the decision drew quite a bit of ire. In this New York Times article from February 2014, Robin Progrebin asserts that the move was “partly to help mitigate its widely unpopular decision to demolish a neighbor, the former American Folk Art Museum, as part of its expansion.” Complaints included the fact that the half-acre courtyard wasn’t designed to accommodate large crowds, and that congestion would eliminate the refuge the garden was intended to provide. Additional concerns about maintaining the space’s integrity were voiced in Architect Magazine.