Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Village In The City

I'm in NY for 2 weeks, neighborhood shopping for a potential move here next year. We usually stay within walking distance of David's office, which plants us firmly in the heart of all the touristy areas between Central Park and Times Square. It's fun but it's not exactly real life. So this time we headed downtown for the first week and stayed in Soho just outside the West Village. He experimented with a daily subway commute (which he still reverts to calling the Tube half the time) and I spent the days wandering around imagining being here permanently. I should be so lucky!

These roads of beautiful townhouses in the West Village used to be considered the heart of bohemia and in the 60s it was a very run down area. Now they're out of most normal people's reach financially and Bleecker St looks like an oldtown version of 5th Ave, lined with designer stores and film set locations.

While taking the photograph of the townhouses I was curious about the excitement a number of young girls were displaying over this building on the opposite corner. ("I can't believe I'm here, seeing it in real life!") Turns out it was used as the exterior shot for the apartment block in Friends.

The arch at the north side of Washington Square Park. 

We first went to Washington Square Park in '87, a few months after we moved to America from England. We visited David's cousin who was sharing a tiny studio (one room) apartment in the Village with a friend. It was so tiny his bed was on a platform accessed by a ladder, the rents must have been exorbitant even then. Long time Velvet Underground and Dylan fans, we were excited to be in Greenwich Village but it was a bit intimidating. At that time the park was full of disreputable characters,  music and craziness and we had Chloe with us, age 5. Like Times Square it's been cleaned up and made quite safe and respectable since then. NY University has moved there, buying up several blocks of buildings around the park, so it's a major hangout for students, a popular destination for tourists and a general resting place for people with time on their hands like me.

There's still music.......

.....and there's still craziness......

.....this guy in the aluminum foil hat is giving a tarot card reading. He wouldn't allow anyone to photograph him with his special hat on but I was sitting behind him having a sandwich.

The other Dylan, Dylan Thomas, stayed in the Village several times in the 1950s as did so many of the Beat Generation writers and artists before the hippies and musicians of the 60s and 70s moved in.

 Dylan Thomas was staying at the infamous Chelsea Hotel and preparing Under Milkwood for it's first recordings and performances when he was taken ill and rushed to St Vincent's Hospital in the Village where he subsequently died. Despite notorious heavy drinking, drunkenness on stage, blackouts, a fatty liver....  pneumonia, not alcoholism, was deemed the cause of death. There was smog in the city in those days,  another thing that's been cleaned up.
You can take a Dylan Thomas walking tour of the Village looking at the houses he stayed in, the places he wrote certain poems and the pubs he drank in, or maybe do the Sex And The City walking tour showing you Carrie Bradshaw's apartment house where she wrote her articles, the bars she drank in and Magnolia Bakery. Except she wasn't real of course, I was forgetting that. One end of the cultural scale to the other and all within the same few blocks. I love America!


  1. I love it too, except when I worry about it, or I get cross with it,but that's what makes it such an amazing place. I have really enjoyed this post, giving me some insights into how NYC has changed since I last visited ( just after 9/11 ). I've bought my daughter a week's visit for her 21st birthday, she'll be there over new year, and is incredibly excited ! Best wishes, J.

    1. Thank you! Yes.... there are exasperating aspects too of course but the positivity prevails. We'll be first time voters this year, looking forward to that. Hope your daughter has a wonderful time, what a great present!

  2. We will get to live in Manhattan one day. Some of your dreams you can make come true!

  3. I never see or read about Washington Square without immediately going to the Joan Baez son, "Diamonds and Rust," in which she talks about it: "...looking out the window of that crummy hotel over Washington Square..." A great visual tour of a place I still long to visit. Thank you!

  4. You will love it!
    I didn't know that song so looked at the lyrics, it's a beautiful poem. Thanks for visiting, Jill