Pass the S’mores!

The other night I invited my British friends over for our monthly get together. After dinner I thought it would be nice if we gathered around the wood fire with our cups of Tetley tea.IMG_1732.jpg

 

When I brought out the graham crackers, bag of marshmallows and slabs of chocolate there were giggles of delight from some of the gals. Memories of days in Brownie Scouts, or Girl Guides back in Britain, were told along with camping tales that strayed from the roasting of marshmallows to animals in the wilderness. My dog Hannah barking at seemingly nothing in the darkness, reminded us that coyotes live just a few hundred yards below our garden in the arroyo and mountain lions are never far away either. A little chill ran up our backs.

 

But tonight the only movement we could see were far away lights of planes following each other at even distances as they came in from the south, headed to the airport at San Jose. or San Francisco.  They looked like shooting stars. An off-the-cuff comment was made that perhaps it was planes such as these that led the Three Kings to the stable in Bethlehem (an idea resulting from more empty bottles of wine left on the table than two hours previously).  This reminded my friend Nikki of a complaint made by an American tourist in Windsor, England, who observed, “what a shame that they built the castle so close to the airport!”   More giggles all around.

But I digress! Back to the S’mores.There were nine of us and two had never ever tasted a S’more. Now I ask you, how can you live in America for sixteen years and never have roasted a marshmallow? Furthermore, why on earth are they called S’mores? Wikipedia points out the obvious, that it is a contraction of the phrase “some more.” The first recipe seems to go back to around the 1920’s where it was already popular with scouts and camping.

Not one to be left out, the Guiness World Record book shows the largest number of people making S’mores at one time was 423 in 2016 in Huntington Beach, California. Trivia fans, you never know when you might need that fascinating piece of information!

Back around the fire I handed out the one “correct” marshmallow stick (handle, long metal round skewer thing with a “fork” at the end) and a bunch of coat hangers that I save just for this occasion. Over the years, with four grown kids and four grand children, I have purchased any number of manufactured marshmallow sticks over the years (now you can purchase a telescoping kind through Amazon for a mere $20 for four)….but they have mostly disappeared.

How can I end up with just one? Where did all those other marshmallow sticks disappear to? Nothing wrong with a coat hanger or if we were in the forest, a twig. That’s America for you, always marketing something to us consumers. Remember those funny little yellow corn cob holders (Williams Sonoma 8 for $19.95!) that we used once and then they rattle around in that kitchen drawer, poking you every time you search for the apple corer or that gizmo that slices hard boiled eggs.

Marshmallows secured, my friends …..impatient to relive their childhood,….poked the marshmallows into the flames. “No no” I urged, “you need to wait for the coals. “ Poof! They caught fire and there was a lot of huffing and puffing and burnt fingers. Pure bliss spread across my friend Jane’s face when that gooey melted mass oozed out of the graham crackers and made a sticky mess in her fingers. My friend Anita said how she somehow always ended up being the one roasting the marshmallows at boy scout events and never seemed to have the opportunity to make a S’more. So she was very content to make S’mores just for herself.

However, my friend Anita is a vegetarian and I feel simply awful that I did not think at the time to purchase vegetarian marshmallows. Gelatin is the main ingredient of marshmallows (and is also found in gummy candy, yogurt and ice cream). It is an animal protein coming primarily from pigskins and the bones and hides of cattle. Perhaps if more people knew the ingredients of commercial marshmallows, they might want to think twice about popping one in their mouth.

But who knew all this? Anyway, there is actually a National S’mores Day celebrated annually on August 10th. Boy, I must put that on my calendar. I wouldn’t want to miss that big event.   Had better order some more of those fancy skewers!

 

Posted in Uncategorized, Food, Gear, England | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Walking The Way

Exactly two years ago today, I was walking the Camino de Santiago trail across Northern Spain. I had started my journey in France, at St. Jean de Pied, went up over the Pyrenees and on to Pamplona (famous for the annual Running of the Bulls) where many other Pilgrims joined the pilgrim trail.

The Camino trail, also known as the Way of St. James is the name of the pilgrim routes to the shrine of St. James the Apostle in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela where relics of the Apostle are believed to remain.

Popularity for hiking this trail of 550 miles has increased exponentially over the years. In 2000 the number of walkers registered was 55,004. In 2015 the number had increased to 262,458. Not all hikers complete the journey all at one time. Some walk just part of the journey and perhaps return to do another part in another year.

