Afternoon Cloister

The first time I took the M4 north to Fort Washington it was pouring rain, and I waited for the bus under the awning of Westside Market, unknowing. At the time I was searching for a place to live. This time we waited but a brief moment in the summer heat for the M4, under the same awning, this time in search for a peaceful calm away from home. The ride was necessarily nostalgic, ever eye-opening as we passed through rapidly changing neighborhoods—Morningside Heights, Washington Heights, past the Columbia Medical Center and into Hudson Heights. We got off at the same tree-lined stop at 190th, where the A-train meets the buses at a hilltop enclosure looking out over Inwood Heights. Removed, elevated and still, the region between Forts Washington and Tryon represents an eye in the storm, a sea of calm above the raging torrent that is Manhattan proper. Drawn to this quiet and this sanctuary, we went a-walking.

Fort Tryon itself saw battle in the Revolutionary War, and its geography is telling. With a clear line of sight across the Hudson, plenty of tree cover and sheer cliff faces, it provides an ideal defensible location—both from marauding boats and from the cosmopolitan whiles of the city. The gardens were fragrant and captivating, washing away the tension and cares of the day; and with a series of arches, walls and romantic lampposts, the park won us over. The highlight was a circular enclosure covered completely by a shady tree dome and sporting a misty blue view of Jersey that you can only get looking from the shade across a great distance illuminated by the afternoon sun. 

From the park we traversed a series of Provencal roads cut into the hill to find ourselves in front of a medieval cloister reconstructed in painstaking detail sometime in the early 20th century. On a cliff’s edge, the structure felt like something straight from the Tuscan hillside. Medieval architecture has always captured our imaginations in a way that the art from the time period cannot, so after saying our respects to an obligatory wooden Mother and (headless) Child from the 12th century, we wandered the halls and were called by a courtyard garden with fountain and porticos that felt oh-so-familiar. Anachronism aside, the Met (official curators) did a excellent job recreating an aura possessed by only the most authentic of hillside villas.

We retreated from the green expanse across a scene of family picnics, eschewing French tourists and city-dwellers alike in search of a successful Washington Heights coffeeshop. A diamond in the rough and wholly unexpected, Café Buunni proved to be a truly 5-star coffeeshop experience. The friendliest staff, well-curated photography and a heart-warming atmosphere transformed a hole-in-the wall establishment into an enticing extension of the radiating calm of the Fort Tryon neighborhood. Sipping excellent coffee and reading our summer novels, we could say with confidence: we’ll be back; it feels like home.