A Final Walk Down Cornelia Street
Caught in between Bleecker and West Fourth, Cornelia Street stands as a solitary block in the tangled streets of Manhattan’s West Village. To walk on Cornelia is to abandon your New York City lifestyle, and transport your body and mind to a cozy neighborhood full of charm and good food. Originally named after Cornelia Herring, granddaughter of Robert Herring, Cornelia Street used to be a small section of an estate that spanned throughout a great portion of the West Village. Initially, the street was nothing out of the ordinary; there were a few shops here and there, but it took decades for Cornelia Street to transform into what it is today.
Early photos of Cornelia Street
[Photos via NYPL]
Although the street had its bout of scandals in the 1920’s, a few prohibition raids weren’t going to ruin the area forever; years after, Cornelia Street remains a small gem in one of the world’s craziest cities. Rarely can you walk down a Manhattan street side, hearing music blasting and cabs honking, turn the corner and then hear nothing but the faint murmurs of the couple walking ahead of you. That is; except for on Cornelia Street. “The important transition from sight to sound” frames the culture of the street itself (Corbould, 881).
Cornelia Street today
It may seem as though silence in a city is unnatural or even unwanted, but walking down Cornelia is a nice change from the pace of “normal” city life. The quiet street creates its own identity and offers a small sanctuary for New Yorkers who need to get out of the hustle and bustle of their everyday lives and retreat to an actual home. Even the city mouse needs to take a break at times. But living on Cornelia gives you both luxuries; residing in Manhattan while simultaneously living a less hectic life at home, or at least minimizing some of the stresses of routinely waking up to construction at 3 o’clock in the morning. The small street and quiet atmosphere allows the area to actually feel like a neighborhood. Older men sit outside of their stoops on stainless steel lawn chairs, petting their dogs and talking to their friends, while everyone walking by stops and says hello. People are friendly and the cold NYC veneer is shattered. Recognizing someone on the streets of Manhattan is always a strange feeling, so encountering one street where everyone knows everyone else’s name feels like a parallel universe. Knowing or at least recognizing other individuals within such a huge city is a rare phenomenon. But with apartment buildings that actually look different from one another, the quiet street, and thoughtful neighbors, Cornelia street clearly stands out and has seemed to build its own culture. Though few people are involved in this experience, that doesn’t make the culture any less of what it is. If culture really does “symbolize ‘who belongs’ in specific places,” like Zukin said, then perhaps the residents on Cornelia Street are there for a reason outside their reach; they’re helping to build a niche within New York City (1). The street is simply a small, quiet neighborhood full of restaurants, tucked away, into the West Village. And nowhere else can quite grasp the same charming and peaceful, yet unusual aura that Cornelia Street carries.
Perhaps it’s the street’s tranquility that provides the perfect atmosphere for a few of the coziest restaurants in the city. Home to about ten restaurants, the only problem you may be presented with on Cornelia Street is deciding which one to go to. Do you choose the famous cultural landmark, the Cornelia Street Café and sit in on a live performance downstairs? What about Mario Batali’s restaurant, Po? Are you in the mood for French cuisine? Then go ahead and walk over to Le Gigot. I could go on and on, but I think it’s pretty obvious that Cornelia Street is jam packed with just about anything your heart (or stomach) desires. Being an area filled to the brim with food, it’s hard to find a reference of Cornelia Street about anything other than it’s restaurants and quaint atmosphere. From television shows, like The Sopranos, to magazine articles, and movies, Cornelia Street is consistently highlighted for its cuisine. Had the restaurants been insignificant, they wouldn’t show up as the backdrops of films or wouldn’t have been referenced by Tony Soprano. But one should take note of a recurring feature; while Cornelia Street is mentioned or pictured, it is next to never the main focus. Scenes take place on the street, people walk by or eat food, but Cornelia Street isn’t big enough to mention; moviegoers just understand that it’s in the West Village. For instance, pivotal scenes of the film Prime take place in Sushi Mambo, on the corner of Bleecker and Cornelia, but never once are we hinted that the restaurant lies on this street. Had you not known the interior of the place itself, you could assume that this was just one of hundreds of sushi restaurants in New York. Cornelia Street is also seen in passing, in the film The Four-Faced Liar, but it’s only real significance is to ground the film’s location. Never once is the street mentioned, you’re just supposed to know that the actors are wandering around Greenwich Village. In this instance, Cornelia’s size and seclusion could detract from its popularity in general, but as we see, it is still used in films regardless. After all, “real” New Yorkers tend to prefer obscure areas to tourist attractions on any day, so camouflaging the street may just be a way to keep one of Manhattan’s gems hidden.
