Saturday, July 7, 2012

New York, New York A Wonderful Town...

June 24-26

So much for the lull!

Over the weekend I had another speech to prepare, this one for the award winning students teachers whose pile of applications I scored a few weeks ago.  It's a good thing I got it done when I did, because that was all the free time I had that week.

I belong to the Ulysses S. Grant grant, a history fellowship in Burlington County under the guise of the Teaching American History Grant.  This is the third year of the grant and I have learned so much about US history that the experiences with the group have been invaluable.  We meet in the fall and winter for 2 day workshops and then in the spring we go on a history trip.  This year's trip to Boston and vicinity was great and you cannot underestimate the value of being in a place while learning its history.  We also have a 5 day workshop at the end of the school year when we teachers are all looking a little worse for wear after the trauma of the month's festivities.  This year, we went to NYC for the first two days of the summer workshop as we learned about immigration.

Our first stop was Ground Zero, the 9/11 Memorial.  It was a high security area and we all had to go through airport like screening.  When we got inside, the outline of where the towers had been and the waterfall within was deeply moving, but the names etched on the granite that honored the dead were haunting.  So many people, so many ethnicities.  All around the memorial building was still going on and all I could think when looking at this rebirth was the city saying "You want a piece of me...bring it!  You are going to have to be a lot bigger and badder if you wanna keep me down." You go, New York.

That afternoon, we went a noshing tour of the Lower East Side, an area that has seen it's share of ethnic groups move in and out of the neighborhood.  We walked several blocks which normally would have several people complaining, but we got snacks from several vendors throughout the tour.  Eating and history...sounds like a perfect afternoon to me!

We started with sweet plantains as we talked about the current Latin American influence on the area. Yum! We then started talking about the rich Jewish history of the area followed it up with a trip to  The Pickle Guys for some Kosher Pickles right out of the barrel.  Contrary to the name, they didn't just have regular pickles, there was also pickled mango and pineapple.  Interesting, but not after the garlicky pickle.

After the pickles, we were off to The Sweet Life to have one of my favorite Middle Eastern treats, halva.  It has a fudge-like consistency and is made from ground up sesame seeds and sometimes chocolate. It was delicious, but when we stopped to eat it, we were across the street looking at an old building that had been converted to a Chinese funeral home, and there was clearly a service/viewing going on. Made you feel bad about eating, but it also made me appreciate the here and now.   

After the halva we trekked to Chinatown, one of my favorite places.  Even though it was on the cool side weather-wise and had rained earlier,  the smells from outdoor markets pervaded the area and a few folks got grumpy.

 I was fascinated by what I saw in the windows and in the markets and on several occasions saw somethings that I couldn't identify.  Certainly looked interesting though.

One of the original tenements can be seen on the left.  These walk-ups were very closely spaced, which meant that unfortunately there was not much air flow unless you were in the room that faced the street. 

While we were getting a little history on Chinatown and enjoying some sweet and spicy tofu, we came across this church. 

I found its name to be a little unusual.  Beth, in Hebrew means house and El means God.  It is a Chinese church with a Hebrew name.  Hmmm......

Next stop, Little Italy.  We stopped at DiPalo's for some homemade mozzarella, salami and Parmesan.  The crowd was pleased.  The food was great all day, but I was surprised at the amount of people who turned their nose up at even trying the snacks because they were a little different then they would usually eat.  Live a little people!  Try something new!  Unfortunately I think it is a metaphor for how many people live their lives.  Nothing different, nothing new, no desire to get to know others who may not be like them.  Sad really.

As we headed down the street, we were accosted by restaurant people trying to get our business.  We were just trying to get to the local church where we would have our next snack, cannoli.  Do I even need to say more?

Our tour ended back in Chinatown, which is right across the street from Little Italy, with our final nosh of the day, ice cream!  Of course this was no ordinary ice cream since we were in Chinatown, one of the flavors was lychee and the other was red bean.  Yummy!  Sometimes I am very grateful that I am a bit of a foodie.  I appreciated all of it. 

We were then off to the Tenement Museum, which I highly recommend for anyone teaching about immigration.  The owner of the building didn't want to pay in order to make the upgrades necessary for people to live there so the upper floors were essentially closed and sealed off from the world while the business on the ground floor continued to operate.  The building was bought in the 1980s and was a treasure-trove of information.  There are different tours, mine was a clothing sweat shop, and after seeing a few of the apartments on the floor and hearing how many people lived in them, my mind was blown.  I love my family, but I would have serious difficulties living in such small quarters with so many people and no breeze!  The stove in the kitchen ran all day in order to heat the irons needed to iron the dresses that were made. 

Just as we got to the
museum shop, a
deluge poured forth from the sky.  We were happy to hang in the gift shop a while, mainly because they had some unusual things for sale

Believe it or not, after the tour it was back to Little Italy for dinner at a place called Paesano's.  After walking all day, we were all exhausted and stuffed so we rolled back on the bus to our hotel and called it a night. 

Tomorrow, Ellis Island!

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