I lived in New York for half a decade. Ever since I first started Parsons, and my long overdue coming of age happened all in New York. My first heartbreak, my first career rejection, my first (and hopefully only) mice infestation, and my first experience of truly becoming financially independent happened here. Sometimes I feel like tears are streaking down my face when I listen to New York State of Mind by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. Its just embarrassing that I just decided to explore it just now.
Of course, like a typical "tourist", I decided to check out TripAdvisor. Tenement Museum in 97 Orchard Street seemed like an off beaten destination in New York, and seemed apt for an alien living in New York.
The museum is as much a living ruin of the Lower East Side as a historic home- most of the tours are like an interactive storytelling. I attended the Sweatshop tour. It just made sense for me, I majored in Fashion.
We basically visited two rooms. One was bare and the other was a historically recreated dressmaking sweatshop where the Polish Levine family had lived. It was a visual time capsule of what it meant to live as an immigrant working in the fashion industry on Orchard Street at the turn of the century when RTW was born.
The tour wasn't exactly a tour. It was a more of a interactive presentation. The museum strives to promote tolerance, reminding visitors of the challenges facing modern-day immigrants by presenting the struggles faced by those in the past. One of the visitors quipped that Donald Trump should visit. Guides encourage discussion and often begin a tour by asking visitors about their own ethnic roots, whether we had family who went through Ellis Island. The tour guide asked us most of the time to imagine what would it feel like or how it would have been like if we were the immigrants who lived in those halls. If you have no sense of empathy and imagination, good luck enjoying this tour.
You'll realize that the commonplace things (i.e. Electricity, working on fridays, introduction of Plastics) that we have and do have profound effects on religion, laws, family interaction, childcare and even interior design.
Before delving into this journey to the past, use the bathroom. 97 Orchard has a lot of toilets but I'm not sure if they are functional. Ha! There will be a lot of standing. I think we spent a good two hours standing in 350 sq. foot room with other 12 people, just try not to lean against the wall or any furniture. I really cant believe women use to give birth in that miniscule room with other family AND ALSO other sweatshop workers.
After the tour, my head was about to burst because of the my self-diagnosed claustrophobia and my head was aching due to the questions that were thrown at the museum visitors. I had to explore the Lower East Side. I normally feel like I'm the oldest person there. It's just filled with "skater' kids, fashions that my younger cousins would sport, break dancers and the self denying hipsters (if there is still such thing).
LES, is loud, raw and dynamic. It reminds me of pubescents that are just confused and filled with hormonal energy. The streets are smaller and the occasional rat sighting is bigger. But I'm still charmed by this borough. You rarely find commercial chain type of businesses or restaurants here. Almost everything is homegrown and definitely New York, and my favorite restaurant is here- Clinton St. Bakery.
When I found out that Dan's never had fondue, we just checked out Yelp and found a fondue restaurant in the neighboring Tribeca- and just like that, I fell in love with New York again.