A Return to the First Street Garden

More than a year ago I wrote about my discovery of the First Street Garden, a community garden supported by the Lower East Side Girls Club. (You can find that earlier post here.) What first drew my attention to the garden were the murals painted on the walls, but I only had a limited glimpse through the padlocked fence. I returned multiple times, hoping to arrive when the garden was open, and my persistence finally paid off! This time I got much better views of the murals, which commemorate women who have had an important influence on New York and United States history.

Here are some of the murals I discovered. First, there is this one of journalist and activist Dorothy Day, by an artist named Nicolina.

Next, there is this colorful portrait of Shirley Chisholm, by artist Lenora Jayne. A New Yorker, Chisholm became the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. Congress in 1968.

Peering from behind the ivy was this mural of Rosie Mendez, a former NYC councilwoman who served from 2006 to 2017. The artist’s signature says “Carolina.” Mendez was a leader of the LGBT Caucus within the City Council, and is also known for sponsoring the law that ultimately banned the use of wild animals in circuses in the city.

A ladder and more ivy partially obscured this portrait of African-American journalist and activist Ida B. Wells, most known for her covered of the terrible lynchings that took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an artist’s signature on this one.

Here’s one of urban activist Jane Jacobs, usually credited with helping to save Greenwich Village from urban development in the 1960s. (Once again, there was no artist’s signature.)

There are murals of two major leaders in the suffragist and women’s rights movements, Alice Paul and Susan B. Anthony. There was no signature on the Paul portrait, but the Anthony portrait was painted by street artist Lexibella, with the help of Gianesina and Lizabeth.

This unsigned portrait of civil rights activist Rosa Parks may be a little faded, but I still loved it.

There are more portraits as well, but I will leave you to discover them when you visit. As I end this post, I wanted to share this important message that’s been added to the garden since my first visit.

The First Street Garden is located on First Street between First and Second Avenues. The closest subway station is the Second Street station, which is accessible from the F train. (Additionally, an access point for the First Street Green Cultural Park is located just down the street from the First Street Garden. You’ll always find original, fresh street art there.) According to the sign on the garden’s gate, the it is open on Friday afternoons, 4:00-6:00 pm, and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4:00 pm.

A Saturday Stroll at Wave Hill

I’ve titled this post “A Saturday Stroll,” but it took a little more effort to get to our destination, Wave Hill. We decided on Saturday to go somewhere we’ve never been before, but we didn’t want to travel too far. Ultimately, we set our sights on Wave Hill. Wave Hill is a public garden located in the Bronx community of Riverdale. Although it is located in New York City, it is not directly accessible by subway. Instead, we set out on the Metro North Railroad. If I’d read Wave Hill’s website carefully, we would have known that a shuttle van picks visitors up at the train station; instead, we walked to the garden’s entrance. It was a fairly steep uphill trek of a little over half a mile – although doable, I’d likely wait for the shuttle on a return visit. The road was narrow, and much of it didn’t have sidewalks.

Our uphill efforts were rewarded when we arrived at Wave Hill’s entrance. The gardens are beautiful! Wave Hill started out as a wealthy family’s private home, and it has an interesting history. As a child, Theodore Roosevelt stayed at Wave Hill with his family, and later the famous American author Mark Twain leased the estate. In 1960, the owners deeded Wave Hill to the city, and it eventually opened as a public garden and cultural center.

Almost immediately we came across the flower gardens, which are beautiful at this time of year. The vibrant colors were the first things that drew my attention, but then I noticed the butterflies! There were gorgeous Monarch butterflies everywhere I looked. I can’t even count the number of butterfly photographs I took while we were there, but it was a wonderful experience to see them.

The was such a variety of flowers blooming, and plenty of bees collecting pollen as well. If you enjoy macro photography, this is the place for you.

Nearby, we found the greenhouses. More treasures are located inside, particularly cacti and succulents.

We meander down various paths to other parts of the gardens. Dodging a water sprinkler, we arrive at the arbors. Although I expected to see grape vines, I was fascinated to find squash and gourds hanging from above as well.

Let’s explore further. At the end of another path we found Wave Hill House, the estate’s former mansion, now home to the cafe.

There were paths to walk through the shaded woods. Along the edge of the woods stood these evergreen trees, showcasing the range of colors and textures provided by nature. There were so many shades of green!

Coming through on the other side of the shaded woods, we climbed back up the hill to experience the views of the Hudson River and steep cliffs of the Palisades in New Jersey. Across the wide expanse of lawn we discover pairs of wooden chairs, perfectly situated to appreciate the gardens and river views. We had to stop for a while and take everything in.

Just when we thought we had exhausted all paths, we discovered Glyndor House, another large house on the property that is now home to the Glyndor Gallery. The current exhibition is titled “Call and Response,” and includes art responsive to the gallery’s location in the midst of Wave Hill. From my understanding, the exhibitions change periodically, but there is almost always some type of art installation at Glyndor House. After viewing the art, it was time to take our walk back to the train station. This time, the walk went much quicker, as it was all downhill.

