Wollman Rink, Part 1

March 4, 2008

21120837pizzacolor.jpg

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.

To see the icenetwork interview I did with Ryan Bradley this week, Click here.
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8 Responses to “Wollman Rink, Part 1”

  1. sitspin Says:

    At New Roc City in New Rochelle NY they used to have a small rink that had an island in the middle with a little tree! That was an interesting obstacle for programs!!

  2. Yussel Says:

    Miss Cox: I have been away for several months but I was pleasantly surprised to come back to New York City and my favorite rink (outside of one in the tiny Odessa suburb: Emet). You might be interested to hear of several Venezualan pizzarias which have traditionally substituted Kaiser rolls for the more traditional flat dough we all know as “pizza dough”. Once, while teaching a seminar in Ecuador I ventured over the border to order an anchovie Kaiser-pizza and found, to my great great delight, that it tasted exactly as it should. Wine – bought cheaply enough – might have made the tasting even more memorable. Thank you for your blog.

  3. Aaron Says:

    I’m now convinced I must visit Wollman Rink…it’s on my to do list!

  4. stratosfear Says:

    I think that rink in New Roc that someone else mentioned was also a weird shape, like a peanut shell bc it went in at the middle.

  5. sarah Says:

    what a great comparison! totally clever, totally new york.
    that feeling of seeing your little “slice” of new york first thing in the morning can’t help but make you smile… the same thing still happens to me on the way to school everyday. 🙂

  6. BA Says:

    Joc, great analogy there. I never quite figured the rink to be pizza shaped… I thought a rough triangle without the sharp angles I guess. Looking forward to part 2.

  7. sony Says:

    fun article! funny how the relation to food makes that fridge hour of the a.m. comical. ever skate on the speed skating circle in lake placid? odd feeling as well. how about the studio and kiddie rinks at rye, playland. they are both so much fun for the fact you can have the whole ice surface to yourself for you and your friends to celebrate a birthday party, of course, pizza included.

  8. elizabeth Says:

    i love wollman i skate there everyday and have been doing so for almost three years now. it is the most amazing thing to opne your eyes to in the morning by the way who wrote this article i would like to know, it was great by the way.

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