Sunday, March 08, 2009

Nice Place to Visit, Wouldn't Want to Live There

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum turns out to be one of the highlight destinations in New York; I think I'd heard of it before but went for the first time yesterday, with Sarah, who was on her way to JFK Airport (hence to Germany and Milan -- spring break, you know -- I'll just stay here and savor my employment, thanks). We hitched a ride down 95 with a couple of program compadres of hers.

(Incidentally, hearing anthropology graduate students gossip is a hilarious experience. They're preternaturally attuned to observing and analyzing behavior, even if gossip basically remains gossip. It's like eating a hot dog prepared by a five-star chef. Or perhaps like watching someone eat that hot dog, since you don't actually know any of the people being gossiped about.)

The Tenement Museum is a late 19th-century tenement building that was condemned in 1935, then basically shuttered above a street-level storefront until the museum founders discovered it in 1988. The museum now runs small tours through different apartments restored to match different families' experiences in various years. They have records of who was living there and relate whatever additional biographical information they have, too. (Most interesting, on the tour we were on, was a short audio recording from the early 1990s from an Italian-American woman who had lived in the room in the 1930s; she had been walking down her old street when the museum was being installed, apparently, and walked in to ask what was being done to her old home.) The tour was one of the best I've been on -- the groups are necessarily small and intimate, as they have to fit into these narrow hallways and tiny apartments. Our tour guide was a youngish Indian guy named Raj, an excellent tour guide, clear and animated and unabashed about stirring in a good, solid set of liberal values into his talk (along the lines of We Are All Immigrants; President Obama Promises to Change America but Americans Have to Change America, etc.) It's not hard to bring your own liberal values to the surface, either, when you're observing a gilded age tenement building.

So I'll recommend this up and down to you if you're going to be in New York at any point. It's engrossing and it's an essential counterpoint to the various Frick Houses and Hill-Stead mansions that are easy to dot your various city travels with.

Subsequent to the Tenement Museum we had brunch with a largeish group (Sarah's program compadres plus some additional extended family attached to one of them) at the excellent Nolita House on Houston Street (live bluegrass brunch! you can imagine my approval at being seated less than ten feet from a banjo player), thence to attempt an unhurried trip to JFK via the A train even though there were shuttle buses replacing trains over five stops in Brooklyn due to construction. Perhaps the less said about this attempt the better, other than that it turned out OK. Though it was a good thing we managed to flag down that unlicensed taxi so quickly at Utica Avenue and that there was no security line.

Tonight Andrea and Stu are coming over so we can make enchiladas and watch the Steelers' Super Bowl season recap DVD, which finally arrived last week. One more football fix for the season before it's back to the Pirates! (Any good news on that front? Uh, Brandon Moss's thumb injury probably isn't that bad? Well, they may not have a recent championship or anything but at least they kept their Sports Nate.)


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