The Perfect Day.

17 07 2008

I started yesterday with a mission: to make it to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. That was it. I’ve been dreaming of going to that museum for months and I was determined yesterday to make that dream come true. I bought myself an educator’s membership and, for $40, began the first of many trips to the museum that explore the immigrant experience in New York at the turn of the 20th century. So, beneath the bright sun and clear blue sky with a medium latte from the coffee shop across the street in one hand, and my boyfriend’s hand in the other, we took off on the subway into Manhattan and made our way down to the Lower East Side. 

I’d been to this museum years ago when I was an undergraduate English major studying US Immigration history. My professor planned a whole Saturday in New York for us, including a trip to Ellis Island and a dinner in Chinatown. Before that trip to the city, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been there. At college I was a loner. I’d come in as a mid-year transfer during my junior year and had so few friends I was able to pour myself into my books and get lost in my studies. This worked out well in the grand scheme of things as later, because of my hermit undergraduate ways, I was accepted to a fabulous grad school. In any case, this immigration history class was one of the best I’d ever taken with a professor who knew her stuff and who I admired a great deal. The trip to New York was something I very geekishly looked forward to going on, and while my other undergrad classmates moaned and complained about losing a whole Saturday for school, I was trembling with excitement. 

The trip to Ellis Island was first and, because I had no friends in the class, I stood by myself at the front of the ferry going over. I was lost in my imagination, wondering what the experience would have been like for me had I come to the US at the turn of the century, arriving first at Ellis Island loaded down with bags and bundles from the mother land, and was still thinking these things as I stumbled off the boat and onto the Island. So imagine my confusion when, standing directly in front of me, was my very own mother. MY mother. My mother who was supposed to be in New Jersey visiting friends of the family. Here it was, ten in the morning on a Saturday in November, and MY MOTHER is standing in front of me on Ellis Island. It took me a moment to realize what was happening, but when I did, I’m pretty sure I squealed with excitement. How very real this immigrant experience was! I was a loner, on a ship to Ellis Island, and upon arrival at the gates, there was my family! The two of us had a great time that day and though she could only stay with me for the Ellis Island portion of the field trip, it made the day unforgettable. 

The next part of the trip was the Tenement Museum. I suggest you look at the website if you are remotely interested in immigration history. The museum has preserved an actual tenement building and has researched the histories of real families who lived in the museum, preserving and/or restoring their apartments, and gives a real feeling of what it was like to live during the time. In a building that would now house no more than 30 people, there used to live upwards of 120 or more. No light, no fresh air, no space. It is a phenomenal museum and is so full of information and room for the imagination that the experience sticks with you for a while. It stuck with me for six years and yesterday Dennis and I went back for more. He’d never been, and I’d been talking about it for years, so when we arrived and we were the only two on the 1:40 tour, I just about exploded with excitement. I could ask any question I wanted, I could go anywhere I wanted, I could say anything!!! We took a tour that focused on the garment industry workers, visited three apartments in the tenement (one from the late 1890s, one from the 1910s, and the last from the 1930s,) and learned about the history of the museum itself. 

 

So the mission was accomplished and then some. Because after the museum, we walked a few streets over and had a great lunch in Little Italy, then walked it all off on our way north to Bryant Park to hear free jazzin the blazing sun. It was a testament to how much I love jazz really because when we finally decided to stand up, we were drenched in our own sweat, soaked right through our shirts and pants. There were actual rivulets of sweat streaming down my chest and gathering at the top of my jeans. That’s not an easy thing to admit, but I’m doing it anyway. After the show, we rewarded ourselves for our long walk and shameless display of active sweat glands, by having curbside Mr. Softee ice cream cones. 

At home we watched a movie and both fell asleep an hour into the film. It was the perfect day, the most perfect day I could imagine. I think I will like it here very much.


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10 responses

17 07 2008
ladybughugs

I could only live vicariously through you and your blog when you were writing about Brazil. Now that you are here, in New York!, I can actually plan some day trips for my family based on your adventures. How appropriate would this trip be for almost ten-year-old, soon-to-be fifth-grader? It sounds very concrete (ha!, no pun intended), very real.

18 07 2008
Nilsa

You are serving as an inspiration! I have been to New York countless times and either visit the same old haunts … or no haunts at all because I’m having too much fun catching up with family and friends. When I return to New York in October, I will go somewhere new. Maybe the Tenement Museum. Will you be my guide?

