Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Walk On The Lower East Side

The Lower East Side had been on my list for months, and a few weeks ago I finally had an afternoon to explore, with C as a game accomplice. 

LES has a reputation for grittiness, at least in comparison to many other neighborhoods.  It's had its own version of gentrification, though, and I was soon to learn that many of the 'old-timey' stops have closed their doors.  There was still plenty to see for an afternoon, and I definitely need to return.  But come along on my first foray...

I was to meet C at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.  I walked east, and was startled to pass the Bowery and see this, the grand entrance to the Manhattan Bridge:

I continued walking, past the rest of Chinatown, and finally made my way to the Tenement Museum.  The museum tells the story of immigrants who lived at 97 Orchard Street in 1863.   The building had been shuttered for fifty years, due to a landlord that couldn't pay for the renovations required by laws passed in the 1930s.  It became a time capsule, and ultimately the perfect setting to tell the story of the families who had lived there.

We went on the tour featuring the Moores, an Irish Catholic family who moved into the building.  We learned that the neighborhood and the building was heavily populated by Protestant Germans, and that it's likely that the Moores moved there to escape the Five Point slum, an adjacent neighborhood where many Irish and other immigrants lived when they first arrived.  Sadly, one of their children died at 5 months old; the family moved out soon afterwords.  We were able to see the apartment that they had rented, decorated in a manner much as it would have been at that time.  No electricity, no water, on the fifth floor.  Water pump and latrines down below in the garden.  It was a sobering journey, especially as I reflected upon my own Irish Catholic ancestors, and led me to wonder anew about the challenges they faced when they arrived on the American shore.

A tour on a hot day leaves one a bit peckish, and I had done my research ahead of time.  I wanted to taste my very first knish, a treat that was particularly popular among Jewish immigrants. (For those of you rolling your eyes and thinking... how is it that this girl made it through life not eating a knish until now?  I say to you: I grew up in a midwestern town in which the Protestants were our (the Catholics) version of diversity.)  I did it in style, at Yonah Shimmel, a knishery that's been open for 100 years.  What's a knish, you  non-New Yorkers ask?  It's a sort of doughy bun with a filling-- we ordered a classic, potato:
It was so good-- steaming hot, doughy, moist, perfect with a touch of mustard.

Satisfied, we continued our walk towards 190 Bowery, a 72 room bank-turned-home & photography studio that has become famous for the gorgeous interior and also the street art decorating the outside-- it very much looks like an abandoned building, but this article tells the real story: 190 Bowery

For those of you who have read previous posts, you won't be surprised that I was curious about the street art:

And one of the building's entrances... who would ever guess that beauty lay within?
Although interesting, I was most excited about stumbling across a Shepard Fairey installation that was a couple blocks north, one that I had read about but not yet seen:

It was a visually interesting day, but there was one spot that refreshed like no other:
Yes, this little sanctuary is right on the corner of a major intersection.  Small green spaces like this can be found sprinkled throughout the city.  This one, the Liz Christy Community Garden, was the first community garden in NY, and it's named after the woman who started the Green Guerrilla movement in the city.  The garden is unexpectedly long, and lush and lovely and shady and absolutely beautiful.  Benches and meandering paths abound, with gorgeous flowers and little treasures such as shells and curious stones tucked in numerous corners.  It is a magical place.

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