West Village Voices: One Life During A Pandemic

GEORGE CAPSIS leafs through an old WestView News edition. Photograph by George Goss.

By Drew Davis

Every day we expect the news to provide a bird’s-eye view of New York City. But our city is a big place, and broad headlines often beg a simple question: what does this mean for someone like me, an individual among millions? To find out, I discussed the news and Greenwich Village during the coronavirus pandemic with George Capsis, a storyteller at heart and founder of WestView News (and, according to Sarah Jessica Parker, the “grandfather of Greenwich Village”). Here’s what he had to say on this unprecedented chapter in our lives.

On the story and purpose of WestView News:

“I started the Charles Street Block Association 40 years ago. It used to have a newsletter*, and I decided to revive it. I was 79 years old, doing that with my left hand while working as a consultant to the United States Council for International Business, and when they decided they wanted to put somebody else in the job, I concentrated on the newspaper. And it grew! Into what it is today. I was never aware that I stopped moving—because I didn’t.”

“I remember a 97-year old Latvian woman living in West Village Houses who called and told me how she was scammed out of every penny of her life savings, and when she told the government they decided to deduct money from her income. They said they now realized she’d been getting too much. That’s why we do what we do—we print real stories from the people of the West Village. Stories that don’t necessarily get printed in the New York Times. There are many of those stories; they never get told and it’s important that they’re heard. See, when you get to be 92 like me, you recognize what the truth is. And if you still have energy, and you can grasp the truth, the truth is an effective weapon.”

If you tune into the news across the city, country, and globe, you’ll hear about our city in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic. Infection numbers, mortality rates, and calls for isolation and quarantine are inescapable and seem to cover everything like contagious wallpaper. But how does this virus change the way we live our lives? What does it mean for an individual person today, tomorrow, and the day after next?

On life during COVID-19:

“This virus, for me, is a totally new experience. Nothing like this has happened to me in my lifetime. We went for a walk in the Village and I was amazed that everything was closed…it was eerie. Not only to see everything closed, but so little traffic—all the tourists had disappeared. That was very, very strange.”

“At almost 93, you live mostly in memories. You think back; memories pop into your mind and you relive them. And they can seem very real, but not quite there. What I’ve seen in the last few days is like going back into a memory, it’s unreal. It’s not… it’s just not acceptable as reality.

And memories are incomplete. You don’t smell the air, you don’t hear the sounds—you just have flashes of images. And seeing the city disappear, seeing people disappear, seeing shops disappear, it replicates a memory. It’s an incomplete image of life.”

As life changes significantly for a few months at least, as the vibrant and humming spirit of Greenwich Village and New York City tucks itself away for protection, life can begin to resemble a memory more than a dynamic, living reality. We turn to our loved ones and our own recollections of simpler, clearer days. But like every other time in our lives, this too shall pass. And we’ll tell stories about it.

*The predecessor to the WestView News you’re reading now.

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