Monthly Archives: March 2012

Lower East Side: History and Luxury and Cheese Grits, Oh My (NYC Adventures #7)

Last week I made my much anticipated trek around the Lower East Side. Forgive me if I wandered into SoHo without realizing it. The neighborhood lines are blurry in NYC, I never see them when I’m crossing the street.

I started the day at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, where I have dreamed of going since 1998  when I first read about it on the Newsies fanfiction websites (and that’s as far as we need to delve into that topic.) This museum is a semi-restored tenement built in 1863 that housed residents in its 22 apartments until it was condemned in the 1930’s. Being half-Irish, I chose an hour-long tour called “Irish Outsiders,” which immersed our group into the life of Irish immigrants in the 1860’s. There are a slew of tours to different apartments and focusing on different ethnicities and time periods in the building’s history.

I was mildly concerned when our guide urged us to be chatty – I’m not a big fan of interactive. But the conversation wasn’t too forced. The tour was informative and intense – the living room of the apartment was set for the funeral of the baby daughter of a family who had lived there (all the apartments’ stories are documented from the lives of actual tenants.) Our guide backed off from the intensity a bit by apologizing profusely to the two children on the tour for the tiny casket – I say, own it. Infant mortality was part of life in the 1860s, and kids should know the truth of our history.

This National Historic Site is expensive. I fully respect that the money goes toward preserving and restoring the building. However, to pay $23 for an hour tour that does not let you explore the full museum seems a bit outrageous.

I next went out on the streets of the LES on a Tenement Museum walking tour – “Outside the Home.” We had a knowledgeable and approachable guide, and I learned a lot about the history of the buildings around the neighborhood that I never would have known doodling  around alone, and it was a beautifully mild March day. Once again, it is simply an issue of money – the two tours together made for a rather expensive day.

I was starving from all the walking and thinking, so I headed to the Clinton Street Bakery for midday breakfast – what could be better? I walked past the Essex Street Market, which someone recommended to me  – I wish you could bookmark reality like you bookmark websites. My memory is too faulty for all the things I want to do. At the restaurant, I ordered an egg and cheese biscuit with tomato “jam.” This apparently is just a fancy word for ketchup, which is not my favorite thing, but overall it was enormous and delicious – as were the cheese grits I got on the side. There might not be anything in the world so comforting as cheese grits.

I intended to swing by an art gallery but instead – in a beautiful New York moment – I ran into a friend I haven’t seen in a while and we  chatted on the corner for an half hour. It blows my mind how these serendipitous meetings occur – five minutes later or one block north and we would have missed each other. I didn’t get to the gallery, but it turns out the exhibit had already closed, so it was just as well. New York is a lot like Oz: people – and exhibits, plays, restaurants, flowering trees – come and go so quickly here.

The centerpiece of my day, which I have been looking forward to for a year, was FREE: a deep-tissue massage at Haven Spa on Mercer. I had a gift card that I had received in November 2010 (delayed gratification, indeed). The massage was lovely, though a drop in the bucket of what is necessary to untangle my back. The spa is dark in an attempt to soothe, but perhaps could be cheerier.  And as a first time client, I got a gift bag that included a sample of an exfoliant that smells like lavender mint, which might be the most calming scent I have ever inhaled.

My final stop of the day was Housing Works Bookshore Café, for The Moth StorySlam. The Moth has a great podcast, simply people telling stories on a theme. The theme for this event was marriage. I love that storytelling is having this kind of resurgence in pop culture. You would have thought the event at Housing Works involved rock stars – I waited on line for two hours to get in, and had to sit on the floor for the two-hour gig. It was nerdy hipster heaven. But…is it really necessary to make people wait like that? If they sold tickets online it would eliminate a lot of the wasted time. I was exhausted by the time I got inside, and to then try to avoid being stepped on for two hours diminished my pleasure in the experience a bit. I would love to perform for The Moth one day, but I may stick with listening to the podcast until then.

It was a lovely day pushing my LES boundaries. There is still much to eat and explore there. My next tour will be a self-guided cupcake and doughnut extravaganza!

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Wanderlust or Wanderlove?

It’s funny how perverse the human mind is. The things I crave the most – long-term love and stability – can only be found by achieving stillness in my life, planting roots and digging in and making myself a part of a real community, be it workplace, friendship network, or basic location.

Yet right now I am desperate to move somewhere new. I am planning and calculating how I can spend a year in another country.

I am an enigma unto myself.

The further irony is that I’m as happy as I’ve ever been in New York. I’ve been having a great time exploring new neighborhoods, for the first time my friendships are starting to solidify over  a diverse spectrum of groups, and I’m even getting a little work. I have the time and the money for the time being to enjoy NYC, and people to enjoy it with.

And I just want to go away.

I have this weird anxiety about travel: that I don’t do enough of it. That the world is far too big for me to see everything I want to see before I die. It makes me panicky. I did a silly Facebook travel challenge survey, and out of 100 places, I’ve only been to 31. If I only saw one of those places a year for the rest of my life, I would have to live to be 100! And frankly, I don’t even think it’s a particularly good list, there are many places NOT on it that I would prioritize.

While I was in Europe, one of my friends moved to New Zealand for a year. Every time he posted pictures of what he was seeing and doing, I went green with envy. Even though I was seeing beautiful things in Italy. And I’ve BEEN to New Zealand.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

I don’t know where this traveling addiction came from. My parents like to travel, but mainly in the United States and Europe. They don’t feel the need to see all the far flung corners of the planet. If we got into the nature versus nurture debate, I think this is an inherent nature thing. Then again, my nature is plagued by painful shyness and discomfort doing things alone, which further complicates the paradox of my needs and desires. Even when I’m traveling I never feel like I’m quite getting as much out of the experience as I should be.

I have been home from the ship for three months and I’m completely tweaked that I don’t have another trip in the works. It keeps me up at night. I’ve set an unreasonable goal that I need to be living somewhere else by September, and that is not a lot of time to get organized. And I know I’ll be so disappointed with myself if I can’t make it happen.

It feels necessary, to go. And I don’t understand why, because I really do love NYC. But I’m restless. I grew up in one house until I went to college, yet since graduating I’ve lived in four separate places, plus the six months on the ship.  In so many ways I’m a homebody, but for some reason I’m having trouble with the idea of settling down right now.

I’ve never had trouble with committing to people. I’ve stayed in relationships far longer than was healthy. I try to hold on to my friends with a grip that could suffocate them. But the idea of getting a long-term, full-time job, in a single place, freaks me out. I want to be free to be mobile.

I’m perfectly okay with the idea that I’ll never own a house. I might be okay if I never have a baby. But I do want to meet someone stable and supportive, and jumping around like this makes it hard to have anything more than transient relationships. You need to stay present in people’s lives to actually be a part of them, and checking out every few years means I have a string of friendships strewn across the country. So many people to miss. And no partner to share my passion for travel with.

Anyway, you can only fight your nature so much. So I’ll be trying to move again in September. And I’m going to see if I can take a little trip at the end of May. Maybe one day I’ll feel sated. Maybe I’ll want to have that baby and be grounded in one place to support it while it grows.

But for now… I gotta go.

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