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This is the sort of thing that amuses me:

A woman standing on 42nd Street at 10:30 am on March 25, a sunny day very close to the spring equinox, asking a police officer which way was east.

The sun was shining very brightly from the east. It was an absolutely lovely day.

Are people so cut off from the natural physical world that they don't think to use the bright, shining sun to help them navigate the (nearly) north/south/east/west Manhattan grid? After I was amused, I had this second, sobering thought, which made me a little bit sad.


I'll up you on that. My colleagues at my lab (I plead guilty too) sit next to the window and check the web to see what the weather is.
I keep forgetting to bring a compass when I travel, so I use the morning sun to get east-of-southeast.
yeah sometimes people are a bit oblivious about those things. i remember when i took geology in college, we were on a field trip, and the professor challenged us to tell what direction was what without a compass. thank God for environmental tricks for figuring out which was מזרח is ;-)
Thanks for your comments, everyone. I wonder if I am particularly attuned to directions from years of figuring out which way to daven. Interesting.

I always check the weather on the computer, because I grew up in Boston, where the weather currently outside the window has little to do with what the weather might be an hour or two hence!
The Manhattan grid does not exactly correspond to the compass points. I think the avenues run about 17 degrees off of North. Also, the sun does not rise and set at compass east and west, but can vary in New York by many many degrees.

Your basic point is of course correct.
On the equinox, the sun does rise and set at compass east and west. (But yes, Manhattan is rotated, resulting in Manhattanhenge, also quite inappropriately known as Manhattan Solstice. A better name would be Manhattan Equinox, since in a city where the streets actually run east-west, this would occur on the equinox.)
Thanks for the further comments, Anonymous and BZ. Anonymous, I wrote "the (nearly) north/south/east/west Manhattan grid" in my post to account for the fact that the island of Manhattan is not situated on a straight north-south line. Thanks for filling me in on the degree of rotation, though!

Still, I think that the typical modern-day American probably doesn't think so much about compass point directions. I'm not sure why, since it's very helpful for situating oneself on a map whether exploring an unfamiliar place on foot or by car, but I guess GPS is making regular old map-reading an obsolete skill. Sigh...
When I moved to Oz from Kansas, I was so glad for sunny days because that meant I could find my way around the city easily. I don't know if it's because of the country girl in me or the fact that I love to be outside surrounded by nature.

I never thought that most people in Oz don't use the sun and shadows to help them find their way.
It’s so true that many Americans can’t figure out directions. I remember calling someone at Kinko’s in Atlanta on the phone to ask for directions. When she finishes, I ask her “which side of the street is it on?” She says “where are you coming from?” I answer “is it on the east side or west side?” She says, “I don’t know, it’s my first day.”

Calgon, take me away.
At the airport in Heathrow, on the way back to Israel, I was asked to join a mincha minyan. I had already davened, but sat in to make the minyan, and noticed everyone was facing toward the window, in spite of the fact that it was a bright sunny day, and you could tell from the position of the sun that they were facing west. When I pointed this out to them (they were mostly wearing black hats, and were fussy about not facing the crowd of other people, including women, when they were davening), one of them shrugged, and said, "Well, we could go over to the other side of the hall and face the other way, but since we started davening here, I guess we should stay here," and they proceeded to daven facing west, toward the window, except for one modern Orthodox guy, not wearing a black hat, who faced east, toward the crowd of people. (I'm not sure that facing opposite to everyone else was proper either.) Oddly, a couple of years ago, when I was davening shacharit at Heathrow, I also saw a bunch of black hatted men, though not a minyan, davening facing toward the window, obviously facing west on a bright sunny morning. But in that case, I think there wasn't a convenient place to stand that would allow you to face east and still face away from the crowd.

I never remember to bring a compass, and it is more challenging to find mizrach when it is night or cloudy, but I usually manage to. The night before, at JFK, the lights were too bright to see any stars, but I noticed the air train arriving from the right, and turning around 90 degrees and going away from me. So I figured that Jamaica was to the right, and I was facing Howard Beach, so I was facing west, and east was opposite the window.
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