Want to visit Wave Hill and see the gardens for yourself? If traveling by public transportation, you’ll be glad to know that I discovered (after our trip, of course) that Wave Hill runs a free shuttle van between the gardens and the train station, as well as to the West 242nd Street subway station (1 train). Details about travel to Wave Hill, as well as directions for those traveling by car, are available here.

I think our stroll at Wave Hill is a good one for Jo’s Monday Walks. Have you checked out Jo’s blog? I recommend it!

The Cloisters: The Met’s Best Kept Secret

One of my favorite places in New York City is the Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Most people who visit the Met go to the main museum building located on Fifth Avenue on the Upper East Side. They don’t even realize that the Cloisters museum exists. And that’s part of what makes the Cloisters so special–this museum is a peaceful haven, rarely overcrowded. If I’ve had a hard week and need to recharge my batteries, the Cloisters is the first place I think of going.

20150927_132130So what makes the Cloisters different from the rest of the Met? The museum’s architecture and art is drawn from the European Middle Ages, mostly the 11oos through the 1400s. You aren’t just looking for art on the walls and in display cases–even the doorways, inner courtyards, and ceilings reflect the art and architecture of that era. Much of the focus is on religious art and architecture, although there are also some fine examples of domestic art from the same period.

Some of my favorite parts of the Cloisters are the architectural features. In particular, I find myself drawn to the Pontaut Chapter House gallery, which came from a 12th-century Cistercian abbey located south of Bourdeaux, in France. It is an example of Romanesque architecture. As shown in this photograph, the chapter house had a beautiful, intricate ceiling.


The Chapter House windows, framed by thick stone walls, provide filtered light to this quiet place. (You can also look through them for a glimpse of the Hudson River.) The more you take the time to look around, the more details you will notice. The room has benches along the walls that invite you to take a seat while you carefully inspect each feature.


Another beautiful architectural space begins with entry through imposing wooden doors. The doors serve as a display for 11th-century iron door mounts which came from the Church of Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat, near Limoges, France. (You can also see additional art beckoning from the wall in the distance.)


Once you enter this room, the Apse from the Church of San Martín, at Fuentidueña, Spain, you see this impressive sight. The room contains several murals and other architectural features to explore as well.


One of the things that I found intriguing in this space was this oddly shaped hole in the wall, visible in the photograph above on the lower right side. A diagram of this part of the room has labeled the hole as the “Mouth of Hell.” Here is a close-up view of the hole:


Another space that I love is the hallway surrounding this cloister, set off with a series of stone columns. This particular cloister is covered by a skylight that lets in bright natural light. The cloisters also have abundant seating, where you can sit and reflect on what you observe around you.


The photograph below shows the same scene above from another perspective, looking through one of the museum’s other fine architectural doorways to the cloister in the distance.


As you meander through the Cloisters’ many rooms and hallways, you discover countless examples of beautiful medieval stained glass windows. I find it amazing that they have survived so many centuries still intact. Their colors are vivid, particularly when the light behind them illuminates each pane. Here are just a couple examples of my favorites:

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And of course there are countless other works of art on exhibit throughout the museum. Here’s a close-up view of one of my favorites, a French statue of Virgin and Child, ca 1340-1350.


I also like this 15th-century German statue of Jesus riding the donkey on Palm Sunday. There is something about this statue that just appeals to the child in me, with its life-size details.


And there is a collection of richly-colored, intricately detailed tapestries, including a series of tapestries featuring a unicorn. In fact, there’s an entire room dedicated to these tapestries. During my visit last week, I took this photograph showing some of the detail from one of those tapestries.


During the warm months, the Cloisters’ abundant gardens make for an additional treat. There are plenty of stone benches scattered throughout the gardens, inviting you to sit for a while and enjoy the peaceful beauty of the medieval plants and garden architecture. Some garden space is on the interior of the museum, in a cloister, with open air to the sky; there is a fruit and herb garden located on an outside terrace as well. This first photograph shows the main interior cloister garden, a tranquil spot with the sound of trickling water in the background from the fountain:


Here is a view of the museum’s exterior fruit and herb garden. There is a gardener’s room where you can learn more about the medieval plants that are grown onsite.


The garden also has espalier fruit trees. For those who have never seen one of these trees before, here is an explanation I found for how they are grown. And here is a photograph I took of one of those trees.


How can you get to the Cloisters? If you take a car, there is parking available, and you can find driving directions here, on the museum’s website. For those taking public transportation, there are two options. First, you can take the M4 bus from the Upper East Side. If I’m not in a hurry, I sometimes like to take this bus. The route lets you see the city from a different perspective, something that I enjoy. But it is a longer trip, and sometimes it may make sense to take the subway instead. You can take the A train to the 190th Street Station. If you choose this route, you can walk through Fort Tryon Park until you get to the museum, following signs like this along the way. (The added bonus: the park is beautiful right now, and there are gorgeous views of the Hudson River and George Washington Bridge in the distance.)