2018-packingpurse10

Monthly Walk Series: Grand Concourse, The Bronx

For our January monthly walk, we headed up to the Bronx to walk the 5-mile length of the Grand Concourse. Built in the 1890s, the Grand Concourse was New York’s answer to Paris’s Champs-Élysées, although having never been to France, I can’t personally compare the two.

I thought I had never been to the Grand Concourse either, but as it turns out, it’s actually my most-traversed stretch of the Bronx. I ran its length twice each in 2013 and 2014, when it served as the out-and-back course of NYRR‘s Bronx 10 Mile road race. During those races, the wide avenue was closed to car traffic. I gave my attention to the gradient of the land, the beat of bodies around me, the rhythm feeding into my ears through my headphones. My experience centered on the pace and the distance, the labor and rewards of movement, the constant grind of will against resistance. It was an entirely different landscape.

Maybe that’s why I didn’t even recognize the Grand Concourse when I returned there for our January walk. It felt so much like my first time there that I only realized it wasn’t when I looked up Bronx 10 Mile course maps while writing this blog post. No longer subsumed by the buzz of the race, the boulevard unfolded before me. As we headed north from the southern end of the Concourse, we passed a couple of small parks, Franz Sigel Park and Joyce Kilmer Park, quiet on a cold Sunday morning. Sandwiched between them was the Bronx County Courthouse, a striking block of a building adorned with neoclassical columns and flanked by clusters of statues.

bronx county courthouse

Soon after, we approached a majestic limestone mansion guarded by wrought iron gates and set back from the street by the Grand Concourse’s only front lawn. It was the day’s most intriguing story: the Andrew Freedman Home, built in the 1920s, served as a poorhouse for rich people who had lost their fortunes, enabling them to continue living in their accustomed affluence. It was hard to imagine a less worthwhile charity.

According to a 1997 profile in the New York Times, “Each resident received free rent, free board, even free servants. … Public rooms had overstuffed sofas, fireplaces, lush plants, bronzes, and paintings. In each guest room was a shower stall of white marble.” Perhaps fittingly, the trust eventually ran out of money, and in the 1980s, the Mid-Bronx Senior Citizens Council purchased the building and used it to house the elderly poor. These days, it serves as an event space, complete with an artist residency program.

As morning turned to afternoon, and as we continued north, the streets grew busier and more commercial. Here and there, we saw the repurposed relics of a bygone era. Soon after we passed the distinctive facade of the former Paradise Theater, now home to the World Changers Church, we stopped for lunch at Fordham Restaurant, a busy diner with tasty grub, generous portion sizes, and ample options for our picky crowd.

poe cottage

From there, we were only minutes away from Poe Cottage, the small white cottage in what was then Fordham village where Edgar Allan Poe spent the final years of his life. Poe and his wife Virginia retreated there in 1846 in hopes that the country air would do some good for her tuberculosis. Alas, Virginia did not survive long, but her original deathbed remains in the house, on view for visitors.

Poe Cottage was also the site where Poe composed some of his most famous poems, including “The Bells” and “Annabel Lee,” a favorite of my teenage years. At $5/person, we found the tour we took engaging and well worth the price of admission, but an hour-long chat with the docent on the front steps of the cottage as we were leaving did throw off the rhythm of our walk a bit. We might have to leave museum visits off the itinerary in future months.

From Poe Cottage, it was just over a mile to the north end of the Grand Concourse, where it runs into Mosholu Parkway at the conveniently located Mosholu Parkway subway station. In this last stretch, the Concourse evolved away from busy commercial districts to more residential blocks. I enjoyed seeing colorful single-family homes tucked between big stone apartment buildings and the storied character the mix added to the neighborhood. Like the rest of the Grand Concourse, it had the dignified nonchalance of a place that has survived glory and decline and revitalization and knows that there’s more to come.

our route along the grand concourse

2018-packingpurse10

First Favorites: Dallas, Texas

In a matter of days, we’ll be jetting off to Texas for this year’s holiday celebrations with my family. We’ll be spending most of our time in San Antonio, hopefully with a day trip or two to Austin, but we’re ending our trip with a couple of days in Dallas. I last visited Dallas about 14 months ago, and it’s pretty unusual for me to return to the same place twice in two years. Especially because this will be Lawrence’s first time there, I’m finding myself thinking about what my favorite places were from my own first visit and which locations I’d like to return to this time.

