New York City: In Thrall to the Spirit of the Place in Winter

January 26, 2013

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge toward Manhattan

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge toward Manhattan

“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

Planning vs. anti-mapping

Planning vs. anti-mapping

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.

Looking up -- one way to appreciate NYC's skyscrapers

Looking up — one way to appreciate NYC’s skyscrapers

Street viewed from the Roosevelt Island tram

Street viewed from the Roosevelt Island tram

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!)

Reflections on the windows of cars and taxis

Reflections on the windows of cars and taxis

Skyscraper reflections

Skyscraper reflections

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.

Garbage lining the street in the Upper East Side

Garbage lining the street in the Upper East Side

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.

Fire escapes -- interesting patterns of dark and light

Fire escapes — interesting patterns of dark and light

Two round, wooden water tanks on the rooftops

Two round, wooden water tanks on the rooftops

Shoulder to shoulder with its taller neighbors, this "little" building survives!

Shoulder to shoulder with its taller neighbors, this “little” building survives!

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.

Folk-art sculpture in a tiny community space

Folk-art sculpture in a tiny community space

Another little fenced in park in a small space between buildings

Another little fenced in park in a small space between buildings

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.

Historic row houses

Historic row houses

Mason's Row

Mason’s Row

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.

Crowd awaiting lottery for Book of Mormon tickets

Crowd awaiting lottery for Book of Mormon 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.

5 Responses to “New York City: In Thrall to the Spirit of the Place in Winter”

  1. Elisa Says:

    I’ve never been able to go to NYC, thanks for the ‘real’ view of it. I like to plan things too, but it can be hard for my little inner eyes not to make things more than they are. I like the Mason’s row image and it would have been satisfying on its own. I would have then laughed at myself and wondered why I didn’t just visit Muncy PA. 😀 I think that I would really like to visit the library too and the Native American museum, extension of the Smithsonian from DC.

  2. Margaret Says:

    I can’t wait to hear (and see) more!

    • Rosemary Says:

      I have so much to share and will be devoting the next week and more to special parts of our NYC visit.

      One other thing that struck me — Manhattan is so flat! Makes this an easy walking city.

  3. shoreacres Says:

    Oh, I’ve been waiting for this! Three photos are favs – the skyscraper reflections (they almost look like the Flatiron Building!), the row houses and the fire escapes.

    And yes – that song about “Up on the Roof” is based in reality. I had friends who lived on 123rd, and it was amazing to see all the water tanks, gardens, umbrellas, and so on.

    When I visited Hannibal, Missouri, I was surprised to see Italianate architecture on their “Millionaires’ Row”. What pleasure those houses must have given their owners (or so I like to believe.)

    • Rosemary Says:

      I never did get to see the Flatiron Building on this trip, but I agree, those reflections do evoke the architecture of that building.

      Stay tuned for more NYC impressions in the days to come.


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