In a Times article this past summer, Alex Marshall discussed a resurgence of walking in New York, which he credits, in part, to the city's becoming "cleaner, safer and more prosperous." In the same issue, novelist Nicole Krauss sang the praises of walking in our city. She wrote, "I like to walk to be alone with the world, not to be alone. In this way, walking is a lot like writing. Both writing and walking (as I know it) are fueled by a desire to put oneself in relation to others. Not in direct contact — some aloneness wishes to be preserved — but contact through the mediation of language or shared atmosphere of a city street."
I echo Ms. Krauss' sentiments, but wish I could live in whatever city she is walking in. It sounds like New York circa 1990.
from t-squared's flickr: this is a parody
Throughout my first several years in New York, I loved nothing more than to walk the streets. Like Ms. Krauss, I enjoyed the sensation of being alone with the world, engaged in a "freewheeling thoughtfulness" or free association, one idea leading to another, blossoming and unfolding. When I felt like writing, I would go out hunting and gathering. The cobbler standing in his doorway with black-stained apron, the talcum powder smells coming out of barbershops, the old ladies leaning with elbows on windowsills. All of it fed my work--the way it did for city writers and artists like Frank O'Hara and Edward Hopper.
But the streets have changed. The little shops and the people who were once so emblematic of the city are vanishing. And the pleasures of walking are vanishing, too.
from t-squared's flickr: this is also a parody
Cleanliness and prosperity have brought sterility and narcissistic obliviousness to the streets. When once my fellow pedestrians generally walked on the right and passed on the left, paying attention to the crowd, now they weave and careen, distracted by cell-phone calls and text messages. They stop short. They clog the sidewalks to chat with friends. They use their baby strollers like battering rams. They exit buildings blindly and don't yield to the flow of traffic.
Just this week, a man with an iPod bud in one ear and a cellphone in the other came flying out of a Starbucks and landed on top of me. As I shoved him off, he only looked at me with disgust. Whatever train of thought I had been following was lost, swallowed up in a fantasy of beating this man unconscious.
In this environment, our aloneness with the world is not preserved. The small gestures of relatedness are disappearing, replaced by the rage engendered by alienation and invisibility. What would Frank O'Hara or Edward Hopper make of this new city where the flaneur's stream of consciousness is constantly being invaded and disrupted by phone calls and body slams? What can be created in a city that no longer permits "freewheeling thoughtfulness"? What art will be made from condos, cell phones, and the endless succession of carbon-copy chain stores?
from ebay: this is not a parody
Maybe one day, when I sell a couple bestselling novels and can afford to keep author's hours, I will spend the quiet middays strolling and will see the city I used to know. But I doubt it. The barbershops and cobbler shops are closing. The old ladies who leaned on windowsills are dying one by one. The people and the buildings that are replacing them don't feel like New York to me.
I rarely go out walking anymore.
Maybe future art will all refer to Starbucks and condos: Starbucks Gossip reports that a "very rare 1994 Starbucks coffee mug was just sold on eBay for $1,283.65."