Here are my top five attractions (and an honorable mention) from my Fall 2016 visit to Dallas:

Old Red Museum

Especially during a first visit, I love learning about the history of where I am, and the Old Red Museum in downtown Dallas provided a charming, accessible, and detailed look at the origin and development of Dallas, from prehistory through its early growth as a railway crossroads to its commercial and cultural maturation in the 20th century. Split over four time periods, each section of the museum featured artifacts, interactive exhibits, and a short film. The building itself, formerly the Dallas County Courthouse, was also lovely. For anyone interested in history, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend a better introduction to Dallas than Old Red.

That X on the ground marks the spot where JFK was shot.

Dallas Heritage Village

I love examining the layouts and interiors of houses, so I often find myself gravitating toward historic homes and buildings. Dallas Heritage Village was home to not just one but a whole array of them, originating from a variety of times and places and collected together in a single park. During our visit, my mother and I meandered from pioneer cabin to stately Victorian home, from chapel to general store, from farmhouse to schoolhouse. We learned about horseshoes from a blacksmith, befriended a goat who followed me around a building and across a field, and were even on hand to witness the celebratory arrival of the park’s new donkeys.

These were the old donkeys. They were tired.

Katy Trail

As a small town girl turned New York City transplant, I’m constantly looking for the green spaces in metropolitan areas. The Katy Trail was Dallas’s incarnation of the urban hiking trail, and it felt like a vibrant oasis in a concrete desert. While we didn’t cover its entire distance, my mother, sister, and I enjoyed several miles of invigorating walking starting and ending at Reverchon Park. The two attractions above helped me to connect Dallas’s past with its present, but the Katy Trail gave me a sense of the way its sprawling neighborhoods connected with one another. It was the type of place I’d frequent if I lived there.

This is the path in Reverchon Park we took to access the Katy Trail.

Dallas Museum of Art

I’m usually tepid when it comes to art museums, but I found myself unexpectedly enchanted by the free Dallas Museum of Art. Its expansive interior space complemented its similarly expansive global collection, and moving through it felt like the sort of exploration in which you could get lost and then found again. As someone who’s perpetually drawn to period rooms (see: Dallas Heritage Village, above), it’s no surprise that my favorite exhibit was the recreated Mediterranean home of Wendy and Emery Reves, Villa La Pausa, in the namesame Wendy and Emery Reves Collection.

This long hallway in the Dallas Museum of Art almost felt like an optical illusion.

Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden

I freely admit that the Dallas Arboretum enjoyed the advantage of my first visit falling in October, but I fell head over heels for this botanical garden during its annual pumpkin extravaganza. Nearly a hundred thousand pumpkins lined its every path and filled its breathtaking centerpiece, the Pumpkin Village. It was a pumpkin patch crossed with a fairy tale. There were so many pumpkins. Pumpkins everywhere. Endless pumpkins. How could anywhere else in Dallas compete?

Pumpkins!

Honorable Mention: Sixth Floor Museum

The Sixth Floor Museum, located in the former Texas School Book Depository, is the site from which the fatal bullet was fired that killed President John F. Kennedy. Now, an audio tour leads visitors through a meticulous reconstruction of the final days and moments of Kennedy’s life and places his assassination in its cultural, political, and spatial context. The experience was of excellent quality, informative, and somber. Within our deeply divided political climate, a memorial that educates us about our country’s terrible history of political assassination is unquestionably important. But unlike every other place on this list, I can’t say that I enjoyed the Sixth Floor Museum, and I wouldn’t choose to visit it twice in two years.