Although Cornelia Street acts largely as a shortcut to both Bleecker and West Fourth street, more life proliferates there than initially expected. The block has been able to cultivate over the years and blend its fine cuisine with its friendly residents to create an entirely unique identity of its own. The only way to experience this culture is to walk slowly down the sidewalk, without any distractions, and fully absorb everything.
Corbould, Clare. “Streets, Sounds and Identity in Interwar Harlem.” Journal of Social History 40.4 (2007): 859-94. Print.
Zukin, Sharon. The Culture of Cities. Cambridge: Blackwell, 1995.
Entry 1: Introduction to Cornelia Street
Splitting the block between Bleecker and West Fourth, in the southern end of Greenwich Village, Cornelia Street retains a certain homey, comforting, small town charm whilst remaining in downtown Manhattan. Perhaps it’s because this street was named back in 1794, after Cornelia Herring (MUG). Herring was the granddaughter of the Dutch settler Robert Herring (previously known as Robert Harnick), who owned a farm which used to reside on the land that stretched from the West Village all the way past Broadway (nysonglines). Because this piece of land was so important to the area, the street was named after his granddaughter when the New York street ways were initially plotted out.
Currently, Cornelia Street is lined up and down with small restaurants and residential spaces. Surprisingly the restaurants along this small street are all “stellar” according to the Manhattan Users Guide, even though the places themselves are quite small. The Guide even claims that they’re all reasonably priced too, which is a good thing to know when spending time in the ever trendy and typically expensive West Village. Out of all of the notable restaurants, the one to stick out so far is definitely the Cornelia Street Cafe. Celebrities frequent the small cafe with the bright red awning; artists and performers have hosted events in the downstairs section of the cafe. So not only can you get great food, but you can hopefully stop by and get your dose of music and culture as well (nysonglines).
Even though the street only spans the length of one city block, it seems to have a bit of a history to it, which I’m starting to see as I walk by every day to get back and forth from Washington Square. It was even the site of a speakeasy from the age of the Prohibition. “The Jungle,” located on 11 Cornelia Street was raided by Detective Valentine Bach after he found a truck in front of the owner’s shoe repair shop. Eventually, 540 bottles of alcohol were found and “The Jungle” was shut down immediately (NY Times). With such rich history as this, on one small block in Greenwich Village, shows that important things happen everyday in every corner of New York City.
“Cornelia Street.” Manhattan’s User’s Guide. Web. 14 Sept. 2011. <http://www.manhattanusersguide.com/article.php?id=152>.
Naureckas, Jim. “Cornelia Street: New York Songlines.” New York Songlines: Virtual Walking Tours of Manhattan Streets. Web. 14 Sept. 2011. <http://www.nysonglines.com/cornelia.htm>.
“Detective Seizes Rum-Laden Truck.” The New York Times. Web. 14 Sept. 2011. <http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=1&res=9F01E0D71539EF3ABC4B52DFB1668389639EDE>.
