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the parks of new york and los angeles
In New York it feels like all the parks are smaller cutouts of Central Park: paved plazas with concrete fountains, lawns crisscrossed by asphalt walking paths, flowerbeds and deciduous trees cordoned off by thin green fencing, incongruous merry-go-rounds.
Parks in New York are what people bring to them. You can play chess, or watch the skateboarders practice their ollies and the Hare Krishnas their chants, or listen to a busker play a beautiful tune on his violin. You can slip a tab of acid under your tongue and spend the day with the flowers and trees, with the magnificent ducks. Have you ever noticed how iridescent the green-black patches on their heads are, and the two distinct and intricate patterns in their feathers going from wing to tail?
Other days I remember in the New York parks: snowflakes melting onto my phone as I crossed Union Square, droplets glittering like tiny jewels in the refracted light. It doesn’t have to be over, I’d texted my friend, it’s beautiful out here. Have fun, she texted back. I’m already naked in bed with my cat. Or a different trip with a different girl, watching her slowly curate her collection of fallen branches, trundling them around for hours, only to toss them all away suddenly to climb the rocky side of a hill. How red her hair was against the green lawn.
The most psychedelic experience I ever had in a New York City park was sitting stone sober in a tiny courtyard after weeks of isolation in my apartment, just before we moved out. It was the middle of May, three months into COVID, and I felt suddenly like I’d never seen a flower before, not really — how bright the purple and yellows were and how sharply the color of the petal changed from one to the other, and how delicately the little pistils waved in the breeze. I don’t think I even liked flowers before, but I’ve loved them ever since.
When we moved to Los Angeles shortly afterwards, I found a variety of parks that I never knew was possible. COVID was raging towards its first peak when we arrived, and we tried to spend a lot of time outside. I joined a yoga class in Long Beach on a thin strip of lawn overlooking the wide beach below, watching the seagulls circle around long lines of cargo ships waiting to unload. I climbed dusty switchbacks and back roads up to Griffith Park’s observatory, feeling worn down by the sun and the months of sitting at home. Somewhere in Malibu we found a trail that took us past a huge mansion abandoned in the forest, trees now growing through the fireplaces and doorframes.
There are parks for every niche here: skate parks, and parks filled with gym equipment and nothing else, parks in the canyons and in the hills and around the canals. There are suburban parks where Jewish-Asian couples push their kids on the swingsets and huge Hispanic families gather for cookouts, and artsy parks with abstract sculptures nestled in the plants.
In New York, it felt like the parks differed mainly because I was different each time. Here they seem to exist and differentiate all by themselves, substances and subjectivity strictly optional. I feel flattened, somehow — the landscapes less demanding and myself less responsive, although it’s hard to know whether to blame the scenery or the intervening isolation since we’ve come. It’s hard to believe that it’s been three years already since we moved here, three years since the world changed.
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