Thursday, 17th December
Today I moved house for the last time. My final stop was Bowery Street in Nolita (which stands for North of Little Italy- apparently a made up area name created to spark gentrification: it worked!) The area is a strange mixture of grittiness, art galleries and high end clothing stores. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but I really loved it in the end. I stayed at the Bowery House, which is a re-purposed hotel which served as temporary lodgings for soldiers returning from WWII. A couple of friends stayed here a few years back and described the cabins as deluxe “chicken coops”, each cabin having just enough room to fit a single bed and storage of essential items. The cabins also feature wooden cross hatched slats over the empty ceiling space. It’s a great cost effective way to stay in Manhattan and is fine for anyone who doesn’t want to spend too much time in their room.
I’d signed myself up for a Free Tours By Foot tour of the Lower East Side, Nolita and the East village that afternoon. The rain was really heavy and I managed to arrive uncharacteristically early so took the opportunity to take shelter, order French Toast and drink copious amounts of coffee. As I waited in the rain for my tour guide, I wondered if I was the only one silly enough to show up for a free tour in heavy rain. Luckily, one other person (a Canadian girl) was foolish enough to honour her commitment and the tour went ahead with our inimitable tour guide, Dante Salerno. It was an awesome and very informative tour and we learnt about the immigrant communities who moved to the area, the punks and finally the hipsters (or yupsters). The tour included a trip to the site of CBGB, famed hangout of the Ramones, Blondie, and Talking Heads. We also caught a glimpse of the site of the world’s first underground park, the Lowline– a plan to use solar technology to shed light on an historic trolley terminal on the Lower East Side.
The soggy tour was followed up with an educational visit to the Tenement Museum (learning about the fates of a German and Italian family who lived in the building we were shown around). In the spirit of No Sleep till Brooklyn, I went straight to a highbrow variety show type thing at the magical McNally Jackson bookstore. Playwright Annie Baker and novelist Lynne Tillman gave a fascinating talk on the powers of inanimate objects, read from their and others’ work and made me miss my university days. On the way home I went to the excellent Joe’s Pizza (our tour guide had said it was the best pizza in NYC) and got invited to a party on Ludlow Street. Though it may have made more entertaining reading, I decided that going to party at a pizza queue acquaintance’s pad probably wouldn’t have been one of my better ideas. Instead, I ate my pizza slice and retired to the coop.
Friday, 18th December
Today I got up super early to go on a pilgrimage to Orange, New Jersey to see where my grandmother was born. Fun fact: I am 1/4 American (I can already picture my family collectively rolling their eyes at this claim, but it is technically true). Though my great grandparents were both Cornish, my mum’s mum was born in NJ and moved to Cornwall when she was eight years old. Though I never heard it, apparently she retained her American accent until she was in her 40s. How cool is that? Anyway, I found out that Orange is only 20 mins or so from Penn Station so I set off on a photographic odyssey, hoping to capture a slice of Americana. There was time for a nose around Little Italy before catching a ride to New Jersey.
Orange didn’t disappoint and I managed to cause a bit of a stir by being white and owning a camera with a prominent lens. A few friendly locals came to chat to me about soccer (oh dear)! It was quite a run down, industrial city but really different to just about anything I’d seen before. Most of the houses were pretty dilapidated but this added to Orange’s charm- it looked as though it might have been quite a swell place to live 90 years ago and I felt pretty emotional when I saw Granny’s childhood home on Watchung Avenue.
When I got back to NYC I found out that MoMA was free on Friday evenings so I joined the hoards of other cheapskates in some art appreciation before being traumatised by how busy it was in the gallery. If you go to New York, I’d recommend paying the $25 and looking at some art in relative tranquility. That said, I did manage to concentrate on the Jackson Pollock exhibition before I fled in terror, breathing a sigh of relief as the subway car rattled across the Brooklyn Bridge on the way to Bogota. As you might have guessed, Bogota is the name of a restaurant in Park Slope as well as the capital of Colombia. I was reunited with my Brooklyn buddy who had rejected my sentimental idea to go for Korean barbecue and opted instead for South American fare. Sentiment aside, my first foray into Colombian cuisine was excellent, as were the mojitos and the Brooklyn beer (it had to be done). Nash entertained me for large swathes of the night by impersonating JFK/Mayor Quimby and teaching me how to say haaaaabo-side (harbourside) in a Boston accent. After bidding a tearful farewell to Slinka and Mr Whiskers, I demanded a lesson in yellow cab hailing from a real life New Yorker. It turns out you just stand in the way of oncoming traffic and raise a finger. Fun fact: Nash once played softball with Matthew Broderick.
To be continued….
….but in the meantime why not follow Leah on Instagram xx