The world in a park: Irina Rozovsky on 'In Plain Air'

I came to New York like millions of others, lured by a city pulsing with possibilities, where it’s not who you are or where you’re from but what you work to become. The city that never sleeps, they say—always buzzing with our collective dreams of making it, kept awake by our efforts to just get by. At the end of the day, people are tired from the reaching and doing and going; they fall asleep on the train home.

My first summer is lonely and hot, the cement sizzles—I sit by the feeble breeze of my window fan, wait until the sun gets low and go to the park. I slip in through the south entrance—the shade of familiar trees, a stretch of grass, a trodden path; the screeching streets are fading out, the city disappears. I go deeper in and am swallowed whole.

Someone in heaven must have sketched the panorama stretching before me: people at rest, tucked into nooks and crannies. In each pocket is a different group or family, lovers, friends, different ethnic backgrounds, cultures, religions, all sharing the same place, the same lazy instant. This kaleidoscope, so serene and sublime, feels almost unreal, like a mirage. To make sure it’s true, I take a picture. Is it the light bouncing off the lake or a certain peace that glows on every face? A humanity that’s easy and palpable pulls down our guards. There are no doors to lock, no walls that separate, nothing to own. If paradise can be littered with soda cans and cigarette butts, then here it is.

I come back again and again to realize that the people moving through the park are here one minute, gone the next. They come for an afternoon, to sit, to stroll, but when they leave the park remains. This big, slow, generous, and patient organism absorbs our sadness and echoes our joys, it holds and renews us, it keeps our secrets and records our histories. It is susceptible to the brutality of the seasons, falls into disrepair, has its moods and temperaments, but it never betrays democracy. It is a melting pot bubbling over in all its glory.

Extract from In Plain Air by Irina Rozovsky, published in March 2021.

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