On my tenth day in New York, after wanting to go for a couple years, I finally made it to the Museum of the City of New York. I’m so glad I finally made it! I learned SO MUCH!
The first exhibit on the main floor was Saving Place: 50 Years of NYC Landmarks. The exhibit talked about the 1965 Landmark Law that enabled old buildings in NYC to be saved from demolition even if they had to be repurposed. The exhibit was both awesome and depressing. It was awesome, because I’m really thankful to the people in the 60s and 70s who fought for the New York landmarks we still have, and depressing because some really cool buildings were demolished before the landmark law and that sucks. There were a number of pictures of buildings in the exhibit where I was like, “Ooh, cool! Where is that? I want to go there!” Only to find out that the building had been demolished before I was even born.
There was a Jacob Riis exhibit called Revealing New York’s Other Half which displayed Riis’s photography of New York’s slums from the late eighteen hundreds to the early nineteen hundreds. At the time Riis was working photography wasn’t a major thing. Newspapers didn’t print pictures. Instead, Riis would submit a photo and then a crude etching of the photo would be made and duplicated in the paper. It’s amazing how much a photograph can say, and how much humanity was lost in the etchings that appeared in the papers. The etchings characterized the people and made it easier to forget or ignore that they were human beings living in deplorable conditions. I think this exhibit was especially poignant because as I looked at the images I realized that in another time, in another life, that could’ve been me.
Affordable New York: A Housing Legacy broke down the different policies that led to NYC’s subsidized housing practices. The government determines income categories by using something called an Area Median Income, or AMI. The AMI basically determines the middle income for a region and anything below that is low income. In the U.S. as a whole, the AMI is $65,800 for a family of four, in New York State the AMI is $72,000, and in New York City the AMI is $86,30. So, how much someone falls below that number, determines what kind of aid they qualify for. The kicker though is that the current wait list for NYC public housing is eight years. EIGHT YEARS! So, if someone is living in abject poverty if they can just survive for the next eight years, they might be ok… Depressing, to say the least. Though NYC has done more, and been more successful than any other metropolis in the country, to provide affordable housing to its residents. So there’s that, I suppose.
The Jacob Riis and Affordable Housing exhibits were a stark contrast to the Gilded New York displays of Tiffany jewelry and other lavish items from the city’s well-to-do residents. It’s almost silly how the rich live with their fancy necklaces and earrings, completely oblivious to, or unbothered by the working class destitution around them.
Activist New York was easily my favorite part of the Museum of the City of New York. The exhibit chronicled the many different activist causes throughout the history of the city, from immigrants rights to women’s suffrage and from gay rights to environmentalism and bicycle advocacy. They even included the current struggle for Park 51, an Islamic Cultural Center, proposed near the World Trade Center. I hadn’t even heard of that prior to my trip to the museum.
The best part of the Activist exhibit though was the field trip taking place while I was exploring it. The museum lady was explaining the discrimination against immigrants that used to happen before there were laws banning discrimination. This one kid actually gasped and said, “no way!” Sometimes I think we should let kids rule the world, but only before they’ve been indoctrinated by their parents and society. Then I remember Lord of the Flies and I think, ok, maybe not.
The museum also had a video about the history of New York called Timescapes that I caught most of. Bless the 1811 Plan to grid Manhattan rather than let it to continue to grow haphazardly as the population grew! I also learned that Robert Moses is the jerk responsible for the major highway systems in New York, and the rest of the country really, and the reason we don’t have a better public transportation system. Did I mention I think he’s a jerk?!
I had lunch plans and was running out of time, so I quickly stopped through the Folk City: New York and the Folk Music Revival and The New York City Marathon: The Great Race exhibits. The NYC marathon exhibit was especially cool because it had just been run the day before, so there were a number of runners at the exhibit at the same time I was. There was cool music playing in the Folk exhibit.
I cut through Central Park to catch the fastest train to meet Mary for lunch. I’d never been so far north in Central Park before, apparently that’s the place to go to get away from all the people. It was really quiet and chill. Plus it was a pretty nice day out so it was just lovely all around.
