The heavy wooden door opened onto a series of squared-off brick passageways, open to the elements, yet almost private, with their series of variegated columns and keyhole windows. We stepped into a series of garden rooms, high above the rest of the city.
According to the signs, the gardens feature a café in warmer weather, but I was glad it was too cold for icy glasses of Coke and petit fours. The gardens belonged to me and Alex, and we roamed through it, peering through windows and looking at the wildness that had been brought on by the waning Fall.
“I bet this is beautiful when it’s all blooming,” I said.
We stopped to look at birds playing in a dry fountain, admired the stone work, peered through an opening in the wall toward the George Washington Bridge in the distance.
Then I caught site of the tree I had seen from below the Cloisters.
“I don’t think that’s an apple tree at all,” I said. “It’s a quince!”
And sure enough, it was. Smack in the middle of the more open of the gardens, there were four quince trees still laden with overripe fruit.
The last time I had seen a quince tree was by the pool that our townhouse community in Madrid shared when I lived there growing up. All it took was the smell of the slightly decaying fruit to take me back there.
The rest of the garden showed what an amazing place it must be at the peak of its season, too. Ivy clambered the walls in thick swaths; three kinds of sage, each one bushier than the next, stood together; a huge ornamental cabbage would have lumbered about if it could have picked up its roots.
I spotted Lamb’s Ear and made Alex touch it—it is, after all, the softest plant in the world. And we took photos of each other in a variety of archways—if you can’t be photogenic at the Cloisters, you might not be photogenic anywhere, really…
In 20 minutes, we were thoroughly chilled by the November air and ready to return to the medieval art. We ducked back in the heavy door, and a few folks in the museum itself looked at us with surprise. Who would be outside on such a day? What could there possibly be to see?
All I can say is this: sometimes the best things in the world are behind the doors we aren’t sure about opening. The Cloisters gardens? They rank right up there.