Entry 2: Text on Cornelia Street
You’d think that because Cornelia Street is only one block long, it would not have much writing on its walls or billboards covering the sides of the road, yet it does. In fact, I was surprised to find so much graffiti along one simple, mostly residential block of downtown Manhattan; but what really stood out to me were all of the signs for the variety of restaurants that decorate the path of Cornelia. These days, Cornelia Street is a quaint location known mostly for it’s restaurants, namely, the Cornelia Street Cafe (it’s even the first search result on google, before any information on Cornelia Street itself). Along with this famous cafe, which was once the setting for Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick’s first date, a handful of other small restaurants line the street (nysonglines). Just to name a few from memory, Cornelia is home to: Le Gigot, Palma, Pearl Oyster Bar, Home, and Po. Along the corner of Bleecker and Cornelia also lies Sushi Mambo, a cute sushi restaurant, with unique architecture to make it appear as if it really is housed in a Japanese temple.
Walking along the sidewalk, I took notice of the various Restaurant Grading signs plastered in the windows of the establishments. The majority of the restaurants appear to be categorized as “Grade A” settings, with a few “Grade B” and the forever daunting “Grade Pending” results sprinkled in, though I wasn’t surprised by this. The restaurants look exactly like something you would expect to find in the West Village; small, quirky, one-of-a-kind, family owned businesses that have proven successful and managed to curate a neighborly feeling in the bustling city of New York. Although I wasn’t shocked to hear that the self-titled, Cornelia Street Cafe, boasted celebrity appearances (since they routinely schedule live music performances), I was indeed surprised to read that Pearl Oyster Bar was featured on an episode of The Sopranos. In the episode, Tony wakes up from being in a coma, and the first words that he utters out of his mouth are simply, “The lobster roll…Pearl Oyster Bar” (Pearl Oyster Bar). Thus, the restaurant must be doing pretty well to warrant a piece of Sopranos history and to also be the “favorite lunch spot on the planet” for NYC chef, Mario Batali (Pearl Oyster Bar). Even though a “Grade Pending” sign currently hangs in it’s front windows, I think we can trust Pearl Oyster Bar as being one of the city’s unique finds along with the other quaint restaurants along the block of Cornelia.
Naureckas, Jim. “Cornelia Street: New York Songlines.” New York Songlines: Virtual Walking Tours of Manhattan Streets. Web. 20 Sept. 2011. <http://www.nysonglines.com/cornelia.htm>.
Pearl Oyster Bar. “Press.” Web. 20 Sept. 2011. <http://www.pearloysterbar.com/press.html>
Entry 3: Walking on Cornelia
Slowly walking along Cornelia Street, on a gloomy evening, I didn’t expect to find much life on the block. Much to my surprise, people were eating dinner outside, walking around, talking, and the like. I took the time to slow down, unplug my earphones and really pay attention to what was around me and noticed that perhaps there really is a community found in this small rectangle of Manhattan. I thought that I felt it the first time I walked down the street–that comforting, homey feeling–but now with people outside, all talking to one another, like normal neighbors do, I had no doubt that I felt a sense of camaraderie around me.
A man playing fetch with his dog, a child impatiently waiting for his father to open the door to their apartment building, a group of people sitting along the curbside waiting for a friend, the hushed tones of people chatting with each other at dinner; why hadn’t I noticed this before?
As you walk further down the street, you begin to realize that each building really is distinct from one another, thus the neighborhood feel of Cornelia intensifies. It really is a small enclave of unique personalities. Typically apartment buildings tend to look similar, but because of the vast contrasts between each building, the apartments start to look like homes, rather than houses. To enhance the neighborly feeling, a group of older people were sitting outside of their stoops on lawn chairs chatting about the changes that have taken place in the area over the years. And next to them, hangs a letter outside of a specific house. I’ve noticed that this letter was enclosed in a display box, but never really took the time to look at it. After reading it, I now see that the owner of the home explains to her neighbors the well being of her dogs, one of which she refers to as the Mayor of Cornelia Street, and even goes on to invite the community to a birthday party for the new dog she’s fostering. If this area were not neighborly, there certainly would not be a post like this outside of a typical apartment building.
