David Whitley decides to head through Prospect Park to the Brooklyn Museum – an eminently sensible plan until the rain starts.
A city should not been seen from the tunnels that run underneath it. The gloomy underground stations are a grubby cocoon, disguising how a city fits together and the small details that form the fabric. The train may get you to your destination quicker, but it destroys the sense of journey.
The theory went along those lines. I had a Tuesday afternoon with blissfully little to occupy me, and the Brooklyn Museum seemed like something I should take a look at. I could have studied the Subway map. I could have worked out where I’d need to change to get me pretty much outside the door. But I didn’t want to. I had that precious commodity – time.
For someone who enjoys walking through a city, time buys the opportunity to meander, to observe and to take in whatever happens to be along the way. In Brooklyn, this meant a huff and puff up Park Slope, then a hazy zig-zag through Prospect Park on the way to the museum. It was overcast, but other than that, it was fairly close to my idea of a perfect afternoon.
The first steps uphill through the handsome brownstone houses and gauntlet of buggy-shunting yummy mummies brought the first raindrops. Not bad raindrops; just ineffectual ones. The sort that you just about feel, but are not bothered by unless it’s a bitterly cold day. If it’s reasonably warm, it just feels as though your skin is fizzing slightly – a not altogether unpleasant experience.
Prospect Park lies at the top of the hill. It is Brooklyn’s answer to Central Park in Manhattan, and the characters of the parks fit the boroughs they fall within. Central Park is undeniably handsome. It is beautifully made-up, and separated into nicely defined areas. It has a glossy coat, and feels like it has been thoroughly tweaked in Photoshop. It is a place for bright eyes and a youthful sense of wonder; an oasis for those who want to stand back and admire the surroundings rather than escape them.
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Prospect Park doesn’t fit in the New York of Wall Street’s sharp suits, Broadway’s bright lights and Fifth Avenue’s platinum credit card dazzle. It was designed by the same man – Frederick Law Olmstead – but it is the more chilled-out younger brother.
The sections of Prospect Park are far less distinct, and much of it has been allowed to grow naturally rather than undergoing continual taming. It represents the New York that has woken up with a fuzzy head and has nipped down to the shops, bleary-eyed, tracksuit bottoms-clad and unshaven, to get a newspaper and some milk.
It’s in many ways more charming for that. It’s a walk in the woods rather than a promenade along the lawn. It’s furtive cottaging rather than down-on-one-knee dream proposals. And a spot of rain seems to suit it. It draws out the moodiness rather than sullies the beauty.
The problem comes when there’s more than a drop of rain. As I walk through, in roughly the right direction for the museum, the spits become something more substantial. It’s proper, ugly rain; the sort that makes your clothes stick to your body. It’s also the sort of rain that makes you keep your guide book in your bag – opening it will let map-ruining splodges of water in.
The logical thing would be to make a run for the nearest Subway station. But that would be cheating. I’ve started the walk, so I’ll sure as hell finish it. Besides, I must be close to the museum. It’d probably take longer to take the train option.
The trails don’t go in straight lines, however. As the rain comes down harder, déjà vu starts to hit. I’m sure I’ve been here before? Didn’t I come in that way?
By the time I find the road hemming the park in, I’m drenched and the rain is coming down even harder. It’s now spiteful, bullying rain, its only aims humiliation and discomfort. I snatch a peak at the guide book. I’m about as far away from the Brooklyn Museum as I could possibly be whilst still being next to the park.
But the Subway trains that go to the museum don’t go from the stations that are near me. I’d have to take a considerable walk in the wrong direction to get the right line. I may as well press on.
The eastern side of Prospect Park isn’t as charmingly gentrified as Park Slope. It looks grim in hurling rain, and probably wouldn’t look much better in glorious sunshine. It’s no longer moody – it’s just horrible.
There’s a distinct lack of shelter. The buildings don’t have handy overhangs, the trees just shake the water they’ve already collected down on me. I start cursing the map’s deceptively large scale. Walking half-way round a 585 acre park takes considerably longer than I’d like, each step in the squall adding to the brewing misery.
The sole landmark is the Botanic Garden. It takes considerably longer to appear than I’d like. By the time it does, I may as well be swimming. The squelch of sock in shoe is the only sign of independence. The rest of my clothes are as one with my body, glued on by the sky’s giant hose.
Eventually, after what seems like months, I see the sculpted concrete plaza that the Brooklyn Museum surveys. All seems quiet – everyone having either gone inside to avoid the rain, or not having bothered to venture out in the first place. The time for dignity has long gone. I run for the doors and tug the handle towards me. Nothing moves.
For anyone finding themselves in a similar situation, an enjoyable stroll through Brooklyn turned into waterlogged chore, there is one key lesson I feel I should impart. It is this: The Brooklyn Museum is closed on Tuesdays.
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