New York

When I first moved to New York I would just wander around aimlessly, or as the Situationists would call it, "dérive" aka "drifting." I learned, for example, that if I got off at the 1st avenue L stop and walked in one direction I would reach a park. I also knew that if I got off at the Astor Place 6 stop and walked in another direction I would reach another park. Then suddenly, with a literal flash lighting up my mind, what had been two separate mental maps floating in the darkness fused as I realized that they were one in the same (what I later learned was called Tompkins Square Park). I would continue to try and replicate this exciting sense of discovery but as time went on I inevitably learned my way around and each discovery felt increasingly blunted, as if there was a little less magic in the world. It reminded me of an interview I read with a producer of Lost who defended the possibility that viewers may never learn what everything on the show means by citing what he called the Metachlorian effect, that the over-explanation of something (in his example the force) weakened it's power. Albert Einstein put it a little more graciously (although he probably didn't mean it to be used in this context) when he said:
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.
New York's streets being forcibly reduced to a grid of numbers is the ultimate example of the death of magic. I only know this because of Speed Levitch's rant in The Cruise:

This is why I have made a point of not learning street names in Greenwich Village so that I can still get lost. While it has been pointed out to me that the grid plan was essential for generations of illiterate immigrants to navigate the city, I still wish it looked more like London's 2000 year old footpaths turned avenues: [Click for entire image]

Wouldn't you rather live in a city like that? I mean, when was the last time you ever saw an alley in the city? It's a travesty! As far as I'm concerned, the only good thing about the grid plan is Manhattanhenge (which just so happens to happen on my birthday).

PS: I was looking for a picture of one of those Family Circus cartoons showing the path of everywhere Billy had gone in a day to ironically illustrate my wandering around the city but instead I found a whole series of Family Circus cartoons mashed up with H.P. Lovecraft quotes!


stophasnominutes said...

or you could be like me and have so little direction sense that every time you get off a subway, it is very much like the first time.

Oliver East said...

Pick a train or subway station then pick another further down the line. walk between the two keeping as close to the train line without trespassing. you'll find loads of stuff you wouldn't have seen otherwise.

don't know how well it'd work in New York but I do it in NW England all the time and it's ace. Worked in Berlin too.

Michael Buter said...

On the topic of Family Circus mashups, here´s my personal favourite; the Nietzsche Family Circus: