Last night I went on a magical, meandering, frosty walk through the streets of Greenwich Village. I had a couple of hours to kill, waiting to meet my cousin at the West 4th St station. Initially I thought I’d spend the whole time reading, but it was cold underground and it occurred to me that it would be good to get moving and fun to see the neighbourhood late at night.
And it was late at night. I left the subway at 2am, headed down a familiar route – past a piercing and tattoo parlour, the moderately famous pizzeria where I planned to take my cousin, and the mish mash of bars, small restaurants and other piercing and hookah places on MacDougal. Then I looped back onto 6th Ave, remembered finding an amazing looking bakery on Bleecker and decided to head in that direction.
The temperature was below freezing, and it wasn’t long before I stopped being able to feel my toes. The streets and sidewalks were so much emptier than I was used to seeing them. I stared into store windows, read plaques posted on gates, imagined the lives of the people behind lit curtains. I wondered a few times – is this safe? wise? – but felt comfortable and kept moving, prioritising bright paths and main roads.
I love the tumbling, intimate feel of the Village: the buildings and individual stores so much smaller than in other parts of the city; the many trees and green spaces; the creative, transgressive, atmosphere; the streets narrow and at odd angles to one another, in contrast to the grid in most other parts of Manhattan. Usually I’m miserable when I’m that cold, but my stroll felt like getting better acquainted with a friend, and I revelled in my discoveries.
I read a little about Christopher Park, and finally went over to get a good look at Stonewall, a diminutive, two-storey building for all its infamy. I noticed the Northern Dispensary, an abandoned 19th century clinic, for the first time, and found the fun Paparazzi Dogs statue; though I’d never heard about it before I realised immediately it must be one of those ‘things’ that people go looking to see. I was jolted out of my quiet wandering by a loud accident – two vehicles fighting for space in a single lane, the loser, a taxi, driving over a cement median. “Oh shit!!” said a woman nearby me, the only other pedestrian in the vicinity. The second vehicle, I think a big truck, zoomed on uncaring. The woman and I stood frozen, watching to see what the taxi driver would do, curious about what must have been serious damage to his car’s undercarriage. After getting out and glancing at the road, he hopped back in and took off as though all he’d done was drive a little too fast over a speed bump. Unbelievable. In case I’d forgotten I was in New York City.
I peered through the bars of Jefferson Market Garden and read about the kerfuffle caused by the ‘too dignified’ Jefferson Market Courthouse–turned-public-library next door. I saw for the first time one of the medallions placed on 6th Ave’s corners: Canada’s coat of arms hung from a rusty piece of metal on a lamp pole overhead. I smiled at Christmas trees, lit hedges and two men transforming the inside of a restaurant with boughs of white lights. I wished I could take pictures of the wonderful things I saw, but my phone is on the verge of collapse and I didn’t want to risk it dying from an overwhelming ‘use the camera’ command.
What a lovely night, an impromptu adventure, at an hour I would usually be in bed. Who knew that would be a good time to go on a field trip? I walked as slowly as I liked, not worrying about holding anyone up or causing them to trip when I stopped abruptly. I looked up and around, got a little lost, then found myself again. And isn’t that the best way to learn a new place, the best way to enjoy a place you love, the best way to spend the gift of free time.