I ate it here: lower Manhattan


“I think I’ll call it morning” is playing while the toast is turning crispy and brown. A rich man, probably indian, shows up in front of his window and drinks his coffee. He lays his mug on the marble top and with slow gestures he sets his cufflinks. Our gazes meet for a fraction of second and his girl in nightgown comes from behind to fold his white collar. I turn around, zip up my hoodie and leave the house with the toast in my mouth. There are several travel options to Varick st. but I always chose the long one, heading east while the office is norht-west, but here is Chinatown and that’s where I want to be having my breakfast.

I wake up an hour and a half earlier every day to be here, on Bayard street, to have the view the sunrise on Confucius Plaza. It is freezing but I sip my milk tea outside the bakery, taking bites from the moon cake and a young Minnie Ripperton to charm the day. To respect my ritual I walk along one of my favourite streets of New York, Doyers street, also knows as the ”bloody angle” due to the gangs fights clashing between the wars, till 1993, when the police declared that more people were killed here than in any other street in the USA. I love the way it curves and create a blind spot, perfect for ambushes and for having dinner, at the legendary Nom Wah Tea Parlor.

I’m the only one who doesn’t read the logograms before rush hour. As I walk north on Bowery the New Museum landed from SoHo “shine bright like a diamond” taking with it AirB&Bs, a series of new buildings that have nothing to do with architecture and corner stores that now sell kombucha. I leave a dollar to the man playing guitar in front of the art gallery. He’s from the Sunshine Hotel. This timeless “flop house” adjacent to the New Museum, waiting errant to make space for the next whatever-condo, is the only place in manhattan where one can sleep with 10 dollars in cubicles with chicken wire ceiling. Many entered this place to find shelter in a cold night and for many ended up being their home for years. Since 1922, when the fare was 10cents for night, this unique place has formed an ever changing community of about 150 people, creating an institution that needs to be preserved to make sure there is still a place where one can find shelter when in deep need. I put my dollar in the hat and start walking to the office.

Another day ran fast, just like any other day. As I wait for the elevator there is Marina Abramović standing next to me, dressed in black like a raven. Off the elevator she turns right and I turn left, I should keep going west on Sixth Avenue but I walking east again, using this time to observe the city, trying to find answers for all the questions that keep coming out my studies. This is the only true moment I have for thinking, with no urgent mail or message to answer because people form my office are down the subway and my colleagues in Europe are already in the rem phase. It’s just me and the city.

It’s 8pm and Mott st. it’s an open market. There is fish heads and fins all over the street, vegetables of any kind and dried food in large baskets. I get a dollar of hot mini waffle cakes wrapped in the local newspaper singing the Digale Planets. I reach Canal st, so complex, so beautifully chaotic and unorganised. Just a few years ago with my education of urban design from Rome I would think “this place needs to be planned” but right now, after studying with Panu, working with Michael and dining with Lev, I want this street to stay just the way it is because I learnt to appreciate people more than geometry. The school must change. Planning could be the speciality of harmonising our activities in the space we occupy. Right now everything shifted towards exiting computations and THE environment, providing very interesting softwares, new standards and algorithms to assess the physical qualities of architecture with fascinating models that take into consideration sun path, building materials and energy consumption but leaving the human perspective out of the equation.

In the attempt to clear my thoughts I walk even further away from my destination, against Corbusier, who once said “Man walks in a straight line because he has a goal and knows where he is going” but my goal is thinking and I really don’t care where I’m going right now. Eventually I end up in the Lower east side at Vanessa’s dumpling house, . Steamed Shumai, Kimchi and hot ginger tea is the dinner. There is smoke coming out the streets and steam clouding the restaurant. I wipe my view out from the foggy glass to see them walking while the spices warm up this cold night and a rat big as a cat crosses the street. Only a bunch of lamppost lights the street, garbage bags cover the pedestrian way, a group of guys walk by for a brave night at the new dive bar nest door. I know by now you are probably feeling disgusted about this place that I love but that’s probably because you didn’t read Transmetropolitan yet.

I start walking west with my office in my backpack. It is a quite compelling sensation of having all I need into a bag. The idea of being robbed doesn’t matter anymore because I could open anybody else’s laptop and sync my work files via Dropbox and rescue my 6 Terabytes of lifetime data from my Amazon cloud. Morale is that I flip the hood over my head and walk back to Tribeca through the streets none would ever cross at night with.

As I keep walking I think of my research that among many things, is also about understanding what are the most used paths from home to the working place, so called origins-destination analysis. But where is the working place? Where is home? I’ve also purchased this nice folding tool that allows me to compress one week worth of cloth in the same bag where my office is. The theory still holds but the definitions are changing.

As I reach home the streets are empty. The financial district shuts down the lights but man are still working at the World Trade Centre to ensure the carcass of the rotten dove is ready for the grand opening. There a man is laying on the street with his face down, the officer replies to my inquiry “he’s a bum for god sake! You want to help? You go help!”.

I hover the digital key on the pad, I touch the metal frame to break the circuit and trigger the lock, after the first door closes behind me I can open the second door. Another key takes the elevator to my floor. Back in the living room I go back to the large window with a cup of tea, just to make sure I can stay awake to finish this column. On the other side of the street I cross the gaze with the rich man who is removing his cufflinks. His girl takes his cup of tea from his hands and helps him to remove his shirt. When they turn the light off my eyes are hit by the glare coming from the Gehry’s building on 8th Spruce. I start thinking weather I like it or not but “who cares!”, after all this tower or the new Witney are “just another object”. This form of Architecture no longer incorporates the human perspective and so I no longer want to bring this architecture into my life and think about it. Instead I take the food, the music and the countless stories I heard from all the incredible people I’m meeting in this “chop suey” of a place, to keep crafting my own and very personal image of the city which I daily use to walk, navigate and find my way home, beyond the path that any possible algorithm would ever advices me to take.

End of part 1.