There’s no way to get this experience from paper or film. Unless you physically walk down Cornelia Street, you’ll miss the way of life that the community has grown fond of. Who knows if any other areas in all of New York give off the same small town vibe within the constraints of the city.
Entry 4: Cornelia Street in The New York Times
Aside from the many restaurant reviews and articles highlighting the cuisine of Cornelia Street, the only other article that I could find referenced a raid of a Winery in 1923. After reading this, I remembered that within my initial research of Cornelia, one of the first things I found was an account of a raid of the speakeasy “The Jungle.” So perhaps Cornelia Street may have once been more dark, exciting, and mysterious than the block that stands there today.
According to the article, 35 bottles of port and sherry were found, along with barrels of wine mash, a wine press, and counterfeit wine withdrawal permits in the basement of 29 Cornelia St. Although today we wouldn’t see this as an issue, it definitely wouldn’t go unseen in during the Prohibition era. After the permits were seized, a few people were arrested, but when agents of the Department of Justice came back to do more investigating, they realized that the winery was still operating as normal and reported it for a second time. Unfortunately for the police, they didn’t catch the men, as it’s noted that they ran away before the police could reach them.
Once the agents discovered the winery, they obtained a warrant, then continued searching the rest of the street, though they didn’t find anything else. It’s just odd to think that such measures would be taken to destroy a few barrels of alcohol. This further proves that documentation of a place allows us to visualize and understand the changes that take place over time. Although photographs weren’t included with the article, we can still get a sense of what life was like in the early days of New York City, and get a feel for it’s evolution in the long run. Taking note of the winery’s address alone, we can see how times have changed. Had the building never been raided, then the Cornelia Street Cafe may have never opened, at least not at that address. Although there’s about a 50 year difference between the two establishments, had history been different, you never know what else might have had the chance to stand there today.
Really though, who would’ve thought that such a small residential block of Manhattan was involved in multiple police raids during a select amount of time?
“Seize Wine, found in Counter Feit Raid.” New York Times (1923-Current file): 4. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2007) with Index (1851-1993). Feb 24 1923. Web. 4 Oct. 2011 <https://ezproxy.library.nyu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/103128252?accountid=12768>.
Entry 5: Cornelia Street Archives
For a chance of pace, this week I took a look at Cornelia street from a more factual perspective. Seeing as the buildings are all either restaurants or homes now, I wanted to get a feel for how long they’ve been there, what they were once before, etc. And for this, I chose to focus mainly on The Cornelia Street Cafe, at 29 Cornelia St. Because the restaurant has become such a cultural icon, I figured that it’d be a good place to look deeper into.
According to the NYCityMap application, on the nyc.gov website, 29 Cornelia is actually one of the more modern buildings along that side of the street. Built in 1910, rather than 1900, like the majority of the other buildings surrounding it, it’s kind of surprising that the newer building would come to be the one most well known. But relatively speaking, since the buildings were constructed in only a few years difference, it may not have affected the popularity of one building in the long run, and because the Cafe didn’t open until 1977, it probably wouldn’t have mattered what it was before (in the early 1900s) anyway.
The map claims that the building is owned by a number of partners, who I assumed were the owners of the restaurant, but then quickly realized that above the cafe, is a set of apartments. Out of the 30 total units in the entire building, 28 of them are residential, thus the Cornelia Street Cafe takes up only 2 units of the building. According to the city’s zoning laws, the building is also located in the 12A zone, and is listed at landmark status. Officially, 29 Cornelia St is listed as a C6-Walk-Up Apartment and has had a total of 7 complaints, 9 violations, and it’s noted that the restaurant provides 22 jobs. Three of the violations, not yet dismissed concerned construction, boiler and plumbing issues, thus none of the violations have been anything hazardous. As it appears, if the rest of the street is along the same lines of 29 Cornelia, then we should have nothing major to worry about, and should continue to promote the life of this landmark site.
