Monday, September 16, 2013

Aimless Walking in Manhattan on a Sunday in September

" The walker-writer cannot help seeing, superimposed over the present edifice, its former incarnation, and he/she sings the necropolis, the litany of all those torn down Pennsylvania Stations and Les Halles marketplaces that goes: Lost New York, Lost Boston, Lost Tokyo, Lost Paris.
Rich or poor, white or black, gay or straight, for the moment, at least, everyone in the pedestrian swirl  is assigned the same human value: you are either in my way or not."- Philip Lopate  (On the Aesthetics of Urban Walking)

My original plan on Sunday, September 15th was to spend the morning exploring the Bronx, and then spend the afternoon researching what is probably one of the saddest neighborhood histories in the country. When I emerged from my basement apartment into the late summer morning though, it was clear that I needed to rethink my plan. It was too agreeable out to spend any amount of time underground, inside, or in front of a computer. The Bronx is a long journey from Woodside, and one that would keep me sliding through the bowels of the city for longer than I fancied fit for a day such as this. I packed my journal and Philip Lopate's "Waterfront" into my little backpack and alighted for Central Park, which is as good a starting place as any for a day of wandering, and I could get there with very little underground subway time.

The Q train dropped me at the Eastern base of the park and from there I started walking. I clambered up a boulder which overlooks The Pond with the intent of sitting for a moment to contemplate what I planned on getting out of the day. At the crest of the boulder I found a couple, both young and attractive, languidly melting into each other. At the sounds of my rustling the young man turned around, squinting, which I at first thought was his way of saying "I wish you would leave" but instead his face softened into a smile, and he stood up, offering me his iPhone and asking in a mild mid-western accent "Would you mind taking our picture?". This pleased me, because I decided that I must look friendly. I worry sometimes about whether or not I look friendly. I took their picture, and once they confirmed that they were satisfied with the result, left them in peace. As I picked my way down the stony path it occurred to me, and not for the first time in my life, that I should perhaps try to find a nice midwestern boy myself. They're always so trusting and friendly. By boy of course I mean adult male between the ages of 25* and 36 (*I am 25 at the time I am writing this in 2013), because I am not a pervert nor do I have any interest in A)coaxing anyone out of their adolescence or B) helping them regain their youth.

I strolled past the Central Park Zoo and ogled the seals for a bit, and then continued through the varied loveliness of the park. After a short distance, though, the guilt of spending my free day in an area that I had visited many times before got the best of me, and I exited at 69th street. I had already done some exploring up and down Park Avenue, so I decided to walk east. I had previously never been past Lexington (where the train runs) on the Upper East Side.

I headed out on 69th street but soon saw a building that looked interesting. I went to inspect it and wrote down the address. I did this a few times, letting my curiosity dictate my path, before deciding that 72nd street was a good route towards the water. One building turned out to be worth including:

867 Madison Avenue
Why I stopped: As Philip Lopate so eloquently puts it in the quote at the beginning of this post, I spend a lot of my time walking wondering what used to be in these neighborhoods. This building is not only old itself (commissioned in 1898), but is styled in a way that is deliberately old-looking, even for its time. Usually the only structures who achieve this effect are churches, so I was very curious to learn more. I assume there were many such extravagant homes commissioned and many of them have been torn down to make way for larger, more profitable structures., so I wonder why this one has been spared.
Currently: The Ralph Lauren Flagship Store
Origin: This was commissioned in 1898by Gertrude Rhinelander Waldo, an heiress who never actually moved into it. It is known As the Rhinelander Mansion and you can learn all about it on Wikipedia. The style is French Renaissance Revival and it is quite striking.

I continued along E72nd street until I came to it's terminus, which was an elevated pavilion overlooking the East River with views of Roosevelt Island. The views were slightly grim but there were trees and benches and it was the perfect place to cool my heels and do some reading. It was only 1 PM by the time I left to go meet a friend at Columbus circle at 59th street. We then walked up Columbus Avenue to 96th street where she used to live, and then across the park to the east side and then all the way east to the river, and then all the way down to 42nd street and 5th Avenue where we caught the 7 train back to Queens for a night of Irish Pubbery. I cannot fathom how many miles I might have walked, but it was a good amount and I ended up needing to change out of my leather boots and into flat shoes.

I visited a variety of neighborhoods including Yorkville, the Upper East Side, The Upper West Side, Midtown, Sutton Place, Tudor City, and Murray Hill.  They are not the most endearing neighborhoods in the city, but there is certainly an interesting history behind each one, and that is something I intend to flush out on a day when I have slightly fewer blisters to attend to.

an So I pop my blisters, thinking I know better, and continue walking.

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