Friday, April 9, 2010

Alice Is Still Wonderful

As a kid growing up on an enchanted isle called Manhattan, I was taken many times to visit the statue of Alice In Wonderland in Central Park, AKA the Margarita Delacorte Memorial.  Almost from the time I was aware of the book, and possibly before I'd even seen the animated Disney cartoon version, I loved climbing on that statue.  And for those who don't know of it, yes, you read that last sentence right:  Alice is a statue you can climb on.  In fact, you're supposed to, especially if you're a kid.

Flash forward to this year, when my five-year-olds starting seeing billboards for the Tim Burton movie of ALICE IN WONDERLAND.  They were very curious and asked about each of the characters.   I was able to get them to listen to at least a few pages of the book read aloud, and even purchased the Disney cartoon version for them, which they watched on a visit to their grandparents, enrapt.  My daughter is rehearsing a dance number to be performed as part of her ballet school's production of ALICE this June.  Given this confluence of events, a trip to New York, and the gorgeous weather on Easter Sunday, I knew it was time for me to revisit Alice.

She resides, as ever, atop a mushroom, surrounded by a memorable, familiar cast:  her cat Dinah at her feet, the White Rabbit nearby clutching his pocket watch, the Mad Hatter conversing beside her, the doormouse perched to one side on a smaller mushroom, and the Chesire Cat observing the scene from a tree branch.  If you look closely, you can also find other Wonderland denizens, e.g. that inscrutable caterpillar.  The whole ensemble can be found just north of the conservatory, which some of us know as the miniature boat basin, located at seventy-fourth street and Fifth Avenue, on the East side of the park.  (The conservatory is famous for a scene in another children's book, STUART LITTLE.)

On the particular Easter Sunday when we visited, the weather was about as glorious as it gets on a spring day in NY -- bright blue, nearly cloudless, and warm but not yet in the full heat of summer.  And though many a kid and tween and even teen clambered over the statue, it wasn't so crowded that the kids couldn't gain purchase several times and occupy some choice spots.  For Thing 1, that meant sitting atop the doormouse; for Thing 2, that meant sitting in Alice's lap and holding Dinah's paws.

Photos were snapped, and there was much scrambling hither and thither in and around Alice, and on the statue's many plants and creatures.  (I say hither and thither because, well, those words just come to mind when one is thinking about Alice.)  Grandma posed with Thing 1 and the Mad Hatter, and Thing 2 never seemed to tire of smiling for another snap while occupying Alice's lap.

I couldn't help but feel a bit wistful, missing my own New York childhood; since moving all the way across the country in what seems a lifetime ago, pre-kids, pre-marriage, post-college, I've created my own West Coast life, but I can't help but feel, after all this time, it's still a little inadequate.  Sure, I can get my kids to Disneyland in an hour from where I live.  But somehow, the lure of the simpler pleasure of an attraction like that Alice statue remains more powerful, more compelling. 

The best art invites you to interact with it, and by that standard, the Alice statue more than succeeds.  As I perched atop it, alongside Alice, I thought back to a childhood in which the big event of the day was climbing all over that statue, not passively seeing a movie version of the Alice story in 3-D.  I know I'm waxing nostalgic about childhood, and that's such a cliche thing to do.  But there's something genuine at the heart of most cliches.  And for me, watching my kids enjoy the Alice statue was a lovely link between past and present -- something about which it's worth getting sentimental.

1 comment:

William V. Madison said...

Moreover, the statue is more faithful to the original story than Tim Burton's movie is.

Growing up so far from Central Park, the Things aren't clambering on Alice & Co. every day, but it's clear that the experience was special for them, in a way that it might not have been otherwise. You got them there at a very good age, quite apart from the confluence of cultural events that heightened their interest in Alice.