E. B. White, in his elegiac homage to the city, ‘Here is New York’ , wrote: ‘It is truly a composite of tens of thousands of tiny neighborhood units. … Each neighborhood is virtually self-sufficient. Usually it is no more than two or three blocks long and a couple of blocks wide. ‘ So compete is each neighborhood, and so strong the sense of neighborhood, that many a New Yorker at spends a lifetime within the confines of an area smaller than a country village. Let him walk two blocks from his corner, and he’s in a strange land and will feel uneasy until he gets back ‘.
Not that much has changed over 60 years later, and the same sense of neighborhood still prevails. My own “‘hood” is slightly bigger than the one that White defines, but still the original comfort zone I marked out for myself in the weeks after my arrival nearly two years ago: the rectangle between Broadway and Amsterdam, five blocks up to 125th, and nine blocks to the south.
I live in a tall old building with a very steep double stoop leading down to street level. If you turn left, the avenue slopes down to Harlem, past the wine seller with tastings every Thursday, and the hardware shop selling laundry baskets, microwave egg poachers, and rice cookers for the student population. Then we have the bistro block between 122nd and 123rd, with Max’s, my favorite study bar, and the Kitchenette, a popular breakfast place which offers comfort food throughout the day. They do a mean shepherd’s pie and braised red cabbage. The block directly opposite my residence has a hotpotch of businesses: a thriving Eritrean restaurant, a small Indian place (light on the spices), the hairdressers and manicurist, and and an Italian snack bar called Panini D’ Parma (always always empty).
Then we come to the heart of the neighborhood: the Appletree Market: the students’ best friend, open 24/7, even through Hurricane Sandy. It is here that I can arrive off a London flight at 1.a.m and take away a breakfast platter to soothe my jetlagged soul.