Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Around town...

Once you move to New York City I believe there is a certain grace period when you can still do touristy things. It's perpetual! With so many things to do and places to discover a moratorium would just be unfair.

Last Saturday we set out to visit a place that has been on my list for a while: The Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. The museum showcases the lives of immigrants recently arrived to America in the 19th & 20th centuries in an actual tenement building from that period. The tenement housed over 7,000 families during an approximately 100 year period and has been restored to reflect how immigrants lived during that time.

Visitors can select from a variety of tours that relate the story of the Lower East Side and its immigrant roots, walking tours, or visits to the apartments of German-Jewish, Irish Catholic, or Greek Sephardic (among others) families. We selected the Confino Family History Tour, an interactive tour that allowed our group (6 of us) to take on the identities of a recently arrived Russian Ashkenazic Jewish family visiting with Victoria Confino, a Greek Sephardic Jew, in her families three room apartment. I point out the distinct Judaic backgrounds as historically they created a great divide in the Jewish population at the time. One group spoke Ladino, the other Yiddish, and that language distinction kept them from embracing one another (despite their common religion) for quite some time.

Through our tour (and visit with Victoria), we learned all about what immigrants went through upon arrival to Ellis Island, how they found housing, work, clothing, the cost of things and what their living situations were like. I mentioned their "three room apartment" above, which may sound quite substantial. Realistically, it was the size of my 500 foot studio apartment and they had eight people living there together! Toilets were down the hallway and baths were down the street on Essex Street ($.50 for a five minute shower). Electricity, a relatively new invention at the time, was $.25 for five days worth; one tenement dweller had ingeniously thought to freeze an ice chip the same size as a quarter and was able to get her electricity gratis! Stoves were a novelty and cost $20, which was about 2 full weeks worth of the head of household's wages (3 weeks wages for the women who were obviously paid less).

The whole tour lasted about an hour and a half and was at all times entertaining and fascinating. Definitely on the top of my list to recommend to others visiting NYC and wanting a flavor of how this dynamic city became the melting pot it is today.

Food museum we were famished and headed up a few blocks to The Meatball Shop for some delicious meatballs and brews. I highly recommend the addition of the Family Jewels to any Naked Balls combo. That statement alone will get you to their website I'm sure....

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