I live in the most amazing city on earth. I know most people outside New York will squirm when they hear this (because everyone says it) Especially my friends in Chicago, where I lived for almost 20 years. They will probably delete me from Facebook— but it’s my truth right now (at least until I get mugged, or see this man on the subway:
When friends visit, I have the opportunity to be a tourist. I do things most residents never do in their cities— I visit museums and see things I normally wouldn’t visit.
Such was the case this past week with friends visiting from London.
We visited the Lower East Side— a favorite neighborhood of mine with a treasure of a museum called the Tenement Museum, a place that celebrates early immigrant history in New York City with an emphasis on the tenement houses that still exist in the area.
Anyone with immigrant roots should see this place and take one of the many tours it offers. The tenement houses that still dot the neighborhood were the apartment buildings where dozens of people— often two or three families at a time— crammed into a single apartment.
The neighborhood began as an early German settlement in the mid-1880s and eventually became the largest Jewish settlement in the world. By the late 1800s and early 1900s the first Greeks began arriving too— primarily Greek Jews, but also large numbers of Christian families too.
We took the walking tour called The Foods of the Lower East Side and learned how food evolved in the neighborhood— from wooden pushcarts to the Essex Street Market where vendors had stalls (when Mayor LaGuardia forced the vendors off the streets) to today— swanky food shops and restaurants run by third generation grandchildren of the first immigrants— many of whom have left lucrative Wall Street jobs to keep family businesses going.
One such place we stopped to visit was Economy Candy— a New York City staple for tourists and locals alike. It’s an old fashioned candy shop that has boxes piled one on top of each other. Cases and cases of every kind of candy you can imagine, sold in packs, or in bulk.
Something about this place hinted at a sense of Greekness… Its chaos, perhaps? Or the over-abundance of halva varieties on sale. During the tour, we later found out that the shop was founded by a Greek immigrant from Thessaloniki and today, his grandchildren are running the store.
A few days later we went to the Met— a place I call the Greekest place in New York City (yes, even more than Astoria). The permanent collection of Greek, Cypriot and Byzantine treasures rivals that of most museums in Greece.
Thousands of treasures, exquisitely exhibited and detailed for millions of visitors annually to see.
And what’s even better— a major temporary exhibition was up called Pergamon, from the great Asia Minor city that thrived more than two and a half thousand years ago.
I guess the moral of my post is that if you’re looking for something– don’t go where you only expect to find it. Most people coming to New York City run to my old neighborhood of Astoria thinking it’s Greek central. When in all actuality, there is so much more– even where you’d least expect it.
Oh, and the other moral of the story– the Ancient Greeks invented laptops. They really did. (OK, maybe not)