18 07 2008
ginacoggio

Ladybug: Yes, I think it would be very appropriate for a 5th grader, especially if your 10 year old is interested in history, or in New York, or maybe has a lot of friends from diverse backgrounds. The museum does have a tour that’s appropriate for younger kids, too, so that might be the one to go on.

Nilsa: I am always happy to go to this museum and would be thrilled to accompany you!!

18 07 2008
annefisler

It’s been a while since I’ve left any comments over here (that I can remember, anyway), but I just wanted to add a bit more to the history part of this post (ie., WHY I was standing there on Ellis Island when Gina “got off the boat” on her immigrant experience). My husband and I were at the end of a 6 week trip doing the timeshare thing and visiting friends in Florida and all the way back up the coast. Amazingly, we have friends located at very strategic points along the eastern seaboard, so we can easily move from house to house and seldom have to see a motel sign – when we do, though, it’s always a Hampton Inn… (Now, of course, it’s obvious to the WORLD, thanks to this post, that we’ve been a pair of moochers – but in our defense, we really have invited everyone back to our home for visits as long as they’d like to stay). In reality, however, Vermont really isn’t on the way to many other places, so there are many of our friends who still need to take us up on our offer and GET UP HERE!!! Anyway, back to the story…. Our last stop on our yearly trips back up north was always with our friends in N.J., because that’s where my husband grew up (and also because it’s the last chance to be “down the shore” before heading inland and north to Vermont). However, I’d been hearing from Gina for the previous couple of weeks about her upcoming trip to NYC and the cool places she was going to see, and that got me thinking (always a bit scarey ….. I love good surprises, so I put in a lot of work to make this one happen: I called her college English Dept. and explained whose mother I was (Gina at this point had become a straight A student – braggy mom, braggy mom… I know, ha ha ha!), so they listened to my “plot” with quite a bit of interest. I somehow got them to get a message to the professor who was in charge of the trip and have her call me back so I could explain things more fully and then ask the necessary questons to enable me to proceed with my plan. The professor was really thrilled to be a participant in this surprise for my daughter, and that pleased me so much – plus, she vowed to keep the secret! Anyway, I found out their intended itinerary, the approximate time of the boat they HOPED to board which would take them from NYC to Ellis Island (there are MANY, trust me), and about how long they’d be there. Excited with all this info, I then needed to find out the same boat info, only starting from the NJ side (plus, “borrow” my husband’s car for the day) – then figure out which boat times would get me there enough in advance so I could “survey the sitch” (Camp Arcadia phraseology) – ie., look around and choose the best site for me to watch the ZILLIONS of people coming off boats from BOTH NYC and NJ and try to spot my lovely daughter in the crowd, but still not be too far away to take her unsuspecting picture and then engulf her with a big Mama hug ( and not embarrass her too, too much….. ha ha – truthfully, that part never even crossed my mind). I did end up watching MANY boats unload MANY passengers, until I finally caught a glimpse of my poor little “loner” – and the rest, as they say, is history. It was one of the happiest surprises I’d ever pulled off, and I did get to thank Gina’s professor for all the help she’d given me. It was a time I will treasure forever.

18 07 2008
pamelagherini

I feel overwhelmed with happiness of knowing that you are well! I miss you a lot and have only actually noticed your departure now huahauhau! I was impressed by the coincidence of you finding your mother at the museum! That made the post incredibly funny! I really hope to see you soon!

21 07 2008
Susan

What a fantastic day…I love those kind of days. Perfection.
My mother is always curious about her heritage so this would be a great place to send her. Her family came over on a boat from Germany. We have the boat number, but their name was shortened for safety so its near impossible to figure it all out.
Great post! Love the story about your mom and Ellis Island.

21 07 2008
lilikaofthelake

There were a lot of immigrants that came throught the Gulf Coast too – Galveston and a great deal of sadness for those Germans.
I love that America is made up of so many different cultures with so many stories. Sad ones and happy.

I think you and your mom should write a book together – our world and our culture need more stories about the kind of Love and trust you two share.
It is something that always fills my heart with hope.

21 07 2008
YFBID

HILARIOUS. really cute post – i can just picture you standing there confused. you gals should reenact that moment in costume next time. ha!

i’m glad you’re enjoying all the pleasantries of NYC!🙂

21 07 2008
ginacoggio

Oooh, I am MORE than enjoying.

25 07 2008
ladybughugs

Gina, your mom is my kind of person. I love that she went to so much trouble to surprise you. The fact that there were so many variables and she made it happen is phenomenal. It is so something I would do! I love it!

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