New York City: In Thrall to the Spirit of the Place in Winter
January 26, 2013
“The art of drifting was an antimapping experience and the idea was to wander, to meander around a city, at every moment being alive to whatever drew you. You were in thrall to the spirit of place, rather than having place under your thumb, on a map, on a plan.”
– Jay Griffiths, Wild: An Elemental Journey
New York City is a walker’s paradise. And although we did walk a lot, and sometimes even meander, I was glad that I had taken the time to do some trip planning before arrival. My research resulted in a list of things I wanted to see and do during our short, first visit to this metropolis, and by plotting their locations on my AAA map of Manhattan, I was able to get a better sense for planning our days so as not to miss anything. Perhaps if we had more time, we would have been able to practice the art of drifting.
New York is a city of skyscrapers, bridges, benches, garbage, eateries, distinct neighborhoods . . . Today’s post is about first impressions.
The skyscrapers formed deep canyons. Depending on the light, they threw interesting reflections on neighboring buildings and traffic.
“It is by all odds the loftiest of cities . . . Manhattan has been compelled to expand skyward because of the absence of any other direction in which to grow. This, more than any other thing, is responsible for its physical majesty.”
– E. B. White, Here is New York
The traffic was nonstop, but we quickly learned to jaywalk like native New Yorkers. (In Seattle we are not used to jaywalking!)
The city’s inhabitants create a prodigious amount of garbage, as you can imagine. There was quite a bit of litter, and every day piles of garbage bags and garbage containers lined the streets — in every neighborhood.
We expected to see fire escapes in the multi-story buildings — an iconic NY architectural feature. But we were surprised to see wooden water tanks on the roof tops of tall buildings. We could see a dozen or more water tanks just from the 17th story window of our Mid-town hotel. New York is a mix of old and new — sometimes a shorter (older) building survived between tall high rises.
Often, in the narrow spaces between tall buildings, we’d find gated community gardens and “pocket” parks. They looked scraggly in winter, but I could imagine them as vibrant, green spaces in summer.
We loved seeing the old row houses on the side streets leading off West 4th between 7th Avenue and West 12th in Greenwich Village. Frommer’s named this “the most beautiful street” in New York City.
We tried (twice, on two different evenings) to win discount tickets to The Book of Mormon play, but alas, our names were not drawn. The lottery awards about 20 deeply discounted tickets to each sold-out performance about 2 hours before showtime. Despite the cold, there were about 200 – 300 intrepid souls vying for the few tickets.
“If you think of doing something in New York City, you can be certain that at least two thousand other people have that same thought. And of the two thousand who do, about one thousand will be standing in line waiting to do it.”
– E. L. Konigsburg, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiller, 1967
So, of all of the things on our list of things to experience in NYC, we did not make it to a Broadway or off-Broadway play on this trip. I guess we will have to return someday.