Central Park is my backyard, half a block away from where I live. It is replete with diversions, as any tourist guide will tell you. A native New Yorker (admittedly bridge-and-tunnel in my first youth), I long ago absorbed (and today regularly revisit) the highlights the guidebooks emphasize–among them the Shakespeare Garden, free theater at the Delacorte, rowing on the lake, the zoo, and the carousel–and appreciate many smaller charms. Do you know the Whispering Bench?
Most subtle and important: the park is a solace. Over the years, running, jogging, or just walking on the sooty pedestrian track that circles the reservoir, you come to see that seasons go on but their route is cyclical, while your life is linear. Why noticing that it’s “autumn again” or “another spring” is a comfort, I can’t say exactly, but it seems to put things in perspective. Perhaps the promise of eternal renewal allows you to imagine that your present difficulties will be resolved or, if not, be absorbed tolerably into your life’s journey, even enrich it.
These days New York’s public libraries have deteriorated significantly from the era of my youth, when they seemed to me outposts of Heaven. It’s not just that the continuing automation of the system, albeit useful and necessary, has eroded some of their charm. The real problem can for the most part be laid at the feet of our government, which supports culture and children’s needs so poorly.
The libraries are grievously understaffed and some of the existing low-level aides seem subliterate, while the children’s rooms are, faute de mieux, used by the working poor as free, reasonably safe after-school havens for their offspring, with the librarian–if one is on hand–reduced to keeping order amongst the rowdier kids. This task is not necessarily well matched to a librarian’s skill set. Besides, how could a second-grader be expected to keep still–physically and vocally–for two to three hours after a day exercising similar restraint at...