Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas in the Village Redux

Today is the first day of Christmas, so you should, by rights be looking at a partridge in a pear tree, but I am honoring the season by rerunning my post from last year.  There is sad note to this, though.  Our brilliant and beloved Partners in Crime is no more.  The Greenwich Village mystery bookstore succumbed to the changing neighborhood and book selling milieu last September.  But here it is again In Memorium.  GREAT good wishes for a wonderful 2013!

“City Sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style,
In the air there’s a spirit of Christmas!” 
Our neighborhood is decked out for Christmas. We’ve been around photographing how lovely it looks at this time of year.

In human history, the Village began as a camping site for the Carnarsee Indians.  They fished in a local stream they called Manetta or “devil water.” (A lot of devil water is still being served up in local watering holes.)

The Dutch grew tobacco hereabouts in the seventeenth century, and the hamlet remained a northern suburb of New York after the British conquest and through the Revolutionary War. As the city grew up around it with its grid pattern and numbered streets, the Village retained much of its colonial town charm and layout. Folks from outside the neighborhood are still flummoxed by the crooked streets with names like Bleecker and Morton and Grove. And they often wander around, map in hand, disbelieving the fact that West 4th Street intersects with West 10th, West 11th, and West 12th. We even have a street sign marking the corner of Waverly Place and Waverly Place.

As the centuries passed, the character of the village evolved from a quaint and picturesque backwater, to the preferred address of the Golden Age upper classes (who lived around Washington Square with its arch designed by Stanford White), to a magnet for German, Irish, and Italian immigrants, to a shabby bohemian hangout. It became the cradle of the Beat Generation of the 50’s and the capital of New York’s gay community and hippies of all sexual persuasions in the 60’s and 70’s. Remember: “I met a man named Frank Mills on September 1st right here in front of the Waverly…” from “Hair?”

The Village is world famous for many reasons, including its literary history. A remarkable number of writers have lived and worked here. The Wikipedia entry on our neighborhood mentions:

Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Anaïs Nin, Thomas Wolf, Robert Lowell, Horton Foote, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, James Baldwin, Truman Capote, Marianne Moore, Maya Angelou, and Dylan Thomas.

The brilliant Willa Cather is not included, but she was also one ours. She first lived at 82 Washington Place and later at 35 Fifth Avenue. I used to live down the block from her house at 5 Bank Street. I would imagine that many, many others haven’t made the list.

Edna St. Vincent Millay was actually named after our local hospital. While her mother was pregnant for her, her older brother, then twelve years old, became dangerously ill. After the nursing Sisters of St. Vincent’s saved the boy’s life, the grateful mother named her new baby Edna St. Vincent.

Though today, the Village townhouses are often owned by hedge fund managers and big time lawyers, there are still enough rent stabilized apartments and tenement flats to keep the Village’s diversity intact, at least for the nonce. The charm endures thanks to historic architecture, lovely neighborhood pubs and restaurants, and independent bookstores. And writers. Lots and lots of writers. Including yours truly, who wishes you a beautiful Christmas Day.

Annamaria Alfieri


  1. I spent my youth in Greenwich Village. As a college student, I haunted the bars and cafes of the Village in search of worldly experiences. As a would-be writer, I hung at the Lion's Head off Christopher St. and the White Horse Tavern on Hudson at 11th. Brendan Behan and Dylan Thomas had drunk there. They were long dead of alcoholism but I gave it my best, trying to follow in their footsteps. As a Police Sergeant, I revelled in driving the Village streets, my eyes drinking in its people and scenes, an inexhaustible IV-feed to my imagination. Thanks for the memory!

    1. Bob, we passed like ships in the night in those days. My new year's wish: that the healing of that knee will allow you to soon return to your old stomping grounds.

  2. Reply to Annamaria and Bob: My "youth" was a zillion miles away from Greenwich Village! But with some ties to the great arts, though the mighty grape was only in the church communion cup! I entered the teen years as class poet in Buie's Creek, NC,( the school where Margaret Maron's mother went!) where my poem delivered to the college audience was titled " Touch Me Not, O Death, O Pass Me By !" Then, the next move to Norfolk, where I went to night rehearsals of " I Remember Mama" in the bowels of darkest Norfolk, in a small part at the Little Theater. The next four years combining Girl Scouts and camping with live snakes and hurricanes with dates with Navy midshipmen from Annapolis, where we piled a dozen in one car and drove to Virginia Beach - the boys were forbidden to drink and the girls might have sneaked a sip, but not moi, straight from the Baptist school at Buie's Creek! Acing every top job at the high school, proud to be voted Most Valuable in my graduating class, on to a Methodist college where to partake of "likker" would have meant expulsion! My journey into the world of NYC came the summer of my sophomore year, where I got a job as a camp counselor at the Henry Street Settlement House Camp, then housed in Westchester County, where I was the only gentile, treasured the wonderful songs like " If I Had a Hammer"... Greenwich Village was still only a place I read about, where Edna St. Vincent Millay lived and the world of universal art thrived. Amazing, how we all land up in this column, from such different places! What a wonderful world! TJS, now a resident of some 45 years in darkest Manhattan

  3. T, your upbringing was glamorous compared to mine. I too often marvel at the way my life turned out. The part that brought me to this blog is one of my FAVORITES.

  4. Ha! Not so glamorous... I left out the part at the Little Theater - I was 15 or 16... we had to make ourselves up for the dress rehearsal.I hadn't a clue... so when I went on stage for my part as a young girl... the director lady yelled from the back of the theater: " My God, Straw, what are you trying to do? You look like a middle aged whore! Go wipe that off your face!" TJS