Entry 6: Fiction on Cornelia Street
After what seemed to be endless searching, I finally stumbled upon a book that mentioned that quaint block of Cornelia in the past. In Allan Seager’s work, “A Frieze of Girls: Memoirs as fiction,” he allows the reader to get a deep understanding of the stories of his childhood and young life across the country, and in New York City. In the preface of the book, Seager states that “Time makes fiction out of our memories,” which we can all understand to be true, thus his recollections of the past are able to be categorized as a work of fiction (P. xiv).
Although his stories do not revolve around Cornelia Street, it is referenced during his time in New York. After talking to his date, Marta, at a fraternity party in Michigan, Seager quickly found out that to his surprise, she was to be married–she didn’t even want to be, but one of her main reasons for marrying this particular man, Raynor Wilkie, was so that she’d be able to move to Manhattan. After Christmas break, Marta was gone, and Allan thought he’d never see her again, but she continued to send him notes on her whereabouts in the big city. Eventually, he got a note that read “I am living at 13 Cornelia Street, Greenwich Village. Let me know if you come” (P. 110). Then, as if luck would have it, Allen travelled with the Michigan’s swim team to New Haven, and made his way down to New York. Perhaps, he would see Marta again.
After taking the train down to 14th street, Allen walked down to Cornelia Street, to the apartment number 13. Seager explains that:
“It was a small apartment house; on the cards in the lobby I found the name Marta van der Puyl coupled with the name of some other girl. I pushed their button. There was no answer. I pushed it vainly several times more and went out and walked up and down Cornelia Street for half an hour, followed by a group of Italian children singing. I tried the button once more. No one was answering. In desperation I sent her a telegram giving my 56th Street address, and asked her to get in touch with me.” (P. 113)
Eventually, Allen does meet up with Marta, and sees that life in New York is not as easy and glamourous as she thought it’d be. Although it was shocking to read that Marta was doing so poorly, that’s not what I was really interested in. After reading the passage about Cornelia, I visited the address, saw that it still was an apartment building and felt as though I could have been in Allen’s shoes. I would have even dared to press the button, had I known which apartment it was…From what I’ve come to see, the people living along Cornelia seem to be very kind and neighborly, thus I’d have no problem asking them about the history of the area, and whether or not Seager’s description was correct. From his writing, I could easily see the scene that he produced; the children walking down the street, Allen walking up and down Cornelia for 30 minutes, as I do frequently. It actually reminded me of what I’ve been doing all semester; exploring this small segment of Manhattan. As shocked as I was to find this book, I’m glad that I was able to relate to a piece of prose in comparison with my own experiences on the same street.
Seager, Allen. A Frieze of Girls: Memoirs as Fiction. University of Michigan Press. January 16, 2004.
Entry 7: Cornelia Street in film
Prime, yet another romantic comedy set in the bustling city of Manhattan, was not far off from the rest of the cliched “New York” films. The movie, starring Uma Thurman (Rafi Gardet), Meryl Streep (Lisa Metzger), and Bryan Greenberg (David Bloomberg) chronicles the love between two New Yorkers, one being a 37 year old divorcee and the other, a 23 year old painter, who both share a relationship with Meryl Streep’s character, Lisa Metzger. Soon enough, we find out that Rafi’s therapist, Dr. Metzger, is also Bryan’s mother and the realization of telling her boyfriend’s mother intimate details about their relationship causes much confusion for Rafi, and Bryan alike. The two works through ups and downs throughout their messy relationship with one another, but unlike the majority of romantic comedies I’ve seen, they don’t stay together in the end. As a viewer, we always want things to work out by the end of the movie and because of the classic idea of love in New York City, the film doesn’t perform quite as expected. The lack of glamourous romance in the heart of the city is shattered, and thus the film portrays a different side of New York that the majority of us may not be used to, at least in it’s cinematic representation.
