Today we had the privilege of being conducted around key sections of Central Park and the Plaza Hotel by our two incredibly well prepared literary tour leaders Eric and Robb. The brief was to take us to the Central Park Duck Pond which is such an obsession for young Holden Caulfield and then on to the Carousel which brings the climax of Catcher in the Rye into focus. The second brief was to take us on to the Plaza Hotel site of that amazingly brutal row between Jay Gatsby and Tom Buchanan on a steamy, hot, New York summer’s day. Hot, steamy summer’s day it tragically was not today. Rain threatened all morning and winter chill hovered. However we were spared the worst of the rain squalls because these began the moment we stepped into the Plaza foyer… lucky!
So here was our first stop at the famous duck pond- iced-over perfectly for all Holden’s questions about where the ducks go in wintertime:
And this of course is the place where one of the many passages about ducks could be read aloud. As many pointed out, there is a great stimulus to understanding and engagement when a literary passage is read in the immediate context of the place in which it was imagined:
Prior to this philosophical exposition on ducks both Rob and Eric gave useful snapshot introductions to the park itself:
Eric then, on the way to the Carousel also took us to the one and only remaining metal stake marker that was used in the setting out of the New York grid. Here is Eric’s commentary on this:
There were a few additional literary tidbits that both Eric and Robb had talked to on our way into the garden. It is worth listening to these again. First Eric on Guys and Dolls:
It was Robb who took up the commentary on the Brill Building which we passed on our way to the park:
Eric also had a wonderful quote from James Baldwin, which was apparently written on one of the highest stone outcrops in the park as James Baldwin was looking towards this seductive metropolis- in some ways Baldwin’s disgust of New York materialism is strongly alligned with what Salinger brings into his character Holden.
Finally we made it to the Carousel- where, sadly, it was closed because of the rain. But I have a record of our event here last year- and just for the record, we got to Strawberry Fields last year- and this is what it looks like:
Again I took the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the carousel episode in the novel and read from its memorable closure:
Rain was again in the air so we hurried on to our very last destination for the morning, the Plaza Hotel, an extraordinarily sumptuous hotel which was built in 1907- a mere 15 years before Fitzgerald set his powerful story in this location. This was of course the location of that bitter stand-up fight between Jay Gatsby and Tom Buchanan, around which the whole climax of the novel revolves. We managed to taste the sumptuousness from both the entrance and the entry hall, which is rather like the room that Tom Buchanan must have hired for the event:
And it was in this location that I read the final reading for the day- as the rain was coming down increasingly strongly- with Mac, my trusted umbrella man, keeping my pages clear of drops:
Hallelujah- it is done!