In a city of famous buildings, the one I wanted to see didn’t actually exist.
Officially, the address of this New York landmark is 245 East 73rd, but this location is as fictional as 123 Sesame Street. (Ernie and Bert’s building being the other make-believe brownstone I still somewhat believe in.) Even though I know deep down ‘Sex and the City’ was a TV show and Sarah Jessica Parker is an actress (and a savvy one at that, parlaying the fashionable series into a series of perfume and clothing endorsement deals), the apartment of the character of Carrie Bradshaw, where she sat by the window, with her lap top, yearning, will always hold a place in my heart. It is the quintessential New York flat; with piles of books but no kitchen table, it is the writer’s dream abode.
I had been to New York three times already but had never made the effort to find Carrie’s street. Partially, this was because those earlier trips were with my father, who could only, due to the potty mouths of the female characters, appreciate ‘Sex and the City’ from afar. But more likely I was not prepared to give into that level of obsessive nerdiness.
Now, going back to New York at the age of 26, I know myself. I may not own a T-shirt that says “I’m a Carrie” (and not just because HBO doesn’t sell them in men’s sizes!) but I can admit I’m a ‘Sex and the City’ obsessive.
Although five different locations were used for the outside of Carrie’s apartment over the run of the series (and the interior was a soundstage), a general consensus emerged among the experts (fans on the internet) that the main, and most picturesque, location was on a little street in Greenwich Village.
I drew a map in my notebook, along with the location of Magnolia Bakery, the shop which, after being featured on the show, did so much for the sugary cupcake-mania we are still immersed in. I got lost on my way there, and not even on the subway.
While I’m on the topic, the New York subway and I are not friends. I like to think of myself as a metropolitan person, one who has successfully navigated the public transportation systems of London, Paris and Barcelona. But in Manhattan, trapped underground, I had to sit with my subway map open on my lap, like a country rube, double-checking where I was at every, single stop. Like I said; not friends.
But no, I got lost in the Village, ending up at a weird, triangular intersection which, despite seeming important, I could not locate on my map. After a couple circles, once I was finally back in chartered territory, I treated myself to a diner lunch which was so massive, so New York City big, that I didn’t eat dinner.
When I found the street, it was more lovely than I imagined. With trees on both sides and turn of the century brownstones, their stone steps elegantly spilling out in front of them, I agreed with Carrie’s own observation that it was like walking in the New York of Edith Wharton.
When I arrived at the house, two young women were there already, snapping pictures. Embarrassed to be seen doing the same thing as them, I kept my distance. (Maybe I’m not as comfortable being a nerd as I thought!) After they moved on, I approached the steps where Carrie had emerged so many times to greet Mr. Big waiting in his limo on the street.
A metal chain prevented one from walking up the steps and attached was a sign. Diplomatically, it read: “Dear people taking pictures: please remember this is a private residence. You are welcome, but be respectful. No sitting on the steps or loud noises. Thank you.”
I was suddenly flushed with an emotion close to shame. This was a real home to real people, probably a family, and because it was used as a pretend home for a fictional character, bus loads of people are going to come by and be invasive until the show slips from syndication. The house means much more to the people who now live in it than it does to us ‘Sex and the City’ fans. Carrie’s Apartment, the idea of Carrie’s Apartment, is a place in our minds, not a location on Google maps.
So I took a picture and walked away.