Now that the background information is set, I might as well explain the significance of Cornelia Street in all of this. Seeing as it’s the only film that explicitly uses a part of Cornelia Street, it was pretty much my only choice, but looking past this, I realized that two major shifts in the film took place in Sushi Mambo, on the corner of Cornelia and Bleecker. Although I knew about this prior to actually watching the movie, the sight of the wooden tables and chairs, and paned windows reminded me of the times that I’ve potentially sat at the same table as the two actors. Nonetheless, I realized that in the film, Rafi and David both start and end their relationship in this one small Japanese restaurant. Although it isn’t the distinctive start and end, the first time they eat at Sushi Mambo leads to the exponential growth their relationship, whereas the second time they’re shown at one of the tables, marks the decline. Even though we’re never shown any sign of the restaurant, the movie attempts to show us what “real New Yorkers” eat and do. In other words, it’s indirectly telling us, “Hey look, New Yorkers who live in the West Village go to these specific restaurants;” and to see that this location is used multiple times in the movie, and later find out such a place is actually real only serves to enhance this notion.
So even though Cornelia Street wasn’t the main focus of Prime, it did play a key role in shaping the image of New York life and romance, especially in the West Village.
Prime. Dir. Ben Younger. Perf. Uma Thurman, Meryl Streep, and Bryan Greenberg. 2005. Film.
Prime (2005), IMBD. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0387514/> October 25, 2011.
Entry 8: Cornelia Street at Night
While walking along Cornelia Street at night, you lose the warm, neighborly feeling that surrounds the street during the day. With all of the lights off and the faint shadows surrounding you as you walk by the dimly lit restaurants, a part of you wants to get out of there as fast as possible. It’s hard to explain, but unless it’s prime dinner time hours, Cornelia Street is deserted, and gives off an eerie vibe, even though it’s surrounded by loud noises on both Bleecker and around the corner at 6th Ave.
Personally, I chose not to visit Cornelia on Halloween night, because I wanted to get a more typical feeling of the street in the dark…and because the annual Halloween parade was going on right around the corner, it would have been just about impossible to navigate through the area at all.
Anyway, Cornelia Street is not completely barren at night seeing as there are shops open, but the fact that all of the restaurants are pretty dimly lit does not add to the friendly atmosphere of the street. Not to say that Cornelia feels very dangerous either, but in the dark, Cornelia is definitely not as welcoming and cozy as it is during the day. Unless you’re inside one of the quaint restaurants and it’s early in the evening or a weekend night, Cornelia isn’t as cute as it is at first glance. The fact that one of the stores on the corner of the street, “Commune,” has been gutted within the past week isn’t comforting either. Walking by a big window of an empty store on a dark quiet street, in the middle of the night is not exactly what I would call relaxing and pleasurable; instead it makes you feel somewhat tense and lonely. By all means Cornelia Street isn’t frightening at night, but it’s safe to say that it’s unlike the Cornelia that you could carelessly stroll by during the day.
Entry 9: Cornelia Street on TV
Although I hadn’t ever seen an episode of The Sopranos, I found out in my initial research that Pearl Oyster Bar, located on 18 Cornelia St, was once featured in the series, in an episode when Tony Soprano wake up from a coma and expresses desire for nothing else but the lobster roll at the Pearl Oyster Bar. Seeing as I hadn’t seen any of the show prior to this, it was pretty confusing starting from the sixth season, but I tried to understand it regardless. Throughout the episode, the viewer goes back and forth between reality and Tony’s dreams, as he’s in a coma. His family and friends are all worried, and the doctors have no idea what Tony’s prognosis may be, thus life outside of Tony’s mind isn’t exactly running smoothly.
With Tony gone, Silvio must act in his place, as boss. Unfortunately, this causes him a great deal of stress and thus leads to his asthma acting up…eventually, he finds himself in the hospital too, after arguing with one of the other crew members.
