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I took a walk through Central Park yesterday as twilight was falling, the trees like black coral against a sky that was silver at the horizon and powder blue if I looked straight up. I started south from the Met and wandered towards whatever rise or turn looked appealing, coming first to the statue of Hans Christian Anderson, set back from the path and, unnervingly, one-and-a-half times as large as a normal children’s author. On one knee was the bronze text of the Ugly Duckling. The other knee was intentionally wide and polished from decades of children being posed for a photo by their parents.
“Hup,” the father might say, hefting his kid, “picture time.” The kid would glance at the grooved face, at once kind and menacing in it’s enormity.
I turned to face the Conservatory Water where, in the summer, miniature wooden boats are launched by miniature captains and for $15 you can rent a white remote-controlled vessel from a disinterested vendor and make a date of an hour’s sailing. A few people walked the edge of the pond and from the quiet cold and empty space I felt a sense of past grandeur, of bustling activity in grand public spaces, of the social wandering that the Park was designed for. Women in skirts, perambulators, boys with sailboats, parasols, peanut carts, a city fired by the new technology of steam or the elevator, the skeletons of the first skyscrapers rising to form something for which there wasn’t yet a term: skyline. A collective sense of wonder. The word Progress. Looking-ahead.
After a moment the sensation passed. Walking down the Mall past Walter Scott and Robert Burns, I thought that it must have come from a Renoir I had seen at the museum. A woman and her boy, in a white dress and sailor suit, walking along the beach in some French coastal town, or maybe I just wanted it to be spring again. Through the cold air I could hear, or rather, feel the roaring vibration of the city, distant and unconcerned with the questionable habit of recollecting and daydreaming.