Sunday, February 27, 2011

My Beloved Bronx

In Casablanca (1942), there's an exchange between a Nazi officer and our hero, Rick:

Major Strasser: Are you one of those people who cannot imagine the Germans in their beloved Paris?
Rick: It's not particularly my beloved Paris.
Major Strasser: How about New York?
Rick: Well, there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn't advise you to try to invade.

I don't think I'm the only one who always imagined Bogie was referring to the Bronx, which has a reputation for being our toughest and grittiest borough. It's a great line, because, well, wouldn't we all like to see Hitler get his ass kicked in the South Bronx? But it got me thinking that Paris oddly has something fundamentally in common with the Bronx: topography.

Paris' natural high point is Montmartre in the 18th arrondissement, crowned with the Sacre-Coeur Basilica. To reach the basilica, you can either be a tremendous dork and take this little white Disney-esque trolley up the hill, or you can climb hundreds of steps. But steps are something you see throughout Montmartre, because even in the residential areas the elevation change between parallel streets can be dramatic.

The Bronx's high point is in the western part of the borough in Van Cortlandt Park, and throughout the area you will also find steep staircases that traverse the terrain. As in Montmartre, these "step streets" actually extend mapped roadways and are endlessly frustrating to motorists unfamiliar with the area. It just goes to show that despite our prevailing perceptions of the Bronx, it has its own je ne sais quoi!

Left: Montmartre
Right: Bronx (photo courtesy of sixes & sevens