Looking back on 2008, I realize just how a simple stroll can become a joyous, enriching, and revelatory adventure. The set of steps now etch a treasured place in my life experiences, a trail I can revisit in memory. Fortunately, if memory fails, I have written down the accumulated steps on these pages and mapped most of them for posterity.
The year's dominating news stories, the Presidential election season and the financial meltdown, crept into many of these walks, even while purporting to be about something else. While I was walking through Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, for example, the Wall Street crisis informed how I read the book and vice versa. Indeed, the mayhem played out in the financial news rivaled many of the city's honored fictional tales of wealth, social class, gossip and scandal. One important thing I learned this year - Mediocre New York novels only focus on the wealthy, while the great ones involve the anxiety of status and class.
In retrospect, the bursting of the housing and financial bubbles seemed less important than how larger values about money and status suddenly changed this autumn, especially in this city. While I don't consider myself a materialistic person, before September I sometimes felt bad that I could not enjoy many of New York's expensive restaurants, ticket prices, and specialty stores advertised for our consideration. I watched the hedge fund people spend ridiculous amounts of money on condos and cuisine, and I would sometimes become jealous when I saw visitors from overseas buying items I could not afford in the stores down the street from me. Now, interestingly, somewhat sadly, they're gone (at least their critical mass), and the autumn's financial strife has brought only more humility. It's somewhat a relief. We're all walking now.
The following list constitutes most of the major walks I explored in 2008, listed in order by month. (Links included.) Several strolls became the means for me to explore the themes and New York settings of established works by American authors (Patrick Dennis, Sylvia Plath, Truman Capote, Edith Wharton, O. Henry, etc.) while others focused on issues of memory, nature, architecture and place. I found that literally walking through some of the literary settings, where I approximated locating in real life the often-fictional equivalents, deepened my understanding of the respective work or provided new insight into the lives of the artist or writer.
• Fifth Avenue and the High Road to Taos: Mabel Dodge and Georgia O'Keeffe (January)
• New York of Raymond Hood, Architect (February)
• Walking Off Tribeca (March)
• Classic New York of Mame Dennis (April)
• Central Park Walks (May)
• Lower East Side (May)
• East River and Roosevelt Island (June)
• Places from The Bell Jar: Sylvia Plath's New York (June-July)
• The New York of Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth (September)
• Mapping Holly Golightly: Walking Off Breakfast at Tiffany's (October)
• An Autumn Walk in Prospect Park (November)
• A Walk for a New York Christmas (December)
In subsequent posts, I will sort out some of the memorable highlights from these walks and from many of the short pleasurable walks about town.
Image: Tribeca's most tripped-out vista, one of the most surprising and pleasurable images from 2008 (also coming soon, a list of favorite pix). When I took this picture, I was standing near the entrance of the Borough of Manhattan Community College and looking downtown. I noticed that suddenly everything looked like a Second Life image of New York.