This afternoon, we had a glimpse of the history of the Lower East Side starting with a trip to the Museum at Eldrige Street. This museum is actually a renovated synagogue (founded in 1887). We spent a long time admiring the lovely and richly colored stained glass windows (see photo). Today, the synagogue is in Chinatown, but this was once a Jewish neighborhood. Our guide explained that the synagogue was a neighborhood gem. It allowed worshipers to leave behind, for a moment at least, a life of factories and cramped living conditions while providing a beautiful place of peace, reflection and hope.
After Eldridge Street, we headed to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum (103 Orchard Street). This museum offers guided tours of a tenement building. The story of some of the building’s previous tenants is told focusing on the challenges faced by immigrants. I really enjoyed this story telling approach. We tried to imagine what New York would have been like a century ago.
Damien and I recently visited an ice cream shop (Sundaes & Cones) recommended by a friend. Standing in front of the colorful ice cream display, we were intrigued by some of the more unusual flavors.
A pale yellow ice cream caught our attention, labeled simply as corn. Other flavors included sesame, wasabi, lavender, avocado, green tea and ginger. I asked for a sample of the corn ice cream.
My maternal grandmother who was born in France often told me that corn was the food item which had surprised her the most when she arrived in New York. Where she grew up in rural France, corn was only used to feed the farm animals. As I accepted a sample, I couldn’t help thinking how surprised my grandmother would be to see corn transformed into a dessert.
Several days later, a friend invited us to a restaurant in Chinatown. She assured us that we could go out for ice cream after dinner and took us to the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. Here, I became acquainted with “Zen Butter”, a combination of peanut butter and sesame seeds. “We can find everything here,” Damien remarked with his cone of taro ice cream in hand. I just smiled.
Even in New York, we were able to celebrate Bastille Day. Several streets were closed to traffic for a Bastille Day street fair and decorated with red, white and blue balloons. Food stands lined the streets offering pâté, macarons, crêpes and more.
As we looked around us, we thought of last year’s Bastille Day when we gathered on the steps of the Grande Arche de la Défense to watch military planes fly overhead. Somehow, it seemed so far away. Each year, Paris organizes a big parade on July 14th including an air show.
We were pleased to find the flavors of France in the streets of New York.
One evening, we went for a stroll in Washington Square Park. Even at dusk, the park was full of people. A group of teenagers played music on the grass, a few women dipped their feet in the fountain and the chess players sat hunched over their chessboards with an air of complete concentration.
All of a sudden, I noticed a little flickering light and then another. We realized that the park was filled with dozens of fireflies hovering above the grass. Damien had never seen any before.
We stood there, mesmerized by the hypnotic dance of the fireflies. For an instant, I was carried back to the hot summer evenings of my childhood when my brother and I would chase fireflies in my grandparent’s backyard. Sweat streaked and laughing, we would run across the garden following the glittering lights. We were always surprised that a backyard which appeared rather ordinary during the day could seem so magical at night.
Damien’s voice brought me back from my thoughts. After a few minutes, we continued on our way, but I couldn’t help looking back several times for a last glimpse of those golden specks in the night.