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Beyond Manhatten

  

There was the expected excitement of a trip to New York. It had been more than a year since the last visit and the kids (Arielle and Noah, ages 11 and 9) were eager. I had promised to take them to see the Yankees (their father's favorite team - and, coincidentally, theirs) and visit family. Along the way there would be other pleasures, ones not often heard of outside the Big Apple.

No matter how hard one tries, though, one can never truly escape the grittier aspects of NY life. I am driving down 4th Avenue in Brooklyn with Arielle, Noah, and their cousin, Sheena, amidst horrendous traffic. To make matters worse, I am lost. We wander hopelessly but arrive finally at our destination, the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.

I have always loved this place, a real oasis in a busy and turbulent city. Our first stop is the Japanese Hill and Pond Garden, a favorite of mine. We sit within the "viewing pavilion," an enclosed, wooden porch that extends over the pond; there are swarms of luminous Koi fish, turtles, and ducks competing for fragments of bread crumb generously dished out by a placid old man. The trail winds around the garden, with its classic miniaturized landscapes and lanterns. There are waterfalls, bamboo bridges, and delicately pruned trees and shrubs, like natural works of art. There is a Shinto shrine on a hill amidst a pine forest with transporting fragrances, placed there to appease the Gods of the forest...

Alas, hungry children shake me from my reverie. We hurriedly pass through the Shakespeare Garden, the Magnolia Plaza, and the Lily Pool Terrace (two large rectangular pools teeming with sparkling water lilies and lotuses). Rumbling tummies are an emergency, and so I cannot tarry; we settle in at the Terrace Café by the conservatory. It is mostly healthy fare and I sit down for a Mediterranean salad replete with feta cheese, greens, and artichokes. My three compatriots decide on - burgers and French-fries. So be it. We journey next to the Butterfly Bushes. Here, butterflies pelt us, fluttering about in marvelous flashes of color. There is a grove of yellow bamboo (I have seen only green before), wondrous hyacinth and honeysuckle (I love the perfume), azaleas and rhododendrons, and sprawling trees from a variety of climes, some with enticing names (Caucasian Wing nut, Cultivated Pecan)...

My young wards are prodding me again, chiefly Noah, the impatient one, for his interests lie fervently in the direction of our next destination: Coney Island.

It is not the Coney Island of yesteryear, the legendary paradise of cheap thrills and fun, of Luna Park, the Lagoon, and the Parachute Jump, but come summer, the most famous amusement park in America lights up and brings to life its storied past. Yes, it is a shell of its former self, but it still packs a punch…

We arrive at dusk. The golden light bathes the park in a magical glow and seems to inaugurate the festivities - the crowds begin to swell, the rides fill with eager enthusiasts, and the aromas of cotton candy, hot dogs, and buttered popcorn fill the air. There is no question as to our first objective: The Cyclone. The rickety but venerable old roller coaster, now of official status (Landmarks Preservation Commission), putters up the first mount and proceeds to take your breath away with a stomach-in-mouth hell bent descent, followed by another sixty seconds of nonstop terror. We venture to the "Surge" (nauseating), the "Top Spin" (you can imagine), Dante's Inferno (a spook house), and the historic Wonder Wheel. The food stalls take me back to my childhood at least as much as the rides. There is shish kebob, knishes (an old favorite), Root Beer Floats, clam bars and seafood, corn on the cob, and, of course, Nathan's.

Not many people outside of NY realize this, but NYC does have beaches, excellent beaches, in fact. Perhaps, the best is in Rockaway (Queens), our destination for the day. It is a broad, glistening, and lovely beach, with white, powdery sand stretching for miles, lapped by the cool waters of the Atlantic Ocean. There is almost no one here. There is our party, perhaps two or three others in our section, and the lifeguard. There are of, course, the sea gulls and sand pipers, and an occasional crab, burrowing itself into the wet sand. There are grassy knolls, scattered amidst the dunes. The sun is glorious, the sky swollen and blue. It is tranquil. There are tides and waves. Some of the waves are large and can be surfed. A goodly half-hour is spent educating my son, Noah, on the nuances of such coming as he does untutored from land locked Indiana. In my childhood, visiting cousins on this very beach, I spent many summers doing precisely this, and they are among my fondest memories…

The culminating event, of course, was the baseball game. This has been my children's dream, their first visit to Yankee Stadium. Watching them in the living room is not quite the same, absent as it is the splendid madness and bedlam of the Bronx. There is the unruly crowd, the hawkers, and the game, of course, but mainly, it is the grand and historic stadium itself, for this is the High Temple of Baseball, the home of baseball's greatest immortals. It was a banner evening. The Yankees, led by Japanese import, Hideki Matsui (two homers, six RBIs) pounded the Toronto Bluejays, 11-4.

We returned home, a great New York trip - and we never set foot in Manhattan!


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