On my wanderings today, I found myself engaged in a (free) walking tour of midtown, hosted by a gurgling, delighted man with two hearing aids and a penchant for dramatic gestures. He also has a penchant for stand-up comedy, so was constantly cracking little jokes; one of the best of them was when he called Frank Gehry a "deranged set designer". I liked that. He told the little joke in the title, in reference to the geological composition of each respective island. Amid lots of little tidbits of information, he also noted that New York is an archipelago, which had never occurred to me before. It makes me think of the Wizard of Earthsea, which further underlines the alien distance between people in New York, while simultaneously explaining the clinging to community.
After I defected from the tour when we had only gone one block in two hours, I wandered through Grand Central, which, believe it or not, I have never been inside before. I continued up 42nd to the public library, which I've also never been in before. The carved-out marble walls breathe patience and respect. The library has rotating art exhibits (I mean, they come and go, not that they physically revolve around, although that would be pretty cool), and there was one this time called "Eminent Domain," which was about the interplay between public and private space in NYC through the eyes of photographers.
Eminent domain is what you call it when the state takes away your private property; you can think this is a bad thing if they evict you from the home your family has lived on for centuries, or you can think it's a good thing when the state takes away land that was stolen from the people who stole it from you. I'm thinking about those poor families who get overpasses built through their yards in the first case, and Natives in the second.
It got me thinking about the public vs. the private domains; this is hardly a new thought for me, since my independent study project in undergrad was essentially a very involved look at the interplay between those two spaces in the role of Muslim women. But what does it mean for a traveler? By doing what I'm doing right now, my nature is very public. I am always with people, always surrounded by space that isn't mine...by default, because there IS no space that is mine, and therefore private.
Furthermore, there's the issue of blogging. The blogosphere is journaling for an audience; obviously whatever you have to think about gets altered by sharing it with others. It's the Prime Directive and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle rolled up in one. What I write here is only a sliver of what I think, and yet so much more than I say aloud. And speaking of eminent domain, you could also argue that celebrity is a form of it: the appropriation of a private personality for public use.
I know that I feel more comfortable sharing myself with people, being privately intimate since I've been on the road and encountered that same large-heartedness that seems endemic to nomads the world over; whether you're in New York or Turkmenistan, people greet you with enthusiasm when you walk into a hostel, and offer you a drink or a joint or a friendly hand. I don't miss privacy yet, but that could also be because I have some right now (I'm writing this from a friend's daughter's room, on the top of their house in Astoria, listening to my other friend the amazing drummer practice).
After the library, I meandered out into the sunlight and sat down in Bryant Park. New Yorkers are unabashed, unashamed, inveterate people watchers. The park is bordered by 42nd street, one of the busiest streets for foot traffic, and a lot of people had pulled their little green-painted chairs up to the edge of the park to sit and watch out across the never-ending stream. People chatted on cell phones, ate snacks, even read newspapers (or, like one be-suited gentleman sitting near me, argued about money on his tiny cellphone), but always kept a weather eye on the street hubbub.
I love that. I love that we are a people who love people.
And here is an idea if nobody has thought of it yet: as well as blogging and posting said blog on your personal website, why not do a Google Earth screen shot of wherever YOU are at any given moment? Like the same time every day or something? Could be a fun art project, although I assume someone thought of it already.
If not, you have my blessing.
And since I didn't get a chance to post it before, here's a photo of my Wednesday night band: