Sunday, February 23, 2014

NYC Window-Shopping Walk: Columbus Circle to 5th Avenue to Greenwich Village

This past Thursday, the temperatures peaked in the high 40s, maybe low 50s (Fahrenheit), which is practically a heat wave considering what the winter's been like. Good weather for a walk.

It starts in Columbus Circle.


Walk south to 57th, and then head east, past Carnegie Hall and the Russian Tea Room:


And an antique shop offering wares that look enchanted or cursed:


Soon you're on 5th Avenue. Many people are out, but the crowds aren't as thick as you'd see in warmer weather or on a weekend. I love the geometrical patterns and the contrasts in the architecture.


So many high-end stores. And in several, I see they've positioned pretty employees by the door: all very young, boyish men in formal clothes, reminding shoppers maybe of a cute boyfriend, a charming nephew, a young lover or catamite.

Walking south on 5th Ave, I don't go into any of the stores. The window displays are the attraction.


Fashionable distortions of women.

There's a spring feeling to some of the displays. Out with Valentine's Day chocolate and in with the golden bunnies. Intimations of spring in thin white gowns and pale upholstery, trees reflected across the way.


At Tiffany's, cold diamonds suspended in ethereal pink. Further south, on 47th street, a portal to more diamonds (the Diamond District):


It's an unreal place, like the city of Oz; I could find ruby slippers here. So much whimsy, not just in the store displays. Like the Sponge Bob Square Pants mailbox and the Build-a-Bear Workshop in the mid-40s:


And the lions…

One of them, an antique shop lion, looks frightened at what he's about to be fed (a morsel dropped into this mouth by that mischievous boy in the back). In contrast, the lion of the New York Public Library at 42nd and 5th is unruffled.


If you see a place called Willoughby's and your first thought is Sense and Sensibility that's one sign you're a literary nerd.

Just keep walking down 5th. If you need to, you can veer off the avenue to get cheap souvenirs, wax your body, make photocopies, or buy a new battery for your watch.


If you'd like, pick out a hat from a drift of snow (does it look more like a bad scalp condition than snow?):


And the real snow on the streets looks like what's left of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, after it's decomposed for a little while:


If you're lost in thought or staring at the ground too much, you could walk past the Empire State Building without really seeing it. But it's there, and if you can't see the top, a store further south (Pink USA Inc) will give you a glittery rendering of it on a more human scale.


Keep going south…

In the 20s, you'll come to Madison Square Park. It's covered in snow and ice, though there are people lounging on the benches to soak up some sun. Also, an outdoor art display consisting of water towers ("This Land Is Your Land" by Iván Navarro):



Once out of the park, you may find yourself walking on Broadway instead of 5th Avenue, so veer west to 5th again if you want to stick to it.

One place promises a "Shoegasm," but I think you have to really love shoe-shopping or at least have a foot fetish to get one of those. (It's sad, but when I tell someone I have little interest in shoe-shopping they usually say, "Are you sure you're a woman?" I am, I promise. I just like looking at pretty bricks and fire escapes more than at shoes.)


Speaking of appetites...

It's time for lunch. We're close to the New School now:

And also surrounded by NYU buildings. On 12th street, between 5th Ave and University Place, you'll find University Pita. One of their lunch specials (served from 2-5 pm) is a falafel pita with any toppings of your choice, plus a bottle of water or soda, for $5.50 plus tax. The toppings I choose to go with the falafels are hummus, tahini, Israeli salad, pickles, and some cole slaw. The restaurant (which, for those of you who observe kashrut, is kosher) is a kiosk on the first floor, but they have an upstairs seating area. Since it's so nice out, it's better to walk a few blocks south and eat in Washington Square Park.

The lunch is delicious. The surroundings, calm and beautiful.


The benches are clean, but they float over a shelf of ice and snow, which feels like a cold footrest.

Depending on where you sit, you could get a taste of autumn.


After lunch, leave the park…

Take a southern exit, and walk west. You can detour into pocket parks, like the Golden Swan Garden on 4th St and 6th Ave. Then you can take in broader views; there's the Empire State Building, at a distance now.


Keep going west...

Further along 4th Street, there's a block of shops for sex toys, burlesque outfits, hookah paraphernalia. The block ends, anticlimactically, with a Chase Bank.

You come across words that are close to being a part of English vocabulary, but there's something off about them:


To read a book of your own, you could choose a spot on ice, sitting beside statuary in Christopher Park.

Or, maybe you could read a little further north at Jefferson Market Library:


But if you want to keep peeking into shop windows, there's more than enough to look at. Offering you cute plushness:


Or asking you to consider if these green earrings are worth it.


Would you buy them?

Heading into the subway stop at 14th St and 7th Ave, I'm glad I'm not a big shopper. It would give me anxiety, always wanting something and, on top of that, not having enough space or money for it.

I'm interested in what businesses think would interest people and how they present it. I like the aesthetics of a window display. They each tell a story. They're funny, strange or clever, sometimes beautiful. And when I get tired of them, I can go home with a wealth of photos.