Mary and I met at Artichoke Basille’s Pizza by the High Line. I really don’t like artichokes. I think they’re gross. Therefore, it is a testament to how freaking good Artichoke’s Pizza is that I always crave their artichoke pizza. I’m sure their other kinds of pizza are good too, but their artichoke pizza is just heavenly!
After lunch Mary and I walked the High Line, which, if you don’t know, is an old above ground railroad line that has been repurposed into a landscaped public space. The fall colors on the High Line were pretty spectacular.
Then Mary and I went our separate ways. She went Christmas shopping and I headed to the Staten Island Ferry, another thing I’d meant to do while I lived in New York, but never got around to doing. I’d heard the Staten Island Ferry offered some pretty nice (free) views of the Statue of Liberty, and I’d never been to Staten Island before, so I figured, why not?
The sky was pretty overcast and since we were pretty far away Liberty seemed smaller than I remembered from the last time I’d seen her, but it was still a nice view for a free ride. I really didn’t feel like navigating an unfamiliar place (Staten Island) in the dark so I decided to get back on the next ferry and return to Manhattan. On the way back the sun peeked out of the clouds and lit up the NYC skyline really nicely.
Then I looked over my shoulder and saw the brilliantly colored sky looking like it was nearly on fire. I got a nice picture of Lady Liberty’s silhouette against that awesomely colored sky:
Back in Manhattan, I took a walk through Chinatown and Little Italy and listened to The Lumineers’ Ho Hey on corner of Canal and Bowery…I just had to…
I had just enough time to stop and get a couple $1 slices from 2 Bros Pizza in midtown before heading to Barnard. A few weeks back I’d RSVP’d to a New York Stage and Film reading of a play called Everything is Wonderful at Barnard. Since I’d shelled out quite a bit for the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child tickets in London next summer, I’d decided not to try to see a show on Broadway while in town, so this was going to be it for my theatre-going experience in NYC.
I really enjoyed the show. It was about an Amish family whose two sons die in a car accident. The driver of the car comes and works and stays on the family farm at the same time the excommunicated sister comes home to mourn with the family. There were a lot of time jumps in the play, which were clear during the reading because someone was reading the stage directions. With all the time jumps I think a full production would be difficult to pull off successfully, though I’d probably go see a full production just to see how someone addressed the time shifts.
Tuesday, day eleven in New York, was Mary’s birthday so we started the day with some bagels at Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company, which does not, in fact, have any locations in Brooklyn….
After getting in the mood for Brooklyn with our bagels, we headed to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which is actually in Brooklyn. Mary couldn’t believe how beautiful the weather was. I tried to convince her this was the Universe’s way of wishing her a happy birthday, but I’m not sure if she believed me. The Botanic Garden was beautiful. So many wonderful fall colors and in the middle you couldn’t hear the sounds of the city.
Next we went back to Manhattan to check out the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art. Had it not been for my reciprocal museum pass I wouldn’t have even known this museum existed. Since it was one of the first museums solely dedicated to the gay and lesbian experience I thought it might have an interesting perspective. When I looked it up it turned out it was always free so I asked Mary if she wanted to go and she did!
The exhibit at Leslie-Lohman was titled On the Domestic Front: Scenes of Everyday Queer Life and it had subsections: At Home, At Play, At Work, and Fantasy. After viewing the exhibit Mary and I agreed that most of the content seemed to focus on gays rather than lesbians. The exception was the At Work part, which focused on lesbians in traditionally male professions. All in all, it was an interesting look at gay and lesbian art and how society shaped the queer community.
We swung by Juilliard so Mary could get her phone charger and then we went to dinner at Mamasita’s in Hell’s Kitchen. Oh. My. Yum. There’s a poster on the wall that said best Mexican food in NYC but, like all the “World’s Best Coffee” claims, I figured it was just that, a claim. I think they may be right. They may well have the best Mexican food in NYC.
Now, I haven’t actually tried every single Mexican place in the city, but this was pretty amazing. Very flavorful and not terribly expensive. Oh, and the margaritas were delicious as well. Though after mine, being the lightweight I currently am, I was definitely ready to call it a night early and go to bed. Mary didn’t mind and was going to wait and go out with her boyfriend after he got off work so I headed back to Washington Heights alone and fell asleep almost immediately once I laid down.