Outside of Tony’s dreams, the guys kidnap a writer and try to make a profit by creating a horror film along the lines of Saw, wherein it costs almost nothing to produce and makes millions in the box office. Meanwhile, visitors are in and out of Tony’s suite, when Carmela (Tony’s wife) sees an account on TV of the shooting that got Tony into the hospital. Finally, we get some background info as to what’s wrong with Tony, and at the same time, Carmela goes off on her son AJ because according to the special on TV, he was cursing at the media covering his father’s shooting. After screaming at AJ for making a mockery of himself and his family, Carmela realizes that it may have been wrong, seeing as she’s had to tell them white lies about her husband and his business for their entire lives.
Eventually, Tony wakes up from his coma, once he starts to feel normal, he says “Pearl Oyster Bar…the lobster roll” and finally after watching 2 episodes I found this one small quote. The line is out of context, as it’s the first quote in the scene and we don’t get to hear the conversation prior to this, but regardless, Pearl’s is definitely mentioned.
Anyway, you’d assume that Pearl Oyster Bar plugged the line for product placement, but actually the writers of the scene were just fans of Pearl, and did it for free. Hey, I guess free advertising is the best you can ask for! And on an obscure street like Cornelia, the more exposure and advertising, the better.
“Pearl Oyster Bar || New York City.” Pearl Oyster Bar || New York City. Web. 08 Nov. 2011..
Roberts, Adam. “New York Dining Tips From Two T.V. Characters – Amateur Gourmet.” The Amateur Gourmet – A Funny Food Blog with Recipes, Restaurant Reviews and More. 4 Apr. 2006. Web. 08 Nov. 2011..
“The Sopranos/The Fleshy Part of the Thigh.” The Sopranos. HBO. 3 Apr. 2006. Television.
Zoller Seitz, Matt. “The Sopranos Mondays: Season 6, Ep. 4, “The Fleshy Part of the Thigh” | The House Next Door.” Slant Magazine. 3 Apr. 2006. Web. 08 Nov. 2011..
Entry 10: A Soundscape of Cornelia Street
Listen to the recording first!
Walking down Cornelia Street is unlike most other roads, especially in New York City. Simply because: the street is quiet. The few audible noises one can expect to hear are murmurs from the insides of restaurants, casual conversations on the sidewalk, and the occasional unloading of trucks or slight construction.
Last week, I decided to take a quick stroll down Cornelia after work, right as the evening crowd started to stop by for dinner; thus, the time of day when Cornelia is at it’s most crowded. And even though this is the case, the majority of the time, the sound of my own boots walking along the pavement remains to be the predominant background noise. In a city like Manhattan, you’d typically expect not to be able to hear a sound as minimal as that with cars flying by and people yelling at every street corner, but I guess Cornelia Street just doesn’t fit the stereotype.
Just as Clare Corbould noted in her piece, Streets, Sounds and Identity In Interwar Harlem, “Making noise was a way to build community through collective action,” but this isn’t necessarily true for all types of places. Perhaps the exact opposite of this forms the community nestled on Cornelia Street. Surely, the street isn’t silent, but it’s calmer nature would lead us to expect it’s location to be in the West Village, rather than the exuberant neighborhood of Harlem. Simply because Cornelia Street is moderately quiet, it’s placed into a different category and community all in itself; one that we typically can agree on throughout the extent of the West Village; a peaceful, quiet segment out of one of the loudest cities in America.
