Sunday, August 3, 2008

New York missive no 26

When K and H were looking for a place for the three of us to live in Camberwell I gave them various prerequisites, including wooden floors and yellow walls (they were tasked with finding a place while I was on holiday). I was only half joking. So when I discovered that 173 Elmington Road had wooden floors (at least, in the kitchen) and yellow walls, I was happy. 

 Now here I am at my new home, 211 W 109th Street, with wooden floors and yellow walls. A good omen. And there’s air conditioning! Luxury. Though I’m going to ration it to keep the bills down. Have just done a slightly lazy job of putting some wooden shelves into their frame, screwing in just one bracket per shelf on each side. Touch wood they’re holding up. 

So this morning was farewell to Weehawken Street. I packed quickly, in a slightly sleepy and hungover fuzz. Post-packing J and I sat on the roof watching a storm rolling in over the Hudson. Heavy black clouds, lightening and grumbling thunder announced a much-needed downpour. When it subsided we ambled out through the West Village streets in search of Eggs Benedict (not a difficult quest), passing a cast of Saturday morning characters. There was someone J saw but I didn’t hence I’m not sure they were male or female, sneaking out of an apartment where they hadn’t expected to spend the night and clad in someone else’s pyjamas; a woman in very short shorts and a sleeveless top (on the way to a sexy yoga class? About to go for a jog? Just posing?); an old bearded man on a tiny foot-push shooter he kept stumbling off. Mission was accomplished at Extra Virgin – not just the Eggs Benedict but Bloody Marys, black coffee and orange juice too. We inspected vintage sports cars at the Cooper Classics show-room on Perry Street on the way back and, yes, it wasn’t hard to be seduced by sleek lines of the open-top Merc, painted green, gleaming, and whispering “take me for a drive, you know you want to.” 

 Back at Weehawken Street people were soon added to the piles of suitcases and boxes with duvets stuffing out of them – the two young Colombians, Mau’s cousin and his girlfriend, who’ve descended for a few days, and Ch who was helping with the move. I’d booked a man with a van, recommended by S. He turned out to be more a boy with a van - K, a striking-despite-the-pimples southerner with long floppy dark hair and a rickety van brimming with the remnants of previous moves and parties. While we were loading the van he was quiet and surly. But as soon as we crammed in he revved up, wound down the window, lit a roly and it was like something had plugged him in - off he went describing how much he adores his other work as a sound guy at National Undergound - the bar on Houston with Allen where I’d seem M’s boyfriend playing a while back. And how he’s not doing that much driving now because, “Like I know the city inside out and it’s nothing new any more.” And how last time he and a friend had done a driving job, they unloaded the full van into the wrong storage unit, having to return the next day and shift everything into another one two units along.

It’s been an apartment-themed week. Thursday night was last Writers Studio’s class for this season. Went out for a meal afterwards when JH filled in a few more details about his apartment – a sprawling place with high ceilings, huge round windows and lots of plants in it on the corner of Bleeker and Broadway. He’s lived there since 1975 and hopes to be there for a long time having finally won a court battle with the landlord. In late 70s when he had double the number of rooms, a guru and his 12 followers lived in half the apartment. He’s still in touch with the guru, who has now retired on the basis that guru-ing wore him out (no doubt there was more to it than that – including the fact that gurus of that kind are less in demand these days). 

 Then on Friday found myself in a massive Tribeca loft, apparently underneath one owned by a Beastie Boy. Actually it’s not officially Tribeca, nor West Village, as it’s in an un-defined pocket South of Houston but North of Canal, sometimes referred to as “West SoHo” for want of a better name and which no doubt will be christened with a new acronym by real estate agents before long. NoTriBeCa?. SoWeVi? Unlikely, as both too-defined by the more glamorous neighbours to the South and North. The couple who live there, friends of R’s, had recently bought the next door loft as well – their Friday dinner party was to celebrate the descent of the wall between the two, traces of which you could see running through the middle of the room. The woman proudly showed us the view from the fire escape. I didn’t mention that their outlook over the UPS loading bay roof and with a gap through some buildings that gave them half a view’s-worth of river wasn’t a patch on the Weehawken Street roof panorama. 

So things that I’ll miss (or not miss, depending on mood) about West Village. Sights such the man and his dog queuing for coffee outside the orange “Mud” truck on the corner of 7th and Christopher the other morning: the man wore an open-necked expensive shirt revealing a semi-hairy chest; the dog had a Louis Vuitton handbag round its neck and protectively rested his front paws on it. The black transvestites hanging out on the Christopher Street corners. Yes, despite the recent rather sinister “clean up our neighbourhood” campaign in the Villager I like them, they’re part of what makes West Village what it is. Drinking coffee, eating overpriced (but delicious) yoghurt and berries and granola in Mojo at breakfast time, while reading the paper, watching the procession of well-groomed dogs and well-groomed mothers with their babies and getting into conversations with local divorcees. Whisky-drinking in the White Horse (though more of a Winter thing). The new pier at the end of Christopher that’s a surrogate garden for all and sundry in Summer-time. The higgledy piggledy streets lined with beautiful buildings to dream about owning.

But the new ‘hood's got plenty going for it too, like salsa-rhythmic barbeques on the pavements, wide roads, lots of trees and a big sky, food of all nations within a 10 block radius, booky vibes from Columbia and the buzz of not-yet-totally-gentrified Harlem just up the road.

CafĂ© Tacci’s changed venue – ostensibly while the Waverley Place location's renovated, though according to the word from the regulars the shift’s for a dangerously undefined period of time. A bunch of us went last Friday. Thankfully the atmosphere’s still the same, even though the new place - Papillon on E. 54th - “is French”, Leopoldo the Italian matire-d confessed to me with more than a trace of shame.