Saturday, August 13, 2011

Living in someone else's New York

Those of us who didn't grow up in New York have had our images of it shaped by the media we consume: Friends. Seinfeld. Sex and the City. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. For me, my formative images of New York came from reading a lot of Madeleine L'Engle as a child. Much of her adult fiction and non-fiction is set in the city, primarily Morningside Heights and Greenwich Village, but the book I knew the best was The Young Unicorns. In the novel, the small-town Austin family moves to New York for a year and discovers the dangers of the city are very close to home. The book introduced me the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which I now find myself living very near.

In fact, I am wondering if my choice of Manhattan Valley for a neighborhood wasn't so much the result of a rational balance of choices (distance, cost) leavened by personal predilections for certain charms and amenities as much as was an instinctive gravitation to what my subconscious defines as "really New York." Human beings haven't evolved that far from baby ducks.

When I realized how close I was to the events of the book, I naturally did the nerdcore thing and mapped it out here. Some of the events occur at real places, such as the Cathedral. Others occur at renamed but real places, such as the childrens' school. Some appear not to actually exist but simply are plausible for the neighborhood, such as the home the Austins relocate to. (Alarmingly, the only buildings that it might actually be are frighteningly close to my apartment.) I am most disappointed that the synagogue, Adath Shomai-el, appears to be utterly fictional; I'd love to see someone prove me wrong on that.

Now, excuse me, I have to go walk my dog in Riverside Park, enjoying the fog and watching the lights of New Jersey.

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