This morning I walked over to the South Street Seaport (two blocks from the friend's apartment where I am staying) and sat down with a cup of coffee and just watched people go by. These aren't even New Yorkers I'm watching -- these are tourists on a Saturday morning in an area of town that the locals don't seem to frequent much -- and even so I am caught up in a sea of people. I look out over the 19th-century waterfront buildings, many now restored, and I look over at the Brooklyn Bridge, and the romance of New York gets to me.
That's really what this is about: Historical resonance and imagination. I walk through the Village and imagine that Edna St. Vincent Millay will pop up around the corner. Yesterday I walked from Union Square to Chelsea, on 16th Street, where there are still many pre-civil war townhouses. None of them are single-family homes any longer, of course, but you can almost feel the life of a middle-class family in 1848 when you walk by. I can, anyway.
Yesterday I walked over to lower Broadway and just meandered about for a while, checking out the Woolworth Tower (which was the tallest building in perhaps the world for the first 30 years of its life). I remain awestruck at the substantial nature of the early 20th-century architecture of this city. And, of course, I think about the era between the wars when New York City held all that a city could hold in terms of culture.
At the end of my days I wind up at two piano bars in the village: The Monster and Marie's Crisis Cafe. What I'm remembering is that you never know on any particular night what these places will feel like. But I did have many of the encounters with strangers I look for when I travel. At Marie's Crisis on Thursday I spent a bit of time with some folks visiting from Detroit, and some young men visiting from Indianapolis, and oh there were so many stories I got. Last night I went to dinner with pagerbear and theoctothorpe and we wound up at Marie's Crisis (well, at my encouraging) where I had a great time talking with the mother of the piano player and then the mother of a beautiful young theatrical aspirant who was singing at the piano. All great fun, all quite addictive, all the sort of thing that would draw me back.
It's nice to have this little bit of random travel time between jobs.