Ahsan Hussain was an ophthalmology resident when, a year ago, he was struggling to cope with a pandemic. He was introduced to Nayab by family and friends. Covid has been difficult in dating life. This was especially true for Mr. Hussain who worked until 11 or 10 every night at Metropolitan Hospital, an East Harlem city-run facility. Ms. Rizvi was busy and studying to be a dentist. They discovered many commonalities and their connection was instant.
Marriage was in the horizon, but would a simple proposal work? Mr. Hussain believed that the moment required more. One day, he saw an advertisement for a Brooklyn Botanic Garden Light Festival. Poetry seemed to be interceding. It was difficult to imagine a better way than this to honor the surreal and magical quality of finding someone, even in the midst of so much darkness.
Mr. Hussain didn’t like taking breaks during the workday so for a week he drove to Brooklyn every other afternoon to find out where and how to pose the question. He also got acquainted with some of the 20 people who had worked full time for nearly half the time to mount the installation. garden’s 52 acres.
On opening night, Nov. 19, which was also Ms. Rizvi’s birthday, close to the end of the mile-long walkway, where plants and trees are illuminated and torches and candles reflect on the water, Mr. Hussain got down on one knee under a cathedral of tiny lights and proposed. His brother and sister had earlier come to put up bright white letters in the ground. “Marry Me.”(Ms. Rizvi stated that you can read this with a sense of suspense if you feel the need to.
The exhibition was a gift of timing and art. gardenIt has been in place for three years, and seems to be just what the city needs as it enters its second pandemic winter. We are now facing the Omicron variant, with the prospect of more backyard firepits, propane lamps, and dining yurts. The need for something more was evident right away. The show’s weekend tickets, which run through January 9, have already sold more than 60,000 tickets. They were almost gone by the time they became available.
Light shows have a long connection to the holidays — this season there are installations at Snug Harbor in Staten Island and the Bronx Zoo, for example — but Lightscape is surely the biggest and most sophisticated in the city’s history. The project originated with a company called Culture Creative that is based in Northumberland, an English county on the Scottish border where the sun is down during winter more than it isn’t and a reframing of the season was needed as a defense against the joylessness of the pitch black. The show was broadcast to the Chicago Botanic GardenIt was a huge success last year, and it is still on display in Los Angeles, San Antonio, and Houston. The hope is that it will continue to be successful. raise money.
Covid has shown that public gardens are not an obvious beneficiary of philanthropy. Although they have been financially affected, they have also provided the comfort of fresh air and peace. Brooklyn Botanic Garden lost 7,000 of its 19,000 members at the outset of the pandemic — though the numbers climbed back up after reopening. It also faced a $9million deficit that was reduced to $1.2million by an emergency measure. gardenIt can draw from its endowment, something nonprofits are notoriously reluctant to do. Lightscape, garden’s executive director, Adrian Benepe, told me, has been a salvation, bringing in as many visitors in a single night as the gardenYou might normally have in a month.
“This is a real opportunity to be out in nature and also think about what we have lost,”He said. “We’re not forcing a happy, jolly experience on you.”
Mr. Benepe, the city’s former parks commissioner, has for decades been at the center of efforts to integrate New Yorkers with the outdoors during the coldest months of the year. He was the pioneer of the holiday train show. It featured landmarks from New York reconstructed in bark and other organic elements. It was during his tenure in the parks department that Christo’s “Gates”Finally, Central Park was up.
Christo had been trying to persuade city officials to allow him to work at the park for many decades. Christo was first informed that his vision of thousands of fabric panels covering 25 miles of park pathway would not be granted permission. By this point, Christo was well-known for his ethereal interventions in the natural world — having draped a curtain across the 1,250-foot Rifle Gap in the Colorado Rockies a decade earlier. But his idea to celebrate the “processional, ceremonial walkways of the park”By “activating their overhead space’’ did not sufficiently enthrall the city’s then parks commissioner, Gordon J. Davis, who in 1981 delivered his rejection in the form of a 107-page report that argued for the sanctity of the city’s public land, free from much externalized aesthetic imposition.
But it is just this kind of imposition that is needed during times of the year when parks and gardens are underused. When “The Gates”In February 2005, the installation finally opened to the public. Over 16 days, four million people visited it. Even though it was not a priority for the city, drawing them out of hibernation was part of the point. It took the pandemic for outdoor public spaces to be re-imagined and to make us think about what we want from them and how to appreciate them. Sometimes the lights are in the garden in Brooklyn look like fireflies; sometimes, many have noticed, the trees themselves don’t look real. Sometimes nature’s familiarity can conceal the extraordinary.