Fareed Zakaria is a CNN host, columnist for ‘The Washington Post’ and bestselling author. He’s a busy man with a busy mind. But there’s one place in New York where he can always go to collect his thoughts: the leafy enclave of Riverside Park. You’ll find him jogging, strolling or simply contemplating his green surroundings.
For Fareed Zakaria, the Indian-US journalist and host of CNN’s weekly international-affairs programme, Fareed Zakaria GPS, there’s an old trope about New York that simply doesn’t ring true: that it’s a terrific place to visit but a terrible place to live.
“I think that sentiment has it exactly backwards,” says Zakaria. “If you visit for a day or two – and you go to Times Square, Midtown and Rockefeller Center – it’s hell. It’s crowded, noisy, bustling, crazy. But if you live in New York, you find your neighbourhood. And the New York I’ve chosen is actually a very quiet, secluded, Old World part of the city.”
The cosy corner in question is Riverside Park, near Zakaria’s home in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where he has lived since the early 1990s. The park is a picturesque stretch of green space on the bank of the Hudson River conceived by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1870s.
“It’s a hidden gem. It’s like the lungs of the city,” says Zakaria on a recent Saturday-morning stroll through the park. “I run here. I work here. I bike here a little bit. It’s a place for me to kind of zone out; to have a different relationship to the city and to my life. And I love it.”
Zakaria, who was born in Mumbai in 1964, is one of the US’s best-regarded writers and broadcasters, an authority on foreign policy and international affairs. The guest list for GPS reads like a Who’s Who of world affairs: Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, Hillary Clinton and the Dalai Lama are among the figures to have faced Zakaria’s questions since the show launched in 2008.
“I don’t really view [what I do] as work,” he says. “It’s a passion and a vocation that I’ve had ever since I was a teenager; to understand the world.” His father, Rafiq, was closely associated with India’s independence movement and later became vice-president of India’s National Congress party. Fareed’s mother, Fatima, is editor of the Sunday edition of The Times of India. Having a place to think, like Riverside Park, is essential for unpacking the world’s complexities, says Zakaria.
The park rarely makes it onto tourist itineraries, despite its pedigree (it’s home to the domed, neo-classical mausoleum of Ulysses S Grant, the 18th president of the US) and understated grandeur.
The absence of tourists has allowed neighbourhood life to unfold within the park’s grounds. “When you have kids, you have to use the parks,” says Zakaria, recalling the birth of his now 21-year-old son, the first of three children. “[We had] a tiny apartment in those days and there is this lovely little children’s playground here. And when I wasn’t consumed with the kids, I began walking around. Just past the playground there is this beautiful flower garden,” he adds. “I started to realise that this place is actually very pretty and nobody talks about it.”
Today his destination is a narrow, meandering path; it’s one of his favourite jogging routes. “I have thought about moving [from New York] many times,” he says, as he prepares to head on a brief run before putting the final touches to the following day’s broadcast. “And every time, I think about this special kilometre of New York. It is what always keeps me here.”