One of the joys of living in a large city is that most of the time you don’t have to own a car. Sure I’m not eligible for the Cash for Clunkers deal, but I also don’t have to pay attention to gas prices while the rest of the country is stuck watching them rise and fall and rise again. However, with my legs and public transportation as my only means of getting around, let’s face it, I cannot remember the last time I went out for a walk without a purpose. In New York, I walk really fast, always trying to get somewhere, meet someone, rush home, and head back out again. So when my friend, the crafty and sexy Heather Verbeke, mentioned this new kind of walking game where you walk without a destination in mind, I was intrigued. â€œJade Walking,â€ as Heather calls it, is â€œa form of sight-seeing when one allows the green traffic lights to dictate one’s path through the cityâ€ or to put it simpler, it’s â€œgoing where the light is green.â€ If you hit a red light, just turn to your right or left and continue walking.
Now walking has been a form of transportation, exercise, competition, and even meditation for a long, long while now. As far back as 4 million years BC (or thereabouts) our hairier ancestors started the fad of two-legged walking. This was cool because it freed up the hands to use tools and, you know, send texts and do other things while walking. Fast forward a few million years, and 1860-1903 marked the Pedestrian Age in Europe and America, a time when long distance walkers actually earned more per race than today’s basketball players earn per game! (Taking into account inflation, of course.) In the 1906 Athens Olympics, the 1500m and 3000m Walk marked walking as an Olympic Sport, and we all know that in 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. There are walks for Cancer, walks for AIDS, the March of Dimes, and marches as a form of protest. In the Taoist and Buddhist traditions, the practice of walking meditation encourages mindfulness in the moment, allowing each step of the journey to become the destination. There is even a video on You Tube of Thich Nhat Hanh, a pretty famous Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Monk, describing walking meditation if you are interested in checking it out.
Jade Walking can be anything you want it to be. Leave your bags at home, put on your headphones, and wander and observe the city around you. Or if you are the type of person who won’t go anywhere without your iPod, try listening to the sounds of your neighborhood. Jade walking today in my Carroll Gardens hood, I found that, like running, keeping in motion without thinking about where I was heading allowed my mind to wander in delightful ways. I passed a number of elderly Italian ladies sitting and sweating on their stoops, and I also discovered the cicadas in full force with their rattling calls crescendoing and falling from tree to tree. The smells of restaurants, the midday humidity, the hazy summer colors all brought up associations in my mind to past travels and those long days of summer in Venice, CA as a child.
Sometimes, however, you want to go for a nice walk and think about something other than the thoughts buzzing around in your mind. Soundwalk is a totally unique company who has created off-the-beaten-track audio tours for many NYC hoods. All online and around 10 bucks to download, they offer insights into neighborhoods you always frequent, but have never truly discovered. Unstuffy, hip, and completely engaging, Soundwalk‘s New York tours include DUMBO, Williamsburg, LES, Chinatown, Bronx (hip hop and graffiti tours), Wall St, Meat Packing District, Ground Zero, Times Square, Little Italy, and Times Square. Don’t miss the FREE Bryant Park tour narrated by Matthew Broderick!! Oh and if you find yourself in China, Paris, or Varanasi any time soon, you might want to download those tours to bring along too. Check out the website for free listening samples and maps of the tours.
I have to admit that I pretty much fell in love with my Goldman Sachs guide Johnny D. Solitto and his New York accent by the end of our 42 min together! Cinematic sound effects, fascinating local insights, spot on music, experimental soundscapes, and a hearty sense of humor, my tour of Wall Street (an area I formerly had avoided at all costs) provided depth and textures to this area of New York I had never imagined before. Next I’m onto the Meatpacking District. I’m hoping for some provocative stories of neighborhood clashes between bondage club and old-school diner patrons, with (of course) an aftertaste of the night before.
photo via Essential Architecture