An article on hiking Paris’ Petite Ceinture reminded me of the unique types of adventures offered by big, complicated cities.
About 35 years ago, I made the most incredible discovery on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
It had been an emotional day and I desperately needed to try something a bit wicked. I decided to explore an area of the city my Upper East Side borne father had forbid me to visit.
“The West Side is a bad neighborhood!” warned my dad.
What better way to pique my curiosity! I headed over to the old Penn Central Railroad yards. Besides being forbidden fruit, I liked that the space was undeveloped and right next to the Hudson River.
After walking awhile, a mirage-like structure appeared in the midst of block after block of weed-strewn emptiness. It was a good-sized chain link fence enclosure covered in ivy. I wiped my eyes in disbelief and marched closer to look inside. It was inhabited! There was a trim, dark-haired guy in his early 70s sitting in the midst of a beautiful garden.
He greeted me, opened the gate, and invited me in. After giving me the grand tour (which included his prized tomato plants), he then offered me a seat and asked if I wanted a drink. “Sure,” I replied, expecting him to fetch some beverage out of a typical Styrofoam picnic cooler. Instead, he reached down to locate a large metal ring attached to a small square door covered in grass. It turned out that his urban oasis was complete with private wine cellar!
Of course, anyone brave enough to carve out a place of respite in a borough known for chaos, had to be a bit of a character. After we talked for a while, he asked if I wanted to see what the garden looked like in other seasons. “Sure!” I said, and he handed me a pile of photos. I caught him watching me carefully (with a twinkle in his eye) while I was shuffling through the pictures, obviously waiting for me to get to one particular snowy shot. I’m sure my reaction didn’t disappoint upon finding the nudie picture: a beautiful blond posing in the garden wearing a fur coat opened wide to artistically show off her curvy naked torso.
The rest of the time we spent talking and sipping wine and enjoying the kind of leisurely afternoon one expects to find in Tuscany rather than Manhattan. When I left a few hours later, I had a new found respect for the hidden treasures of a large, complicated city.