One hand in the air for the big city

21 05 2012

No, I haven’t gone underground again: I had a visitor these past few days!

T. had last visited, with P., a few years ago—they’re the ones who bought me my air conditioner—and had learned that Everything Is Terrible In August; thus, the spring fling.

I took her through the Financial District on Thursday, and while we couldn’t get to the 9/11 Memorial (no tickets available), I did take her to St. Paul’s Chapel, where church workers and volunteers ministered to those who worked on “the pile” in the months after the attacks.

I’ve been to and taken visitors to St. Paul’s a number of times, and the exhibits never fail to move me. Prior to September 20001, it was simply an Episcopalian chapel, open to the neighborhood, and one which sponsored various sacred music events; the experience of caring for the men and women who helped to clean out the wound of the World Trade Center site transformed the church, making it over into place of healing and reconciliation. There is a power to this place, and while I attribute it to the quiet strength of the people within, those searching could probably find their God here, as well.

We wandered around and around the warrens of Wall Street, and I came across this shot of the (admittedly-ubiquitous) juxtaposition of old and new:

Water tanks and towers

That’s the (formerly-named?) Freedom Tower—now the tallest building in New York. Neither the name nor the design is impressive, but yes, this space needed a tower.

Another juxtaposition of old and new, this one near Battery Park:

St. Elizabeth-Ann’s? (shoulda written it down. . .)

A sense of scale:

We grabbed some food from Grotto, then headed over to the park for lunch; afterwards we ambled along the short boardwalk, then slid back betwixt the canyons as we worked our way out of the bottom of Manhattan.

We skirted City Hall and the various city, state, and federal courthouses, standing like sentries below the Brooklyn Bridge. Then into Chinatown and the Lower East Side, where we zipped through the Essex Market, then popped into Economy Candy.

Zotz, I got Zotz. Do you remember those? A hard sweet shell encases a powdery interior—which turns into a tart fizz on your tongue. No Marathon bars, but candy necklaces, dots, ring candy, and Aero bars, along with all of the usual suspects.

Then into Little Italy (gelato!), a swing by the Tenement Museum (we browsed the shop, but decided against a tour), and, for me, a quart of sour pickles from Russ & Daughters, and a brief shared remembrance with the counter-woman of our mothers homemade pickling efforts.

East Village, McSorley’s Ale, Pete’s Tavern—both McSorley’s and Pete’s claim to be the oldest bars in the city—then back to Brooklyn.

The plan on Friday was for T. to wander the west side by herself—she particularly wanted to see the Chelsea Market—then head to K’s place Friday evening for book club. Alas, T.’s allergies kicked up and the wind did a number on her peepers (“I think I got New Jersey in my eyes”), so we bailed on book club and stayed in.


T. got us bleacher seats in center-right for a game against the Cincinnati Reds.

That’s Jeter at the plate—can’t you tell?

We made it through 8 innings under the full sun, then bailed before we both fainted.

I’m not a huge baseball fan, but I did always want to see a game at Yankee Stadium; mission accomplished. (And oh yeah, the Yankees lost.)

Back to Brooklyn and into Dumbo:

Dumbo: A nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Then we moseyed down Fulton (where T. got her husband a Brooklyn Nets sweatshirt and cap) and Flatbush, ate at Burrito Bar (amazing! lemonade), then hopped the Q back home. Early (i.e., before noon) Sunday, she left.

Her favorite place? The Wall Street area. We’ll go back (or I’ll send her there alone) her next visit.

We had beautiful weather the whole time, and neither of us (as far as I know) got on each other’s nerves.

You’re a good host, she said.

You’re a good guest, I replied.

Just as it should be.


And pickles are just pickles

29 11 2009

Russ & Daughters makes great pickles. Sour, with a corona of heat around the edge of each bite.

That’s a pickle.

Russ & Daughters is one of the remnants of the late 19th/early 20th centuries still living in the early 21st: they and Katz’s Deli (packed with tourists as I sidled by) are among the few outposts of the great Jewish neighborhood on the Lower East Side, each nailed into a corner on Houston.

They’re both north of the Williamsburg Bridge, and a few blocks beyond Delancey—does this make them a part of the East Village rather than the LES? I’m no umpire, here, but they’re tugged from behind by the LES; the other side of Houston heads toward a city far beyond the modesty of the LES.

Or former modesty. The Lower East Side is, as everywhere in Manhattan, bending under the influx of money and cool. Not completely—there are sites in the LES and even the East Village which are more rather than less dodgy, and few would argue that the F and JMZ lines are among the city’s best—but gentrification creeps on.

It’s Manhattan. The desire for the Next Great Deal will always out.

I shouldn’t romanticize either the East Village or the LES. I’ve been in some of those apartments, and they’re awful: tiny, dark, and likely to lack basic amenities (such as, say, a sink in the bathroom). The streets are close together, so lower level windows likely never see sun. And twenty-five years ago ‘Alphabet City’ was a warning against trespassing beyond First.

But they (and the Bowery—why not?) used to be places. Not always good places, but there was something more to them than just. . . well, money.

Money is dull. Don’t get me wrong—I could certainly use more of it—but in and of itself it all-too-often adds nothing but that which caters to it. It doesn’t have to be that way, but money makes it too easy to be lazy in one’s tastes. What can I get? What can I buy? What is everyone else getting and buying?

Lack of money is never dull. Poverty or fear thereof can certainly dull one’s sensibilities, especially in a city (or a country) where money is IT!, but sometimes, sometimes, the lack of money drives those so lacking to seek pleasures and meanings beyond that literal coin of the realm.

Again, I shouldn’t romanticize: So many of those who lived in and constituted the history of these neighborhoods scuffled and hustled and did whatever they could to escape those places. They wanted the money they saw flowing from the pockets of those living further uptown. And my own skepticism of community ought to force me to scrape away the sepia from what could be a violent and oppressive past.

But I miss what was there, what is gone. It’s in large measure the cheap nostalgia of the passer-by: the one who strolls through and marvels and doesn’t have to live in the dim and the dank.

But there was life beyond—within—the dim and the dank, a life unseen by the mere passer-by. The people who lived in these neighborhoods were visible in the streets, but there was something more which connected these people to the tenements and narrow streets and one another.

Perhaps it’s still there, or somewhere, in this city. Perhaps I need to open my eyes and see what’s here, now. There is always something more.