Alain de Boton in his book on traveling recounts the adventures of a man who set about exploring his bedroom in great detail. He prepared himself for his voyage, took notes, packed a snack, and then over the course of the night went from one piece of furniture to the next, examining and recording his impressions as he went. Foolish? Perhaps, but that man demonstrated that you don’t need to fly to Tokyo to explore, than you don’t need to hack your way through the jungles of Sumatra to go on adventure. How well do we know our own backyards? The streets just one over from the course we take to work?
So thinking, I decided yesterday to leave work a little early and explore. My office is located in the West Village, and so camera in hand I began to walk slowly, aimlessly, looking about myself and at the New Yorkers who rushed by me, faces grim. And suddenly details began to emerge that I’d never noticed before. A flower box outside a window filled with gilded pine cones; a spray of shattered glass on the road like foam left behind by a retreating wave; a solitary porthole window, high up in an otherwise blank gray wall. I walked in loops and circles, I doubled back, I paused and just watched people flow past. I peered into dark shop windows and down stairways, looked up at the rooftops and into cafes.
In Proust’s opus, the narrator, Marcel, dips a madeleine into a tisane of tea and upon tasting the pastry recalls with almost violent vividness the village of Combray; the small town where his family would vacation during the summer when he was a child. Until that madeleine his memories of the town had been spares, limited to his home, to certain dinner rituals and family memories, but upon taking that tea soaked bite the whole town opened up like a flower within his mind, it became real and tangible to him, complete with its churches, streets, denizens and thousand details he had forgotten.
Walking around yesterday was not nearly so powerful an experience, but it resonated; until yesterday the West Village had been a series of connected streets that I took from my subway stop to work, from work to the local bar, from the local bar to a couple of hole in the wall restaurants. But after perambulating about and simply exploring, the lattice work of streets and sights filled in all the blanks and dark areas, and now I have a sense of the Village that extends beyond the expedient.
(Clicking on each image will take you to my photo album, where other images are stored.)