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My Travel Story
On my last trip to New York I decided it was time to dig in and start seeing some of the real city. I've sent much of my time in the past visiting the big sites, the shops, the shows, and all the other excitement that New York has to offer, but I decided that this time would be different. This time I'd of course stop by my favorites like Henri Bendel and Balthazar, but I'd also work in some more depth.
My first destination was the Lower East Side. Even though my family came to the US through Canada, not Ellis Island, I've always felt like the Lower East Side (LES to locals) is somehow part of my history.
My first stop was the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. The museum is actually an old tenement building whose living area had been abandoned since the 1930's. It's been restored just enough to make it safe to visit and the museum has researched who lived in each of the apartments and their family stories. The only way to see the museum is with a tour.
Normally, I skip museum tours, but this time something made me want to go. It's lucky I did. The museum is probably one of the more memorable museums I've ever been to. Our tour guide really made the apartments and those times in history come alive (our tour was about garment workers). The carefully chosen artifacts in each of the rooms we visited helped bring that era to life and the pictures and stories of the families completed the connection. I left wanting more and I'm looking forward to returning in the spring for the walking tour of the neighborhood.
While I'm waiting for the summer program to begin, I decided to take my own walk around the area. The Lower East Side continues to be a vibrant area where new immigrants make their home. The area continues to have many Jewish, Italian, and Chinese shops, especially on Grand and Hester between Allen and Essex (I stopped in a few for snacks) but the deeper you look, the more the area tells a story of change. The Edridge Street Synagogue is in disuse and disrepair while fancy new shops like Cones, Ice Cream Artisans (best sorbet ever) draw on the tourists and the newly "immigrated" yuppies from Soho and uptown, while the bar and restaurant scene keeps them occupied at night. I heard one man commenting "my grandmother worked her whole life to get out of the Lower East Side and now people are paying big $$ to get in!" As the influx of Southeast Asian and Chinese populations continues and Italians move out to the suburbs, the "Little Italy" area of town is getting smaller and smaller, and now it's sometimes difficult to find Italian places in between all the Chinese shops and restaurants (yummm...dumplings). Another sign of the times was a school with an obviously Jewish name and big signs posted out front in Chinese and Spanish (but not English or Italian). Fascinating!
Local artist Christina Ray is documenting everything as it stands today for a project to be called "One Block Radius" commissioned by the New Museum of Contemporary Art who will begin building it's new digs in the LES this fall. I'm glad someone's doing this -- the next few years will be a time of huge change for an area that's been changing constantly for 100 years. It's nice to know that we'll be able to look back at this time and remember what the big stuff and the small stuff as it was.
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