Lotus Flowers, A Snake, Gospel

A few weeks ago I met up with a couple of friends in the Bronx to have lunch on Arthur Avenue and visit the New York Botanical Gardens. Since a friend organized this pairing of activities over two years ago, I’ve continued to suggest it to other friends since we don’t go up to the Bronx that often. It’s an opportunity to have Italian food and see an amazing variety of flowers and plants.

My friend was a little late meeting me at the subway stop in the Bronx (due to the eternal subway issues), and was I glad she was. First, while waiting I saw a man with a huge snake draped over his shoulders and curled around his waist. I followed him for a little while. He went into a pet store.

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Then I walked a little more and saw a small church with open doors.

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When my French friends came in February, one of them wanted to go to a service at a Baptist church. I’ve found that this is a common item on French tourists’ lists in New York, which surprised me when I first learned it. As far as I know, American tourists don’t seek this out, and I would not have thought of attending a service. I thought I would feel conspicuous since I didn’t belong to that denomination and would stick out. When I asked my French friend why he wanted to go to one, he explained that he wanted to experience Gospel music and that it was an especially American thing.

Before my French friends came, I did some asking around and research online. It seemed that some big churches were indeed used to receiving tourists and even had a different section for them. A friend advised me to show up early because from her experience (with her French visitor), the line to enter could be long. In the end, we didn’t end up going, but years of hearing of French friends and acquaintances interested in Baptist services peaked my curiosity when I saw this little church in the Bronx.

Inside, the service was in full swing and most of the members of the congregation were standing in song. An usher standing by the back door welcomed me warmly, and when I said I would stand at the back instead of sitting in the pews, she insisted I sit in her chair. She gave me a program. One woman in the church was standing and swaying back and forth with her arms in the air, singing along with the song “My Soul Says Yes,” which I had never heard before and was indeed moving. In the song, for a long time you sing, “My soul says yes” over and over again. There are other lyrics, but when I walked in they were in the full refrain.

I couldn’t believe after all that research I just stumbled upon this church. There were no crowds of tourists, and there was plenty of seating available.

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After the song, there was a reading. The usher went to a shelf to get me a Bible in case I wanted to follow along. She was so kind.

After listening for a while, I went back out into the summer heat to meet my friend. We walked to the Italian neighborhood and had a lunch of fresh pasta on the backyard patio of a restaurant, then walked to a nearby bakery to get an iced coffee and a tiramisu (her) and a black and white cookie (me) to go. We walked to the botanical gardens to meet another friend.

In the gardens, we chatted at the café for a bit, then headed to the Haupt Conservatory to see the flower show “Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai‘i.” Signs described her stay in Hawaii and how she was inspired by the flowers there. The flowers in the conservatory were varied and beautiful, and the water lilies and lotus flowers outside were amazing and like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Also, it was just our luck that hula dancers of a hula school in New York were performing when we arrived at the conservatory.

After getting our fill of the flowers, we took the garden tram, which was a hilarious experience. Because it made multiple stops in the gardens but was at full capacity, thus not having room for passengers wanting to get on unless some got off, the driver loudly tried to sell each stop. “This library is very historical…” “It’s only a 2-minute walk to the Rose Garden from here… you can get off here for the Rose Garden instead of going to the Rose Garden stop.” Translation: Get off! Get off!

It was one friend’s first time to Arthur Avenue, and the other’s first time to both the gardens and Arthur Avenue. It was my third time, but first time in the summer. I love summer in the city. In the summer I never remember what it is I did for fun in the winter.

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