The bones of my 1881 apartment building have been exposed. A structural shoring-up demanded of the landlord by the City. The subway below shakes the building. One September day in 2001, a low flying plane also shook the building. I remember a day many years ago when a section of my living room wall tumbled in.
Periodically our notorious landlord is forced to “improve” the building, or at least make it safe to live in. They replace the old red bricks with grey blocks. Sturdier, I am sure, but the history is lost. This month, chunks of an internal wall are being replaced by cinder blocks. But some of the bricks hold on. “We’re still here,” they silently proclaim, “crumbling but still standing”
In old buildings, the walls hold memory. In old people, memory, too, is held, not just personal, but societal, historical, spiritual. I’ve been in this building since 1971. It holds memory of me, or at least I imagine that those original bricks do. Over the years there have been periodic replacements of structural elements along with the change in the tenant society from old Italians to young artists to young wall street types and now to a frequent roll-over of NYU students. But some of us old ones are still here, two neighbors even longer than I. We are still here. And miraculously, so is this shaky tenement.
I like old buildings in old places. Rome. Jerusalem. And yes, Greenwich Village. There is a felt sense present, both horizontal and vertical. The time line spreads out awareness and adds deep layers to experience. At least for me. At least for me.