Above I sketched out a brief soundmap, to better orient you to the layout of Cornelia Street, and organize the sound in a visual manner. If this still isn’t helping to ground you in the sounds of my walk, let me elaborate:
Turning the corner around Sushi Mambo, the sounds of church bells resonate from a nearby blocks. Slight mechanical sounds increase in the background, as each boot hits the pavement, as I walk along. Indistinguishable conversations carry on as I pass by two friends walking down the eastern sidewalk of Cornelia. I squeeze my way passed the two young women and eventually hear the clanking of glasses and cups as I walk alongside Palma; meanwhile a faint motorcycle speeds by on Bleecker St. As I keep moving, the early dinner sounds reoccur; glasses banging together, doors creaking, chairs moving, a couple deciding whether or not they want “French food.” Bike chains are sloppily removed by their owner and I slow down behind two more friends having a mostly inaudible conversation. Quickly passing by them, I make it to the end of Cornelia, just as a mother and her children are crossing the street. “Puddle, puddle, puddle, puddle….” she yells to warn them. I walk by the group and arrive on the western street side. The sounds of an unlocked car, water pouring, a car passing by, and my feet stepping over a grate fill the soundscape. A man coughs from the inside of a restaurant and I walk by a group of men standing in the middle of the street, doing what appears to be construction work. Shortly after, I make it to the Cornelia Street Cafe, where two women are chatting over some coffee…”Oh my god” I hear the one proclaim, as her voice fades into a conversation inside Po, a building away. Sounds wash out into the background, as white noise accompanies my footsteps along the rest of block…
Although today we live in such a visual world, it’s important to remember that all senses make up our experience on the planet. We take sound for granted, especially in a city full of noise pollution, where all sound typically blends together. Surprisingly when Nancy Cunard visited the neighborhoods of Harlem, she was able to “[note] the important transition from sight to sound” (Corbould, 881). This may not be as easily noticeable in other areas of New York City, wherein a community’s sound culture is not predominant, but if you try to actually distinguish the acoustic ecology of your surroundings, it is possible. Just imagine how life would be different if we lived in complete silence.
Corbould, Clare. “Streets, Sounds and Identity in Interwar Harlem.” Journal of Social History 40.4 (2007): 859-94. Print.
Entry 11: A Digital Representation of Cornelia Street
“A good tool is an invisible tool” (386). Although it’s hard to say whether or not computing has become completely invisible, by all means, technologies like Google, have become fully integrated in our everyday lives, and are likely taken for granted. I mean, how many times a day do you hear “Just google it”? The sheer fact that we’ve turned this technological service into a verb displays just how prominent it is in our lives.
Say for instance you were to google Cornelia Street…what exactly would you find?
Not surprisingly, all but one of the related search results concern the restaurants along Cornelia, namely the Cornelia Street Cafe. The cafe, being both a cultural and musical landmark, definitely sets it’s place in New York history, but more importantly the Cornelia Street Cafe has clearly made it’s mark in the digital world. Prior to even typing out all of “Cornelia Street” into the Google search bar, Google’s algorithm autotypes “Cornelia Street Cafe.” At first glance, you wouldn’t even think that the search result “cornelia street songwriters exchange music” has anything to do with the Cornelia Street Cafe, but in fact, the album was created by a variety of songwriters whose songs and careers debuted at the cafe in the late 70’s and early 80’s.
If you take a look at Google maps, you also see that the Cornelia Street Cafe is one of the only restaurants actually tagged in the Google database, aside from Home Restaurant, Palma, and Pearl Oyster Bar. Had you simply looked at the map view of Cornelia St online, you may have no idea that there are at least 5 other restaurants on the block.
Whereas on Google street view, you can see just about every restaurant on the block, except for the two newest spots: an oragnic Asian fusion restaurant named Wong (which opened in the beginning of October) and a small coffee shop, next door to Wong. Though at the same time, street view captures the little activity that ever exists on the block. Since the pictures are taken during the day, it’s not too surprising, but at the same time, most New York streets featured on street view have at least more than 3 people on them. The lack of life detracts from the charm that Cornelia Street carries, so through digital media, it almost looks run down. I guess this simply displays the ebb and flow of everyday life that is quoted by van Loon in Galloway’s piece (384). The only issue is that someone unfamiliar with the area may not be able to understand that Cornelia Street isn’t always so empty by just searching it on Google. So although ubiquitous computing has become a main part of our everyday lives, there’s no way that it can ever capture the moods and happenings present in reality.
Galloway, Anne. “Imitations of Everyday Life: Ubiquitous computing and the city.” Cultural Studies Vol. 18, No. 2/3 March/May 2004, pp. 384–408