Little Italy

NEW YORK, NEW YORK, … A Wonderful Town!

Definitely not a big city person, visiting New York was never on my bucket list. Who needed tall buildings, tangled traffic, and crowded sidewalks with shoulder-brushing, stylishly dressed crowds, hustling and bustling on their way to who knows where?

Not for me … I’d stick to long walks on the beach, beautiful sunsets, flip-flops and cocktails on the pier.

But then, as often happens in life, fate stepped in.

As an avid tennis buff I had opportunity to attend the US Open in New York City. and it wasn’t long before I discovered what crooners Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra touted in song as  “a wonderful town.”

My visit there included all the things first-timers do; Times Square, Broadway shows, a walk/ride in Central Park, dining in fabulous restaurants, the hop-on, hop-off bus, shopping in SoHo, and so on. But the highlights for me were visiting the Bowery and parts thereof, as well as and the World Trade Center site.

The Bowery and Other Parts

Sometime in the 1900s my Polish ancestors set foot on America’s shores, and for as long as I can remember I heard stories about the Bowery and the ethnic neighborhoods established in NY by the various immigrants. I learned that my father was born in the Polish sector in 1912, and that my grandfather practiced the furriers trade there, establishing himself as a master craftsman. Then, receiving an offer “he couldn’t refuse,” he moved the family to Houston, TX where I was born.

Walking the streets of the Bowery and Chinatown, and participating in a pizza tour of Little Italy, I had a small sense of what it must have been like to live there in those long ago times.  Although things have changed a great deal, the sounds, smells, linguistic conversations, historic store fronts and generational businesses sent me back to that era. Nostalgia reared its head, and I pictured my father in a flat or “newsboy” cap, a sweater with worn elbows, knickers and knee-length hose. I saw him rolling a wire hoop through rough-hewn streets, and even defending his heritage from those who might taunt his ethnicity. It was an experience I didn’t expect to have, one I carried home with me, one that I conjure up now and then, adding to my understanding of where I came from and who I am.

The World Trade Center

Coupling that ancestral experience with the reality of real-time, my visit to the happenings of 9/11 upon the waters of the Hudson River (via Circle Line Cruises), was probably the most impressive and moving of all my first-time experiences in NYC. While the familiar sights seen – the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the NYC skyline – were extremely impressive, the most moving for me was our pause on the water in the pathway of the planes that took down the twin towers.

The narration on that spot by our cruise guide, a resident of NY since birth, was inspirational and moving. As a native New Yorker, his connection to the event resonated with truth and emotion, recreating the tragedy in my mind and heart, creating a communion with those fellow Americans affected, and making it something that I will never ever forget. Following that cruise, my visit to the Ground Zero site served as another reminder, but seeing the rebuilding took me from the depths of the tragedy to the hope and strength of our great country to recover and to remain standing.

Although I still remain a “beach bum” at heart, and definitely not a big city person, these experiences have made me see the Big Apple with entirely different eyes. I am anxious to visit NYC again. In some ways I now feel that it is more a part of me, something I want to embrace and in the near future to have opportunity to experience once again.

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