Rebekah's experience in Harlem
This past week Arrie and I visited Harlem and attempted to do some of the things on the Latourex list. We were shown around by our friend Johnny, who is somewhat of a local because he has lived in Harlem for the past 9 months. He knows a lot about the neighborhood and had in fact written a walking tour of the area based upon sites that relate to the life of Malcolm X. So, from the beginning we were privileged to a different perspective on the region and its history. I’d never been up to Harlem before and even though I live in New York, I felt like a complete outsider during our tour. (Though I must say I feel like an outsider even in the neighborhood where I live in Brooklyn.) Anyway, we did the picture taking activity, where we took pictures looking away from the sites as opposed to of the sites themselves. Then we visited a Soul Food restaurant, Sylvia’s, which seemed fitting of a visit to the neighborhood, and ate Harlem fried chicken and waffles (another activity on the list- to eat food named after a place).
I understand the soundwalks and other activities to be a way of reimagining public space, and while I’m not sure if the goal is necessarily to get away from being a tourist, the approaches allow someone to explore a place in a way different from that of a “typical” tourist. Or, as David Pinder says in his article, these tactics involve “ways of sensing, feeling and experiencing [cities’] spaces differently, and with contesting ‘proper’ orderings of space to allow something ‘other’ to emerge.” (386-7) However, while in Harlem, I felt completely like a tourist. The only other that seemed to immerge was me. Every time I took out my camera, I immediately felt like an outsider. Thing is, I’m sure the way I appeared made me look like an outsider even without a camera in my hand. I found that taking pictures pointed away from the sites made me feel voyeuristic and intrusive because I just ended up taking photos of people going about their daily lives, which seemed rude. On the other hand, I loved the restaurant because it was something different. I’ve always wanted to try soul food, and now I can say I like collared greens. Normally I’d consider my experience in Harlem to be just a way of opening up my world view and learning more about this city where I live, and it’s true that’s what my experience was. But I couldn’t help thinking that another reason I delighted in eating at Sylvia’s was just the novelty of it—that I was able to taste a bit of the world of an “other.” For some reason this cheapens my experience there. Maybe I’ll just have to go back and try to learn about the area in a more intimate way.