Summer has always come with a sense of urgency for me. Growing up in rural upstate New York, I squeezed every last moment out of the days, aware the sun would disappear for weeks at a stretch after Labor Day. What I remember vividly is not the sun going down each day, but the waning of daylight, when dusk began to blur the edges of the houses and trees around me. There was a deep stretch of woods behind my house and once those faded away, my stomach clenched in anxiety, knowing the next step was echoed calls from the neighborhood moms, and us kids reluctantly hopping on bikes to peddle home
It’s not that I wanted to stay out and play. I didn’t—and still don’t—like the dark. I just wanted to resist as much as possible the day coming to an end and, always an anxious child, I worried I didn’t play hard enough, that I had taken another perfect summer day for granted. What if this day was the best of the summer? Did I play and sweat? Was there dirt under my fingernails I could soak out later in the bathtub?
Sometimes, just after hearing my mom’s voice calling me inside, I’d drop to the ground and rub my elbows and knees into the grass, just to make sure I went home dirty, proof of a well-lived summer day.
That fretting I did as an anxious child has definitely carried over into adulthood, and I never feel it more than when THE SUMMER SCHEDULES start to pop up. Around May, local websites and magazines begin to list free summer movies, concerts, art exhibits, Restaurant Week. In New York City, the list goes on and on and on. Nine summers ago, when I first moved here and started looking around for things to do, I was so overwhelmed by it all that I had to take a nap. But little by little and summer by summer, I crossed things off my list. Movies in Bryant Park. Summer Solstice Yoga in Times Square. This year I finally made it to Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island.
I no longer stress too much about the summer events I do or don’t do, and some things have emerged as surprising favorites, with each of them in their own way giving me that feeling that I got the most out of my day that I possibly could. I still feel sad when summer is over, but here are some activities I did this summer that have helped me appreciate the season.
What I love about this film series, besides watching movies in quirky locations in the great outdoors, is that each movie is carefully paired with live music, which is performed in the thirty minutes before the movies begin. Venues vary throughout the boroughs. The rooftop space at New Design High School on the Lower East Side is decorated with colorful graffiti murals. Many venues are in Brooklyn, like the Old American Can Factory in Gowanus, The William Vale Hotel in Williamsburg. Green-wood Cemetery is an occasional viewing site, as is Coney Island.
The roof of the Bronx Terminal Market and the lawn at Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens are also on the schedule. Every film featured is independent, so they run the gamut from outstanding to kind of weird ones, but that’s what makes the whole thing interesting and unpredictable. The pre-movie live music is also performed by indie bands, both new and established. There is frequently a Q&A session with the filmmakers after the movies, and there’s almost always an after-party nearby.
The 2018 Rooftop Film Summer Series features its final film on August 25. Tickets are $16, although many screenings are free.
All summer long, outdoor fitness classes take place across the city, and let me tell you: there’s a particular pleasure in doing yoga on a summer evening, as the sun sets and the lights in the sky shift and change colors with each yoga posture. I’ve done a pretty good job of making it to the yoga classes near me in Inwood Hill Park, but yoga is just the beginning of city park fitness offerings. Locations, classes, and sponsors vary. Most are free but double-check before you go. The summer classes in Inwood Hill Park are led by teachers from a local studio, Bread and Yoga, and include a rotation of yoga, West African Dance, and Intro to Meditation.
Check here for locations across the city where you can find similar programs, whether you want to take a Capoeira class in a sculpture park, watch the sun go down from Staten Island as you learn Tai Chi, or join a Fitness Boot Camp on the Hudson River. Many classes continue into the early part of fall. For strictly yoga in more locations across the city (a rooftop farm in Long Island City stands out as particularly spectacular), check out this slideshow.
Finally, on my list for outdoor fitness for next year is a yoga class on the lawn of one of my favorite historical sites in Manhattan, Morris-Jumel Mansion. What would George Washington say if he knew the very location where he planned the Battle of Harlem Heights was now a site of calming stretches and peaceful meditation?
I get the feeling this isn’t a widely-known destination, even though it’s literally on top of the largest museum in the United States. They also have a snack bar and it’s probably my favorite place in the city for a summer sunset cocktail. Even more thrilling, though, is that every summer, the rooftop features a new site-specific art installation.
Many times, they’re interactive: in summers past, I’ve gotten disoriented climbing around a two-way mirrored glass structure, and wandered among what felt like a futuristic dinner party set in a post-apocalyptic world.
This year (2018), the installation by artist Huma Bhabha consists of two giant-sized sculptures and is a take on the theme of colonialism. Titled, “We Come in Peace,” the sculptures—one a five-headed, god-like creature, with expressions both frightening and awe-inspiring, the other prostrating and covered eerily in a black cape, are positioned to invite viewers to interpret the scene as they wish. What I loved about this exhibit is that while previous rooftop commissions have taken up the full roof-top area, this one takes up very little space, which makes the sculptures somehow even more imposing.
“We Come in Peace” is on the roof until October 28, 2018. Be aware that the Met’s pricing policy has changed recently. Where it used to be pay-as-you-wish admission for all, that’s now limited to New York State residents and New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut students. For everyone else, admission is $25 for adults, $17 for seniors, and $12 for students.
Of course, I did more this summer than the three things listed above but each of these gave me the feeling that I wrung all I could out of my summer days. I didn’t feel like I had to rub my elbows in the dirt at the end of a day, and I no longer have to nap while planning my NYC summer. Next year I’ll have a whole new round of events to shoot for, but for this year, I’m content.