7 min read

Walking in New York, Walking in Amsterdam

Walking in New York, Walking in Amsterdam
Photo by Falco Negenman / Unsplash

I met Sumanth in person in Amsterdam in 2023.

We walked aimlessly for a while until we sat on a bench and Sumanth started sketching a building that we were both facing. I was very inspired by his drawings and the habit of carrying around a notebook to capture the urban moments that we want to remember.

Some weeks ago I sent him a few questions that I always wanted to ask him about New York, the city he currently lives in, and his walking experience in Amsterdam. His written answers are shared below.

Hi, Sumanth! Thank you for taking some time to answer these questions for The Flâneurs Project! Please tell us a bit about yourself and about any creative projects that you are passionate about.

My name is Sumanth. I’ve lived in New York City for over 8 years. I grew up in India. My parents moved a lot so I’ve been in a fair number of cities, but I spent most years of my childhood in Pune and Hyderabad. I also spent a year working in Delhi after college. 

I’m a software engineer by trade but am always busy with music or creative coding projects when I have the time. I’ve been performing and releasing music as Reckoner for nearly a decade now. As a kid, I sketched a lot. The habit faded away with age, but I’m returning to it by keeping a sketchbook and being as prolific as I can be. 

What is your favorite street / area in New York and why?

It keeps changing. Currently, it’s Vanderbilt Ave in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. A few of my friends live there, which means I’m in the area very often. Some of my current favorite restaurants are in that area too, and all of it is very close to the public library and Prospect Park.

Also, I recently discovered a used bookstore on that street that’s open until 11pm – I often wander in after dinner. It’s really nice being in a bookstore that late. 
Vanderbilt Avenue

What café or restaurant have you visited the most often in New York? 

I’ve been a sucker for diners for the longest time. In a city where time is expensive, diners offer the luxury to linger and catch up. There are some old friends that I only ever meet at diners these days; it affords us the hours we need for catching up. I also stop by at diners to decompress after a particularly stimulating social event like a big party or a show I needed to play at. They are a simple, tranquil and beautiful place. Not at brunch though – diners during brunch is a wild place.

selective focus photography of bottles on table
Photo by Thomas Park / Unsplash

More recently, I’ve been visiting this Guatemalan cafe in my neighborhood called Ix. They have great hot chocolate and soup, which is perfect in the cold weather. I’ve also unwittingly formed the tradition of dropping by there for soup every time I’m back from a trip. The waiters and all the staff know me personally. I’ve also made a couple of friends there. It’s lovely.

What do you miss about walking in Amsterdam / The Netherlands?

I remember really liking the tile work on the sidewalks of Amsterdam. There was also something pleasant about walking through narrow streets, in the cozy protection of buildings flanking me on either side. 

Amsterdam is a cute, small city – mindlessly walking for a while like a New Yorker can get you really far. It’s gratifying when that happens.
bicycles parked near road
Photo by Joe Cleary / Unsplash

What city brings you deep joy whilst walking?

I’m not really sure, and I want to avoid thinking about it in order to keep it that way. Paradoxically, the reason I enjoy walking is, to a good extent, that it liberates me from the need to feel joy or pleasure or anything of that sort at all. On a walk, I can just be; I can keep it moving. There is an odd comfort in allowing my body to operate on autopilot and take me somewhere without having to put much thought or emotion into it. I’ve tried sitting down to meditate, and walking feels so effortless in comparison.

Walking with people is also when I feel grounded and most myself – it’s easier for me to have conversations without getting too into my own head. I often catch up with friends in the city over walks. Some of the best dates I’ve been on have involved walks as well. 

Please share a serendipitous moment from a walk. 

Last Christmas, when some friends and I went for a walk in the park, we found a group of people congregating on one side of a lake. They were talking about the birds that lived in the lake – two swan families that had hated each other and often needed human park volunteers to separate them during fights. The conversation then drifted into discussions about migrant birds from Canada that stop by in Brooklyn on their way further south. These birds also bring their predators with them, much to the inconvenience of the native Brooklyn dwelling birds. 

The whole discussion got me very excited – I had learned to look at my neighborhood through a very different set of eyes. If you’d asked me last year, I may have used phrases like “ascended onto a new plane” to describe how I felt in the moment. 
brown and black concrete building
Photo by Nelson Ndongala / Unsplash

Please share a story of a stranger that you met or passed by on the streets and why that moment stayed with you until now.

I don’t think I can pick one stranger but back in 2016, when I was going through a distinctly remarkable period of loneliness, I had made the decision to talk to at least one complete stranger every day just to break the cycle. This led to some very interesting conversations in trains, stations, at stores, cab rides and at the university. I eventually stopped doing it for some reason but I fondly remember that period as a time when I was uncannily open and learned a lot about people I would normally never cross paths with.

What is your personal definition of the flâneur / flâneuse?

Living in New York means that I’m often rushing on my walks with a destination in mind, so flâneuring becomes a rare activity that I only ever indulge in while showing a friend around, or sometimes during a date.

For a few years, I have been stepping out to do urban sketching, which has been an interesting exercise in paying close attention to my surroundings in a dense urban center, and making a mental note of the visual forms so I can put them down on paper. It taught me to see the city differently than I was used to. 

I’ve carried this habit on when I travel, and I try to spend some time sketching in every new city that I visit. In Amsterdam, this means sketching all the bikes locked to the rails on bridges, or the giant hooks at the top of facades, In Antwerp it means quickly figure-drawing large groups of people gathered outside a bar catching a smoke before heading back in. In Istanbul it means attempting to draw intricate tile patterns in mosques or capturing the image of a cat curled up, asleep in a cafe. I see it as an act of “taking in” my surroundings as mindfully as possible.

two person walking on road between buildings
Photo by Ehud Neuhaus / Unsplash

What part of New York would you like to re-enchant and why?

Clinton Hill in Brooklyn would qualify for that – I spent a very dark portion of my life there and I’d love to undo that by tangibly changing the neighborhood. It is a beautiful part of the city marred by bad memories that I’d like to undo, or perhaps rewrite.

If you could name a street, what name would you choose?

West 18th Street in New York. I would name it “Sword and Thread Way”. I spent a lot of time walking those streets and figuring life out. I’m better off for it.

cars parked on side of the road in between high rise buildings during daytime
Photo by Falco Negenman / Unsplash

If you could move to another city tomorrow (and have every expense covered, job security, a new home) what city would you choose, if you had to go with your first gut instinct?

I’d say Utrecht, NL. I’ve been there twice and spent a week each time. I love the quaint center of the city, and its proximity to the university. There is a pleasant calmness to Utrecht that I haven’t felt anywhere else. The city is also well connected to the rest of the country, and has a vibrant art scene. I have joked to friends about marrying a professor someday, and receding into a quaint college town. Utrecht conveniently fits that pipe dream.

a bridge over a body of water next to tall buildings
Photo by Maxim Hopman / Unsplash

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https://blog.acrosspolyethylene.com | Instagram: @reckoner165