“Location, Location, Location”
When the English captain, Henry Hudson, in the service of the Dutch East India Company, anchored the Dutch vessel at what was to him the wrong location, he could not have foreseen that he had hit the jackpot. The location of the place, at the tip of an island, the surrounding areas and rivers made “New Amsterdam” alias, “New York” the world’s most accessible place.
Three centuries years later, the Scottish-born writer Henry Collins Brown fulfilled his dream of preserving and presenting the history of New York City with a privately founded Museum. Located on Fifth Avenue on 103rd to 104th Streets, the colonial-revival designed building opened in 1932 and has been going strong ever since.
Statues of Alexander Hamilton and DeWitt Clinton stand in two niches of the façade. I imagine that Clinton, known for his naturalist endeavors, would be pleased to see Central Park’s Conservatory Garden in the middle of New York.
Since I am an immigrant myself (and didn’t attend school here), I know little about American history, and less about the history of New York. To catch up, I watch Timescapes. The 28-minute film (also available in French, Spanish, and Mandarin) traces the growth of the city from a settlement of a few hundred Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans to its present status as one of the world’s greatest cities. It is the perfect introduction to three exhibits on the first floor.
New York At Its Core tells the story of New York from the Dutch beginning in 1609 to the densely populated diverse city in 1898.
World City showcases the evolution of New York into a global metropolis. Enormous wealth vs. utter poverty; protests and patriotism; immigration issues, civil rights; sexual orientation, and social activism. New York had to constantly reinvent itself during the course of the tumultuous 20th century.
Future City Lab invites visitors to think of the city’s future by analyzing the present situation and leaving their suggestions.
I prefer to stay in the present. A winding marble staircase, sparkling with millions of little lights, leads to the café on the second floor.
High ceilings, black & white marble floors, potted plants of various sizes, add to the attraction of the place. On my first visit I order the Cobb Salad.
Waiting for my salad to be served, I catch sight of a Lincoln quote high up on the wall: “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.”
When I return two weeks later, Bluestone Lane has taken over. My order of “Moroccan Sandwich”, brought by the server, comes in a brown cardboard box.
“I didn’t order it to go” I protest, convinced this is a mistake. But, it isn’t.
“What’s going on here?” I wonder.
“Not to worry,” they assure me. “The café will soon switch over to a full-fledged operation.”
Actually, the café is already hip by having joined the present coffee cult: Machiato, Latte, Cappucino, Flat White, Mocha. I still can’t tell one from the other.
Time to visit El Museo del Barrio’s Side Park Café and Bar which opened a few months ago. My friend and I meet for an early dinner. The decor is so cheerful and the reception so cordial, we are surprised that the place is still relatively unknown. I am not particularly hungry but, when I see quesadilla on the menu, I change my mind. George who was born in Belgian and grew up in Cuba, loved Mexico, particularly Oaxaca. On our repeated visits, we would walk to George’s favorite sidewalk cafe at the Town Square in the late afternoon and enjoy quesadilla
El Barrio’s Side Park Cafe has an extensive menu that includes pasta dishes and several salads. The Cafe is open 7 days a week and stays open till 11:00 PM on the weekend. I look forward to return.
I understand that the City of New York’s café still serves their food in cardboard boxes. Meanwhile, Bluestone Lane has set up a stand on the museum’s big terrace, selling hot and cold coffees, teas, and a selection of sodas.
I was about to release my Museum of the City of New York blog, when the museum opened its highly anticipated bilingual exhibit: Rhythm and Power-Salsa in New York. And while salsa means sauce to me, mention salsa to any Latino -especially one from Mexico or Cuba- chances are he or she will smile and start to dance. A blend of African and Caribbean sounds, combined with polyrhythm, salsa came to life in New York in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It never left.
The exhibit is relatively small. But it packs a mighty wallop. It was an eye opener to me for I understood what the museum had done all along. Large or small – from New York’s Yiddish Theater to Gay Gotham – nearly every special exhibit has focused on one distinctive aspect on what makes New York New York.