A downtown wander

Last night, I went for a wander in a way that I haven't done in what feels like a very long time. It didn't start as ramble; I thought I'd go see Moonlight at the Angelika. But when I got off the train at Broadway/Lafayette a good hour-plus before the show, I felt myself pulled in different directions. Maybe I wanted to stop at Von for a drink before heading east and immerse myself in that happy, anticipation-filled Friday-night energy while it was early, before everyone gets drunk and too loud. Or maybe there was time to get something to eat. Or perhaps… I walked east and west, deciding nothing for half an hour, getting close to a destination and then changing my mind and tacking in different direction. Finally, I got to the movie, and it was sold out—the show I wanted and the two after. I could have just gone home; I have an early flight today. But I wasn't satisfied yet.

So to Von I went. And it was lovely. All candlelit, people having conversations at a normal volume, friendly faces. I didn't stay particularly long. I was just wanted a taste of the scene. From there, I walked down Bowery, which remains scrappy and a bit secret and even dark in stretches despite the development happening all around it. By Chinatown, the streets were teeming, with movement and people and lights. Rounding the corner at Canal, I passed the loading area for the cheap Chinatown long-distance buses. People were either ragged or anxious, depending on whether they were getting off a bus or waiting to get on. I threaded my way past them and thought about everything I had seen and felt in just that half-mile walk. It was a kind of beautiful chaos.

It was so seductive, in fact, that I did not take the train when I got to East Broadway, as I had intended. I slipped into Metrograph instead, but not before noticing a figure across the street from the theater. The street lamp was shining on her like cinema lighting on the otherwise dark street. She was the star of her own show… Inside, I discovered the theater was showing a landmark 1960s film about a mixed-race couple (One Potato, Two Potato), and upstairs the movie's lead, Barbara Barrie, was waiting in the cozy lounge for the post-screening Q&A. What a contrast from just moments before. I got a drink and nestled myself into the little hidden nook by the books, as if I were in a private living room in a public space. The smiling hostess came over, a small woman with a compact bun and a cheerful demeanor. (One thing I love about Metrograph: It's a cool place, but everyone who works there is a darling.) She began telling me about the books, which were for sale. And when I showed interest, she warmed up further and took her favorite book from the shelf, a small volume of photos by Wim Wenders, accompanied by short poems, called Places, Strange and Quiet. "This book really turns me on," she said. I told her the photos looked dreamy and that all it needs is a soundtrack, like for someone to do an installation of the photos and to create music to go with it, so people can be immersed in that dreamy world. (I am obsessed with this idea of immersion since hearing Frank Ocean's beautiful, melancholic "Pink and White" and remembering a Laurie Anderson installation where gallery goers were meant to lie on a carpet and let the sound and images wash over them—which I very happily did.) When she left, I savored my thimble of bourbon and watched the people as they passed. So much to see.

And these moments were exceptional to me because I appreciate them, though they are not particularly exceptional in New York. Twenty-three years of living here, and I'm still amazed by this city.