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2018-packingpurse10

Monthly Walk Series: Green-Wood Cemetery & Sunset Park, Brooklyn


One of the most unexpectedly moving parts of getting married, for me, was the way it allowed me to experience my community. I don’t mean my geographic community — although my native New Yorker husband and I did take the subway to our own wedding and get stuck in traffic on the BQE on our way home — but my human community. Our loved ones took time away from their lives and flew across the country (or the ocean, in one case) or drove for hours and paid for expensive New York City lodging to witness an event we conjured. One friend even left his home state of Texas for the first time in a decade just to attend our wedding! It was a monumental reminder that each of us as individuals and our relationship to one another doesn’t exist in a vacuum but in a vast, strong, interconnected network of love, support, and community. Even months later, I feel full of gratitude at the thought.

After we came home from our honeymoon, we decided that it was important to us to actively cultivate that community and foster those bonds. One of the ways we’re doing that is by hosting a monthly walk series, an opportunity to explore and connect with New York and with our community here. We’ve led two so far. The inaugural walk took place in November: we met at Columbus Circle, walked the main loop of Central Park counterclockwise, and then had lunch at Whole Foods after. It’s one of my favorite routes in the city, but it was also one with which I was intimately familiar. Although the last one was years ago, countless long runs along that loop in snow and rain and blazing heat meant that I knew every water fountain, every incline.

This past weekend, we took the opposite approach in our second walk by visiting a neighborhood that was entirely new to us. We met outside the main entrance of Brooklyn’s landmark Green-Wood Cemetery, one of those places I’ve meant to check out a thousand times but never actually got around to visiting. It was the morning after the season’s first snow, brisk but clear, the cemetery blanketed in softening white. None of the four of us who met that morning knew much about Green-Wood Cemetery, but someone recollected that it had served as an inspiration for Central Park, and it was easy to see why as we walked along the perimeter of the most picturesque and fascinating cemetery I’ve ever explored.

We passed tranquil ponds, rows of hedges, steps that wove up sheltering hills. A field of plain grave markers contrasted with a cluster of ornate Grecian tombs, adorned with statues and columns. Everywhere, the inscriptions evoked for us stories we could nearly imagine as memories of an old New York. We examined a monument to D. M. Bennett, densely inscribed with his ideas. “He had a thousand friends,” the stone banner proclaimed (“and even more opinions,” we quipped). We read a poem on an elaborate stone, a tribute from a husband to his deceased wife, and observed from his much more modest marker that she must have died first, even though their dates were buried in snow. We found a grave for “Alexander the Great,” which appeared to be for an unnamed child of the Alexander family, dead the year after birth. We saw a tomb shaped like an Egyptian pyramid, decorated with Christian statuary. There was a point where we could stand and see the Manhattan skyline looking one way and the Statue of Liberty looking the other.

A lap later, we emerged back out of Green-Wood’s main gate and were tempted into Baked in Brooklyn, across the street, by the delicious aroma of fresh-baked bread. After we left, laden with cupcakes and enormous cinnamon buns and other confections, we walked through the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn to its namesake park, which offered even more splendid views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty than from the cemetery. From there, we made our way to 8th Ave, the main thoroughfare of Sunset Park’s Chinatown. In the stretch we walked, about a mile, it seemed full of the same sensory pleasures as every other New York Chinatown — tantalizing roast meats, mini hot cakes, gloriously colorful produce — but without the throngs of tourists. Easily accessible via the 8th Ave stop on the N train, now that I’ve been there, I’m more surprised than ever how few people know about or visit Sunset Park’s Chinatown. We stopped for lunch at Kai Feng Fu Dumpling House, where we gorged ourselves on astonishingly cheap comfort food; my favorite, the fried pork-and-leek dumplings, were flavorful and deliciously greasy and cost $1 for 4.

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