There are many different types of people on this planet and many ways of viewing the world around us. There are liberals, conservatives, Buddhists, Darwinists, etc. Most people try to make sense of the larger picture by looking at life through a particular lens, say, for example, through feminism, or environmentalism, or even, in many cases, consumerism.
Then there are a select few of us who have an exceptionally sophisticated worldview. People like us have a highly evolved philosophy that can be used to explain just about anything. We believe that pretty much everything in life comes back to one important thing. And that, of course, is…pizza.
Pizza is everywhere and its attributes are infinite. For example, here in New York City, there is at least one pizza shop on every block where people of all kinds can come together peacefully and pay their respects almost 24 hours a day. It is impressive how, when ordered correctly, one simple slice represents all four food groups. Notice how pizza transports seamlessly from hand to mouth without any need for those complicating factors called utensils. It also travels around town easily in those nifty flat boxes. And the way the dough so gracefully changes shape when repeatedly tossed into the air is pure, edible poetry.
I’ve known all these facts for years, but lately, I have been reminded that all roads lead back to this savory treat. For example, just this weekend, at a wine tasting, a friend described one mediocre but inoffensive selection as a good “pizza wine,” a term I’d never heard before, despite my “extensive” tours of vineyards. Recently, on this very website (see Boots and Blades, Part 2), figure skating boot specialist Mark Magliola underscored the challenge of fitting skaters with narrow heels and wider toes, which, to the delight of many, he referred to as “pizza feet.” And last, but certainly not least since it brings me to the topic at hand, I taught at Wollman Rink last Friday, an ice surface shaped exactly like…you got it, a slice of pizza.
Some try to contend that Wollman Rink, located in the southeastern part of Central Park, is shaped like a triangle, but I know better. It was designed and constructed in about 1950 with funds donated by Kate Wollman. It’s fairly evident what her favorite food was.
This shape makes such perfect sense, seeing as how New York is the pizza capitol of the world. Sorry Chicago. And I mean no disrespect, Sicily. The way I see it, this slice-y slab is the pulsing, extra-large heart of this pizza-loving city.
What is it like to skate on a rink configured like a slice of pizza? It can be anywhere from disorienting to liberating, depending on your ability to think, or skate, I should say, outside the box. Literally.
If you’re trying to do a program, a moves-in-the-field pattern, or an ice dance, it might end up being a little more “interpretive” (insert: bulbous, lopsided, or straight-out wacky) than usual. If you are determined to obey The Rulebook, you have to immediately stop using the barriers as reference points. You have to imagine a rectangle then hem yourself in. You have to guestimate. This could be a challenge for those skaters who, for example, have trouble finding their way across a rink without hockey lines as landmarks (and I include myself in that category.)
But, skating at Wollman is an adventure for many reasons even beyond its unique shape, including the weather, the location, the immediate surroundings, and did I mention the weather? I have visited this rink intermittently over the last few years as a substitute teacher for my brother, and, every time, I go through the same spectrum of emotions, starting with dread, only because I loathe early mornings, and ending with elation, because it is just such a cool atmosphere.
Last Friday, it was 16 degrees out when I entered the park at the 5th Avenue and 60th street around 6:30 AM. I had of course cloaked myself in a ridiculous number of layers, an amount of clothing that caused me to waddle across a stretch of cobblestones rather than walk. It’s a circuitous route you take through the park toward the rink from this entrance, a winding path I could only explain as heading generally in a northwest direction.
The fact that I hadn’t yet opened my eyes made my trip further challenging. As I crossed over East Drive, one of the streets the horse-drawn carriages use to trot tourists around the park, I was met with the smell of manure. I opened my eyes slightly so as to not step in anything unpleasant, then waddled down some stairs, and eventually heard music in the distance. I tried to lift my heavy eyelids a little more, accepting that I was getting closer, and would soon be expected to behave like a professional, an act that usually involves being awake.
I have discovered that all skating music, no matter the song, actually sounds like circus music when heard from afar, outside. As you approach, you almost think that you are nearing Central Park’s famous carousel, but that’s located beyond Wollman, a little further west. Gradually, the music clarified itself and I forced myself to open my eyes all the way.
That’s when I saw it, from above, through a line of trees: a gleaming slice of ice. I stopped in my tracks to take it in. The sun was ricocheting off the surface, causing it to actually glow. Bundled-up children and adults were already gliding around out there, in patterns of their own choosing. In this moment, just how, when you open the lid of a pizza box to a piping hot pie smothered with the perfect amounts of cheese and sauce and fresh basil, the angels began to sing. Chuckling, I waddled the rest of the way toward work.
To be continued, next week.
Needless to say, I highly recommend that you visit Wollman Rink. If you live nearby and you’ve never been, you should go immediately. If you live far away, you should make a weekend of it, and combine it with a pizza tour.
If you are aware of any rinks of unusual shape (A donut? A pear? A candy cane?), or rinks that are unique for any other reason, please enlighten the rest of us by clicking on “comment.”
To read Wollman Rink, Part 2, Click here.
To see Wollman in all its glory, click on “Central Park” at the following site: Click here.