“Like the creatures of the forest and the sea, I love to lose myself for a while.” —Friedrich Nietzsche
Some Sundays past we received unlikely spring weather in New York City. It was suddenly 50 degrees, and people were driving fast, birds were chipper, and the sky was welcoming. Sunday is my day to relax, do minor errands, write, meditate or run. I think of this day as sacred, although I don’t always follow that thought. I often find myself writing airy, peaceful poems about Sunday.
I wanted to wander around, now that the weather is warming up. I’ve been cooped up, and I don’t mean just in my house, but also mentally, hardly exploring my surroundings, relying on my cellphone. Though I carry a book on the train, I find myself getting distracted by text messages, online articles, or looking at Google maps for no reason. I think back to my younger days when had no phone or carried a simple one for phone calls. I was free to roam, to think, and find solutions.
I headed to the West Village for the French Cinema Festival at the IFC. I took a book, and my laptop to write after the movie was done. By the time I got to the train, my cellphone died; it had slipped my mind to charge it, and maybe for good reason. At first I was bummed, then I felt silly for thinking I should miss my phone. At least now I could fully observe people on the train or read uninterrupted.
Once I got to the theater, I saw a line outside. Surely this meant it was sold out. And it was so. The lady in the booth said the next showing would be at 6:30 pm. It was only 3 pm. I felt no inspiration to watch the next movie. I came for the movie titled, La French, a detective story and a prelude to the American film, The French Connection. If that was unavailable, I’d find my own mystery. I kept walking.
I walked to the side streets looking for a quiet place to drink coffee and write. People were spilling out of restaurants, laughing with friends or holding hands with their romantic other. Sometimes a family of tourists walked in duck formation. I was alone with my thoughts. It suddenly dawned on me: it was brunch hour. The last of the brunchers were leaving with full stomachs and cured hangovers. I wanted to avoid crowded streets and fall into empty street pockets. I had not ventured around here in years, especially not in the daytime. People were wearing leather jackets, sunglasses, running in shorts, and smiling. Their happiness was contagious. We were all cooped up like chickens, and at the first light of spring we flocked to the streets.
In a way I was a tourist myself, discovering the West Village through new eyes. I used to visit my favorite Manhattan neighborhoods, discovering historic streets, and finding new things to do. Now I was mostly in Queens, Brooklyn or the Bronx. The West Village was always special to me. Its jazzy bars, old-school bodegas, cobblestones, cute street names such as Cornelia, Charles, and Jane Street, made everything small— a sort of hobbit town. Poets and writers once called this place home, including Henry James, Edgar Allan Poe, E.E. Cummings, John Cheever, Jack Kerouac, and Mark Twain, among others. This time around many sights were new and slightly out-of-place, with a few exceptions. Exceptions that still make this an NYC neighborhood.
I took notes of some old neighborhood spots as possible stops in the future. I continued walking, greeting the city without a phone in hand, searching for a place and recalling memories. Brunch ruled, and I couldn’t find a coffee shop for me; most of them were crowded and noisy. Did everyone just abandon Sunday for brunch? I walked by a possible cafe, and looked beyond the clear glass. A group of friends were pointing accusing fingers at each other. They appeared to be on the defensive. I avoided the next place called prodigy coffee. This whole side was starting to creep on my skin, so I walked quickly passed the aviator-walking-girls, shopping galore, and pricey soap shops. I ventured to Greenwich St. only to get lost.
From there, it got quieter. The day was progressing. I assumed people had fled before the wind started. The streets came and went, the faces trailed behind, and cars fled with no destination. I was ready to give up searching for a coffee shop, and settle for whatever I found in the next minute. How long had I been walking? I’m not sure how many turns I took, before I realized I was on Hudson Street. Across the street I saw a tiny place with low lights, on the shabbier side, covered by a faded, red veranda. Inside were small chairs and tables, and a couple of people. I missed the name altogether and went in.
I was a thirsty woman, asking for a cappuccino and a croissant with butter. The guy attending was nice and quietly courteous. I sat down in the back and started to write. I took notice of my surroundings, and suddenly I felt happy. The music was wispy, something french was playing, and maybe I heard Bjork. People were quietly working away on their laptops and reading books. A guy next to me ate alone. As I worked away, I noticed the guy near me leave. A new one took his place sometime later. This one was rummaging through a few books and jotting notes on a journal. The barista brought me my cappuccino and croissant.
Behind me I could hear the lady and the boy who came in after me. She was setting up for coffee and food, and the boy in a mousy voice, asked questions about the things his mind found curious. “When I get older, do I have to work?” —”Can I work anywhere?” He said. The barista brought their order. The lady told the boy, “say thank you,” so the boy, though reluctantly, pranced over to the front, and said —”Thank you.” Sometime later the little boy asked the barista, “Do you need help?” To which he smiled and replied —”No it’s ok.”
Later, a man took their place and typed diligently for the rest of the time. How long had I been sitting here with my cappuccino yet unfinished? I did not mind the noises. I accepted them and made them part of my afternoon. A few more people came in and sat by the front. Somehow the springy, soft music, the off-white walls, the curtains and the dimming light outside, kept everything inside secluded.
All those turns I took, led me here. I had to backtrack once or twice when I went too far uptown or west. Sometimes I saw the same streets. Was I walking in circles? The beautiful part was that I led myself here. I took in the sights and sounds, even if some of them were not to my liking but they were still part of my walk, and made the ending that much richer. I forgot how relaxing it was to walk and walk with no clear destination, just a curious mind.
Recently my thoughts have been running wild. Walking allows me to slow down to a dreamy pace. After a while hardly did thoughts come rushing, instead they passed, just as people left me to settle to the silence of the day. Walking is meditation: the ongoing streets, wrong turns, warm glances, right turns, surprises, and colorful sights. After the walk and sitting in a café for hours, I felt refreshed, light with the quickness of my feet, as I walked through the night to get home. I need more long walks, hours of writing in quiet places and the company of strange faces. I want new days of my own with minimal planning where I am free to discover the present.