9.04.2011

The pleasure of a wander.

Wandering with Maddy in London, Feb 2011.
Our friends Angela and Lucie moved to Brooklyn from Paris while we were on our honeymoon. They're only here for a year but oh, what a year I predict it will be. We took them to Governor's Island for a picnic yesterday, where we ate sandwiches and edamame and Italian pastries fresh from Greenpoint. Then we walked around the island and got our exercise in for the day.

But there's a funny thing that's been happening in my brain since we saw them. While picnicking, Lucie asked me when I started to change my mind about New York. When did I start to like it? And it took me a second before I finally said, "I guess I started to like it more when I went out INTO it. When I didn't stay home in my apartment actively disliking it."

I talked about how learning the history of the buildings and the neighborhoods has helped me appreciate the city. Although it will never be as old as Europe, there's a lot here! Doing walking tours, reading books and just generally encountering the same streets again and again (and again...) helped me break what is a giant city into smaller bits. And now I really do love New York for what it is.

After we left the girls, I thought more about why I love Paris so much. I'm currently reading The Greater Journey (anyone who knows Paris would LOVE this book...) and I'm able to trace the movements of the people in the book because I know the streets mentioned. When I don't know the street, I look it up on the map provided in the front of the book and BAM. I'm there. But why do I know Paris so well?

It's because I did a LOT of walking there.

If I were living in Paris on a pretty and warm Sunday like today, I would have chosen a neighborhood to investigate. I would have taken the metro there and then found my way home, walking through the winding streets, learning the monuments by foot. I would have purchased a pastry or sandwich along the way, happy just to wander and absorb the city. Walking in Paris wasn't only a mode of transportation; it was an activity, an aesthetic way to pass the afternoon. It's not a coincidence that I drop 20 pounds every time I move there!

My experience wandering Paris is what allows it to be a "moveable feast" to me (a la Hemingway). At any moment, I can imagine myself at the Arc de Triomphe, wandering down the Champs-Elysees, down past the Place de la Concorde and the Tuilerie Gardens and along the river. Past the Pont des Arts, the Pont Neuf, the Louvre and down to Notre Dame. Or better yet, up towards the Marais. Sometimes, for clarification, I'll pop onto Google Maps to remind myself the name of a place or a street and it's like I'm there again. (This paragraph will make no sense to anyone but people who have lived in Paris. Ah well, it's a treat for those who have!)

Earlier this afternoon I considered wandering in New York. I barely know the Upper West Side and I thought about taking the subway up there and wandering down as far as I could before I tired myself out. I don't know why we aren't accustomed to this in New York. There are plenty of pretty walks to be had, but we're usually rushing past them to get where we're headed. In New York, the goal is more important than the ride. And that's exactly what hijacked my afternoon walk idea. Instead of something slow and meandering, we walked to Target, then to a friend's house to catch up, and then straight back home.

Maybe tomorrow I'll wander. Or maybe with Lucie and Angela here this year, I'll get into the habit of calling them to meet me on a street corner and we'll wander together. I'll point out the historical facts I know along the way, they'll see the streets with fresh eyes, and our friendships will grow as the blocks accumulate.

Friend walks. I love it. Photographic evidence to come!

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