New York City February 2008: Back to the future

Back in New York for a while to wait out the limbo between having finished copies of my book and their appearing in book stores. And to see friends, go to the theatre, file my US tax return, buy a pair of long winter boots. I seem to have done little else but eat since I arrived, so I decided to take a long walk and have recently returned. I wandered from Grand Street on the Lower East Side, where I’m currently staying, east until I hit the East River, then followed the water as it flowed beneath the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, right around past the South Street Seaport and the Manhattan Heliport (whence all the TV news crew, tourist and wealthy privately chartered flights depart), up to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. And back again, by which time night was falling. Temperature during my walk was a pleasant -1 Celcius, little to no wind to speak of, and at my greyhound’s pace I was soon ticking warmly. The Lower East Side, while not my favorite place on earth to talk a long walk, is starting to knit together in my imagination. Ludlow, Essex, Orchard, Hester, Allen, Delancey, East Houston: after nearly a week of wandering around the neighborhood I’m finally remembering which streets are parallel or perpendicular to each other, which makes returning to one’s digs a much easier prospect.

Aside from the usual winter chill, the air is full of election talk, and it seems very likely that Obama has the necessary momentum to become the Democratic nominee. The “r” word – recession – is talked about in a variety of euphemisms, but the reality is evident in the drastic mark-downs apparent in almost every store, and in the discussion of Manhattan real estate being a buyer’s market.

Today I toured the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, which I’ve been meaning to do for years. The tours depart from the excellent museum shop right across the street from the perfectly preserved immigrant housing of the turn of the 20th century. To imagine these immigrant families squeezed in to tiny heat-free rooms, surviving on often less than $8 per week with a fried-egg roll a weekend treat, was almost impossible as I stood in the same rooms, decades later, extremely comfortable in my padded goose-down jacket and wool gloves.

Leave a Reply


Close Menu