Thursday, January 13, 2011

My little town

When I was growing up, Greenwich Village was just about my favorite place in the world. In fact, the very Hudson Street that Jane Jacobs immortalizes in The Death and Life of Great American Cities was probably my favorite street. Guess even my ten-year-old self could tell that they were doing something right.

Later on in my teenage years, I acquainted myself with Brooklyn, and Park Slope took over the place that the Village had held in my heart (not the hippest choice, sorry, but it was mine). The Slope is sort of like a Village minus the river--the beautiful row houses, cute little coffee shops, funny little shops (I miss the Village's Tah Poozie so much), even the same proximity to a more warehousey district (though I bet Gowanus smells worse than the far west side). And, unfortunately, it exhibits some of the same qualities I don't like so much about the Village anymore--the encroachment of Starbucks, the superexpensiveness, the hoity-toity inhabitants (though Park Slope veers more to the childraisers than the fashion models among them). In fact, I have read so much about the Village, through various grumpy blogs (mentioned here) and books--and have observed so much for myself that Mrs. Jacobs's lovely neighborhood didn't remain the hotbed of socioeconomic diversity it was in her time (all those blog posts about Jane vs. Marc don't lie)--that my affection for the place has fallen of late.

So it was to my pleasant surprise that yesterday I was able to take a walk that reminded me of my old love for the Village. I was meeting S.-- on West 14th at 6, so I decided that walking up from work was as worthwhile a use of that hour as any. I went pretty far west, coming up Varick as it blurred into Seventh Avenue South and then cutting along the little windy side streets that eventually open up onto Eighth. Back in my Village-walking days I did pay some attention to architecture--a friend and I plotted for years that we wanted to buy a beautiful, ivy-covered townhouse on Commerce Street--but nowhere near what I do now. So I was taken aback by once again encountering the beauty of the place (particularly with its coating of snow). The streets are so cozy and the townhouses so pretty, but part of what really struck me on this go-round was the beautiful way that people had modernized their houses--the skylights, the improbable tiny windows, the connecting passageways between little house and littler house and backyard. Let's put aside the outrageous pricetags for a moment and appreciate a house like this or these. And check out the funny curved house in the background of the more charming corner building in the second link. What's up with that one? I must've walked by it 50 times in the past but never noticed it 'til yesterday.

I suspect the reason I left the Village (and Manhattan) was that eventually it seemed too small and self-contained. And Park Slope(/Brooklyn), broadly construed, is definitely larger, even if it's missing some of the narrow winding charm of the Village. And the smallness is probably the same reason I left Park Slope and ventured ever farther into Brooklyn. Sometimes I wonder if I will run out of new wandering grounds. But a return to Bedford Street on a snowy evening reminds me that there will always be a place for me.

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