Making “An Eccentric Guide” to New York
This guidebook by Diana Enriquez with design by Kaela Gallo plays on our love of adventure… and people watching. Or the reasons why we’d prefer to meet you at the Blue Whale than the Met, and we’ll buy dinner at the Hong Kong Grocery store and meet you for sushi on a stoop nearby, with some change and our hearts in our pockets.
For Christmas this year, I wanted to give my boyfriend a year of adventures. New York as a choose your own story guide sounded exactly right… but it needed to be a little more thoughtful, better tailored to us than the guidebooks I have stashed in every corner of my bookshelf.
Already, I take him to lots of strange things all the time… For example, he first met my father entirely by surprise (for both of us) at a lecture about voguing and underground clubs in New York. He is willing to indulge me by going on my walking tour I put together covering the History of Organized Crime in lower Manhattan. He’s followed me down to DC for TEDxMidAtlantic and into a MOTH story slam about “Guts.” I needed to think bigger, this time.
Why Write a Guidebook?
I love the physical thud I feel in my heart while I am savoring a particularly good memory, but especially moments from my adventures and discoveries. I am perpetually curious.
Sometimes I find these moments in other people’s traveling writing. I find myself again and again, highlighting and scribbling in the margins of Pico Iyer’s books and currently in Patti Smith’s M Train, identifying my own slices of experiences happening in parallel to theirs.
In my own written work, it’s the moments where I’m reading outside in an urban garden in Mexico City, and someone sits down on a bench nearby to tune their guitar and take a private moment before heading to a gig. Before I leave the park, I will scribble it down into a notebook. Or the smell of the mango I picked up off the pile in the crowded street market… and when I touched its curve to my nose, all the busy stands and calls from street hawkers disappeared, until it was just me.
I set off to create a guidebook written entirely through people’s hearts. I wrote to a number of my friends asking them to share five of their favorite places and the memories that they associate with each of these spaces. In this way, the book was more about creating a “memory tour” of the city.
For three months, I collected these memories. Tagging and organizing them based on themes that emerged through the memories. Every email with the subject line “Eccentric Guide to NYC” that returned to me was immediately opened and devoured. For weeks, I was spoiled by beautiful memories.
I wrote a number of entries between September and December 2015, sprinkling them through out the collection of stories I gathered from 27 different New Yorkers, in various stages of their relationship with New York.
I took each entry, tagged it with the themes that most moved me about the entry… and then cut them up and tried to organize them into groups. Some of the groups are definitely “loose categories,” where I was hoping to combine an entry about a yoga teacher in Chelsea with a story about a laundromat, a room in the Standard Hotel that becomes a creative lecture space, and a handful of other eclectic entries.
Then I reformatted the entries in their new order and send them to my lovely designer, Kaela Gallo with some ideas for colors, type fonts, and themes. In about a week, she sent me a new copy, beautifully formatted and ready for a rough print for me to give Alistair… before we take another crack at making the final, beautiful copies.
We built a tour of memories.
In the next step, we build out a tour of memories, leading the adventurer from Harlem through Manhattan and into Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. Each leg of the adventure, beginning with some walks through parks and meditative spaces along the way, offers windows into moments of time. One friend talked about her favorite entrance to Central Park, where she’d go to think when she needed private moments away from the boyfriend she had just moved in with. Another friend talked about the little park outside the 72nd Street 1/2/3 stop where he had come after a concert to make sense of the music and the experience he had just had, not wanting to lose the moments, instead crystalizing them then and there forever.
One author (and friend), Alex Rosenthal, recommended visiting the Blue Whale in the Museum of Natural History while you’re on the Upper West Side:
This is one of the most spectacular spaces in NYC: a huge dark void dominated by a flying model of a Blue Whale (to scale), that’s ringed by dioramas featuring various marine creatures. The floor under the whale is strangely calm — strange to find calm in an environment dominated by scores of children running around, barely avoiding trampling other children who have lain on the ground to stare at the whale. Yet you feel like you’re on the bottom of the ocean in the shadow of a magnificent creature. I like to go there and contemplate big ideas, like the meaning of existence, the future of humanity, and what it would be like to jump on the whale’s back and ride it around.
I recommended standing on a street corner, on Crosby Street and Howard Street in Soho, where I frequently find myself falling back in love with New York.
