The Village. The Lower East Side. Bleeker Street.
They had always been words to me, words that conjured up vague images of coffeehouses, art galleries, open mic poetry.
And here I was I the heart of it all.
Step outside. Just a few blocks to Washington Square. A lovely park, grass and trees already turning green, about two blocks square. It was full of people walking dogs, mommies and nannies pushing strollers, and some just sitting on park benches. I sat and took in the people, the buildings. When I walked, pale peach blossoms swirled at my feet.
On the north side of the Square was a tall building, wedding cake shaped like a smaller Empire State Building. The upper floors had broad patios complete with trees. It was so odd to look up seventeen stories and see trees spouting from what I’d thought was simply a roof.
Step outside. Just a mile south, straight down the street, the new Freedom Center rises from the ashes of the old Trade Center, built atop the souls of those who died there. To me, an obscenity. It is a place that should have become a memorial to the thousands who died, as did the Mura Building in Oklahoma City.
Step outside. Look for a cup of coffee. There were probably a dozen places within a block and a half. Everything from what I was warned was absolutely awful coffee to Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and small delis spilling delicious aromas out their doors and down the streets. How could I not? For under three dollars, I had egg and cheese on a Kaiser roll. I hadn’t thought that kind of price was available anywhere in Manhattan.
The small apartment I was staying in was a second-floor walkup. Thankfully, not the sixth floor. I learned that without rent control, this little place could go for up to $3000 monthly.
Bars on the east windows because the fire escape was there. No bars on the west windows that gave a view across a small courtyard toward a hundred other windows.
Night in the city was surprisingly quiet, only an occasional siren in the distance. And it was warm. I had no need of blankets at night or my jacket in the morning. It was in the eighties yesterday when the plane landed.
Step outside. Leave this small apartment and head down the marble slab stairs, worn in the center from nearly one hundred years of shoes. The buzz of the city charged the air. People, cars and buses at all hours. There was a vibrancy I am not familiar with. The subway just a few blocks away. No sunlight on the street because the streets are really the bottom of deep canyons formed by concrete, brick, or cut stone. Trees somehow grew in these deep man-made canyons.
Fruit trees were in full bloom, whites and shocking pinks almost every direction I looked. Iris and crocus peeking up from spring soil, in full bloom. All this vibrant color was about a month early.
In just a few days, it was time to leave. As we waited for the van that would take us to the airport, a man in an old Mercedes pulled up and jostled his way into a parking spot I never would have tried to get into. He then hopped out and opened his trunk. Pulled out a collapsible bicycle, opened it, and pedaled off.