New York: Lower East Side

In 2004, I saw a women’s film festival called LunaFest that the people who make Luna Bars coordinate every year. The proceeds of the film’s tour go to the Breast Cancer Fund and local nonprofit organizations.

One of the featured documentaries was A Good Uplift, about a lingerie shop on the Lower East Side in New York. Although Magda, star of the film, has retired, her family still operates the business and today involved a pilgrimage to see what it was like . . . as well as a tour of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Both sites have been on my visiting wish list for a couple of years and I finally got to them.


There’s a storefront museum shop and tour starting point. The museum itself consists of walking tours. The tenement at 97 Orchard Street, which I visited as part of one tour, is directly behind the tree in the middle of that photo. The black-background sign is the museum’s interpretive identifier for the structure. When it was used residentially, the building contained twenty three-room apartments (about 400 square feet each). It has housed 7,000 people from 20 countries, with up to 14 people in an apartment (although usually less, like between 4 and 6 . . . which is still a lot, by contemporary American standards).

Yes, I participated in the publishing conference as well today. . . .

And also saw a Broadway play:  The Year of Magical Thinking, a one-woman show based on Joan Didion’s book of the same name and starring Vanessa Redgrave. The play encompasses a somewhat larger span of time than the book, and appropriately and powerfully so. I would have been in awe that I was seeing Vanessa Redgrave in person except that she became the play so thoroughly that that overcame the knowledge of who was manifesting it for us. The set: simple, stark, and nearly magical.

As I walked back across town to the hotel, I thought again that I love to visit New York, this new-to-me place, but that I wouldn’t want to live here, and I also realized in part why. I wouldn’t want to become so familiar with it that I would take it for granted, and would get into the pattern of my own routine life and would lose the pleasure I get in discovering new things about it.


2 thoughts on “New York: Lower East Side”

  1. Your trip includes things I never even knew about and wouldn’t necessarily pursue… and we both love New York. That’s one of the best things about the city. It’s dense with wonder!

    Enjoy the trip. I’m off to Columbus Friday… a city I’ve never yet “collected” though I’ll be at a conference center and with people who don’t like to adventure with food. Maybe I’ll find a buddy while I’m there who can take me to an ethnic restaurant if I’m lucky.

  2. Hi, Lynn: Yeah, it’s fascinating to me how many layers there are to this city. In my initial post, I realized I’d focused so closely on art museums. I haven’t heard much music here, but I think that’s because I often travel alone–or with a friend who is into Broadway plays and likes company when she attends them. I’m also always here for a conference that consumes large chunks of both days and evenings. I’d go find ethnic food with you if I were in Columbus! Deb

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