In the last few months I have had plenty of opportunities to explain my city to friends who come to visit or who are going to study away in Madrid. And of course, I take out my map of the city, and with my fingers I start tracing my steps through the streets of the city. I find myself projecting myself and my choices onto their introduction to the city. I find myself suggesting to my friends to get to take an hour-and-a-half walk from Moncloa to Paseo del Prado, through calle de la Princesa, Plaza España, Gran Vía, Alcalá, and Retiro, encouraging them to get lost and find themselves again on the way. This long but straight (for the most part) walk, would probably take at least three or four hours in proper Spanish manner. A cup of coffee here, an ice-cream cone there, some reading over here, some day-dreaming over there. This personalised path includes parks, palaces, and museums, whole districts and landmarks. From my experience in European cities like Madrid and Rome, in which I find very pleasing similarities, landmarks are usually unavoidable in our meandering through the city.
In Madrid, this never troubled me as much because I felt like these landmarks belonged to me. In Rome, however, I wished they did, I craved an intimacy with them, but having to share them with all the other tourists made discomforted me because I was trying so hard not to be one. And they still kept popping up in my face wherever I walked in the centre, until I escaped. In New York, on the other hand, I find that was I to experience this problem, there is an easy solution. The reason for this I think is the grid structure of Manhattan.
When the days were warmer (and before I discovered the free bus ride to campus from where I live), I would walk to campus from Broome St. After a few days, I realised that by all means I had to avoid Broadway for the sake of a good morning walk. I used to briefly cut through Broadway on Spring St until I got to Mercer St, which I would take until I got to NYU. On the way back, I would take Wooster St instead because of the art galleries that inhabit the street and because of the Momofuku Milk Bar that make mouth-watering cornflakes-marshmallow-chocolate chip cookies.
I don’t know whether it’s because of the long zebra-crossing or because of my own preconceptions, but I always imagine a banner on Mercer St and Houston reading “NYU” (with Coles and Think Coffee lying ahead) which really is just the entry to Greenwich Village. The aesthetic differences northward and southward, the latter more industrial SoHo, of Mercer St and Houston, marks this edge in my mental map of New York. Whenever I go into the Think Coffee on Mercer St, I wonder whether the people unrelated to NYU present at the coffee shop want to be surrounded by college students, or whether it’s not that obvious to them. Perhaps we students do blend in the city well enough.
During my first semester of freshman year, I got to go to the Casa Italiana for my Intensive Elementary Italian, and while walking down Fifth Avenue, I got to see for five days a week a Greenwich Village that was less and less NYU with every step further away from Washinton Square Park. It made me think of NYU as a pocket inside Greenwich Village, overflowing with students and university-related people, while outside the pocket there was a continuation but a lot less dense, without the need for an extra patch to fit more people.