Saturday, March 8, 2014

Wandering Mystic Meditation From Manhattan

Winter sky from the High Line by GL Kraut
“I love it. It’s like a pequeño paradise in the sky!” raves Zoraida Robinson, a hard-working Puerto Rican immigrant with an eye for al fresco retreats. “Here we can get away from the city without ever leaving the city.”

The aerial Eden Zoraida praises is Manhattan Island’s recently revamped High Line Park, a miraculous green getaway built on an abandoned 19th-century elevated railway, 25 feet above the ground, stretching for about a mile from Gansevoort Street (in the Meatpacking District) to West Side Yard (near the Jacob Javitz Convention Center).

The prelapsarian park, a black steel structure with natural grasses plus human plantings (almost demolished by former mayor Giuliani but saved by mayor Bloomberg) is the brainchild of architect James Corner and the firm Diller, Scofidio, and Renfro—as well as the flying Dutchman Piet Oudolf, who introduced over 210 plant species: liatris, coneflowers, smokebush, sumac and many more.

Upon the concrete walkways, supermodel moms in miniskirts and Nikes practice heliotropism and push baby strollers along as if every day were Fashion Week. Daytrippers and drifters lounge on the Ipe-wood benches like self-satsified smirking geckos dreaming in the sun. But best of all, a lonely pilgrim (me) spots an obvious flaneur loafer sporting a beret-basque and reading Remembrance of Things Past on a chaise longue, time-traveling with Proust but munching McDonald’s rather than madeleines.

Winter Grass on the High Line by GL Kraut
Indeed, the recycled railway overlooking the Hudson River still evokes the 1800s, as if a missing scene from Luc Santé’s Lowlife. Adding to an atmosphere of peaceful reflection is the absence of annoying vendors, hot-dog carts, Frisbee throwers and breakdance-hiphopsters. Even artists are banned from selling their works within. No dogs. No bicycles. No skateboards.

Verily, this is virgin territory for landscape architects, an oasis or refuge reclaiming pleasant space from crumbling ruins, with imitators inevitably plotting similar schemes for gentrifying conurbations (such as Detroit) throughout the country.

Criticized by some as costly (nearly $200 million) and apocalyptic—a disused railroad rusting in the elements and sprouting evil weeds—most New Yorkers nevertheless regard this el as swell.

The perennial park is an impressive experiment in green, exploding with a profusion of imported wildflowers that would make even Van Gogh gasp. Panoramic Hudson River views awash with painterly tugs, trawlers, and trimarans aside, High Line Park drives home the apt conclusion that the thriving port of maritime Manhattan is not just a sprawling impersonal city, but really can be an intimate “paradise island.”

John M. Edwards is a writer and photojournalist. He has traveled five continents with experiences ranging from surviving a ferry sinking off Siam to getting caught in a military coup in Fiji. His writing has appeared in CNN Traveller, Entertainment Weekly,, Condé Nast Traveler, Islands, Matador, World Hum, BootsnAll, and other publications. He received five NATJA (North American Travel Journalists Association) Awards, two TANEC (Transitions Abroad Narrative Essay Contest) Awards, and three Solas (sponsored by Travelers’ Tales). He edits the Rotten Vacations anthology.

1 comment:

  1. From the first time I've heard of the High Line, I thought it was a brilliantly good idea.