This street ends up in a lot of “street scene” shots in movies, but there is something gritty and old New York about it in a way that appeals to me. De Vera is a store full of old and super creepy antiques artfully arranged behind glass. Each glass chamber is more mysterious than the last. Stop for some amazing coffee and treats at Smile. Watch the fashionistas, people wandering off Canal street and sitting on the iron stairs along the street sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes. Take in the remnants of gritty, warehouse filled soho. I love standing at the corner watching the ecosystem move by.
My friend Emily Ludolph grew up in New York City, but made herself a promise to explore the city as a new world when she returned in her 20s… and this promise kicked off on a visit to the Eldridge Street Synagogue on the Lower East Side.
This place is so darn beautiful. It has a blue stained glass galaxy window that’s really neat. There’s a story about how this congregation got into an innovation arms race with a neighboring synagogue when Edison in- vented the electric light. Which explains the insane light bulb chandelier. I first went when I got back from study abroad my Junior Year and was determined to explore hometown NYC like it was a brand new city.
After that, my Kim Nederveen Pieterse offered us a sincere moment about living in New York while you’re close to broke in your 20s:
When I first came here, I felt like I stumbled into a place I wasn’t supposed to know about. Jellyfish and unfamiliar animal bits lay on crushed ice in the back, while almost exclusively asian shoppers hunt with their overworn carts without saying excuse me. When I was first interning on a thousand dollars a month, the aisles of vegetables at 88 cents a pound meant that I, also, could eat produce. Today, the $2.50 California roll handcut by the old man in the front still tastes best from a dirty Chinatown stoop.
And my friend and co-worker Cloe Shasha took the reader to her favorite arts space in Brooklyn, where she found her jumping point into adventure.
A magical building in Red Hook full of artist residencies and event spaces, Pioneer Works hosts an event on the second Sunday of every month, aptly named Second Sundays. A lineup of multiple live musicians, performance art, and other surprises fill the space, and people gather for food and drink in clusters. As the afternoon turns to evening, strings of lights blink on, and people dance to music — whether it’s a brass band or a drum line — and lounge outside on a little hill. Next to the hill and an outdoor bar, groups of old and new friends talk around the fire pit overlooking the East River. When craving quiet time, people go back inside and climb up the stairs to the second or third floor to explore colorful rooms and take in the art made by the current artist residents of the building.
My first time going to a Second Sunday was this year. The place holds a lot of meaning for me because of a series of connections to the space. I first visited the space two years ago with a few colleagues when scouting for a TEDYouth venue. Though we didn’t end up using that space for TEDYouth, we absolutely loved being inside the building, and it was there that we first met the artist Dustin Yellin who runs Pioneer Works. His artwork — layers of glass with collages on each pane which, when completed, are stunning sculptural figures with depth — were being created by his art team and exhibited all over the place. He told us about how much damage Hurricane Sandy did to the building, and that they had only recently restored the space. During the storm, he was so moved by the violent intensity of the water rushing into the building that he didn’t leave right away — instead he stood on his glass structures and photographed the chaos. We were so blown away by his work that we ended up inviting him to speak at TED@ NYC and TED2015.
It was on that first visit to Pioneer Works that a personal realization struck me for the first time. The building felt magical and open to the air and the sky in a way that I rarely experience in New York City — the city that I grew up in — and that openness brought me so much joy and a sense of possibility. Being there reminded me just how powerful a beautiful physical context can be for the energy and experiences within it. A year later, I moved to San Francisco for a few months — a city with physical dimensions, architecture, and outdoors that I love — where I was delighted to find that from the high hills of the city, I experienced that context-induced magic on a daily basis. When I returned to New York City in September, I really missed that feeling, and wondered if it would be possible to find it in New York City. I had forgotten all about my experience at Pioneer Works in the midst of moving apartments and work. But a couple of months after my return to the east coast, a friend invited me to join her at a Second Sunday. The moment I arrived at the building, the magic all came back!
And the person who inspired the project… received his christmas gift: An Early Draft!
The first copy has been well received by all. My coworkers and friends, like me, dove right into the text, looking for people they knew who had written something for it and started collecting ideas for their yelp bookmarked lists.
I am excited to announce that we will be looking into a better binding option and turning this into a real guidebook. Look for our Kickstarter later this winter! (And thank you to everyone who wrote for this, Kaela for the beautiful design and layout work, Julia for guiding me through the mine field that is typography, and Helen for helping me organize all of the beautiful content I received.)