An antidote to feeling grumpy about coming home to New York from Paris was simple enough: a nice stroll through an August-ghost land, otherwise known as the West Village. I knew that one thing I'd miss hugely about Paris was how five streets randomly intersect, without rhyme or reason. My friend Jennifer told me that the city had been made up largely of villages that would eventually connect, and that once in a while she'd look up and realize that she was standing in one of them...they have a certain compact and complete look, and as I walked down Rue du Martyrs my last evening there, I felt we had stumbled into one. There was a triangular park, with at least five streets intersecting there. The street itself, which I'm sure has a gruesome history that I'll look up one day soon, is now strewn with gourmet shops and cafes, but it's easy to imagine that hundreds of years ago it was a crossroads where people who lived on surrounding farmland would wander to pick up their supplies for the week and put back a few before heading on their way.
The West Village is such a neighborhood, a windy arrangement of uncertain urban planning that offers up opportunities of getting lost, unlike its close New York brethren, the grid system, which with its numbered streets and avenues can lead you far more easily to your destination. I've walked the roundabout streets hundreds of times over the years and have my favorite spots. I still have to search a bit for my favorite bookstore (Three Lives), but can more easily find my way to my favorite public art (Keith Herring mural at the Carmine Street swimming pool), playground (Bleecker Street), garden (St. Luke's Church), and burger and beer joint (Corner Bistro). Sadly, St. Vincent's Hospital has just gone bankrupt and closed; I had Jamie there, and will always feel sentimental that he was born in the West Village on the 9th floor of its only hospital. I love the literary history of the neighborhood (Under the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell is one of my all time favorite books), and I'd always prefer to conjure up Dylan Thomas hanging out at the old Whitehorse Tavern than Carrie Bradshaw buying cupcakes at Magnolia Bakery, but that's just me.