               

Taking a Siesta!

But why do they go at all? For many Catholics there is a strong religious motivation to walk in the footsteps of pilgrims who for centuries walked this same trail. But today, I suspect there is more the appeal of a personal challenge and a desire to experience another country and culture up close and personal.

Octopus, a local delicacy

Torta de Santiago – almond tart unique to this area. Delicious!

There is an emphasis on the “up close and personal” aspect of walking The Way because accommodations in the hostels can be quite cramped, with as many as 40 bunk beds to a dorm room.

        

There are single room options occasionally and B and B’s scattered along the way. But for me, it was Albergues (hostels) all along the way. I loved the anticipation of where I might end up at the end of the day. That bed became my little home for the night, as it did for each and every resident. In the communal kitchen there would be introductions, talk about incidents we might have incurred along the road that day, what could be expected the next day, and so forth. Friendships sprang up and while we all walked a different pace, it was not uncommon to arrange to meet at a certain town down the path for dinner that next night.

I have read that for some folks, walking the Camino changed their life. For the more devout, it was an intensely religious and emotional experience. When I reflect back on those 32 days of walking I have to say that it is the greatest physical achievement of my life and quite honestly, the most satisfying.

After setting out at 6.30am and walking five miles, I found a spot for coffee and almond cake!

To awaken every morning, pulling on your boots, grabbing your poles and stepping out of the Albergue onto the street with absolutely no idea of what to expect that day, was truly liberating.

Boot storage in a municipal dormitory

All I had to do was follow the yellow arrows or scallop shell directing me on the path to Santiago.

      

When I began, I worried about how I would get over that big mountain that loomed ahead, how would I deal with the rain I could hear tapping on the roof at night, where would I find food, rest rooms and would I find a bed the next night.

What I learned on the Camino, and what I have brought home to incorporate into my Post Walk life, is to worry less! Somehow, when you adopt this point of view, it always turns out for the best! That doesn’t mean I didn’t plan ahead to some degree (I had a poncho for rain and carried extra snacks) but The Way taught me to let go of a lot of the anxieties we carry with us, unknowingly, in our everyday lives.

Like little leprechauns we move through the woods!

When I want to “go to my happy place” in my mind, it is inevitably the Camino.  One foot in front of the other, the tap tap of my hiking poles, as I walk  a seemingly endless road with nothing visible for miles but open fields with crops, vineyards, poppies or cows is the most fulfilling experience I have ever had.

        

The thrill of passing through a hamlet where cows are being milked in an old stone shed that has not changed in hundreds of years.

Discovering springs that feed into ancient fountains with the inscription 1492 and imaging those brown cloaked pilgrims with nothing but a staff and gourd for water, refreshing themselves and washing as they journeyed on to pay their respects to St. James.

Losing my way (it happens!) and coming across a tiny chapel where prayers are written on Post Its and stuck to the area around Christ;

                

a tiny chapel with an amazing altar, a bell tower with narrow steep stairs and a sign inviting the visitor to ring the bells.

 

The memories collected on such a voyage live within me forever.  I have the Camino inside me. I think I am a better person for having survived the challenges of The Way and paid my respects to St. James in his Cathedral in Santiago.

 

 

 

Posted in Camino de Santiago, Food, Spain, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Cafe or Coffeeshop? – It all depends!

 

You have to hand it to the Dutch – they are surely one of the most pragmatic of people on the planet. One of the first nations to explore and conquer foreign territories, they have always taken the initiative and especially when it comes to social issues.The Netherlands was the first country to fully legalize marriage equality with the first same-sex marriage occurring in 2001. The Dutch believe that every human has the right to decide matters about their own health, even their own death and have written these rights into law.

Typical narrow street between canals

In a previous blog (March 20, 2017) I wrote about the Red Light District and the legalization of prostitution. The Dutch recognize that pushing an inevitable behavior underground, only invites corruption, violence and even death. To this end, controlled suicide (euthanasia) for terminally ill patients was available in the Netherlands long before it became a possibility in the United States.

The Dutch also have an enlightened view when it comes to an individual’s use of drugs. The commercial production, trading and stocking of drugs remains a criminal office in the Netherlands.  However, for the Dutch, the individual use of marijuana and other “soft” drugs is treated more as a health issue, along the lines of alcohol and tobacco use, rather than a criminal activity.

Free spirited Amsterdamers decorate a “dead space”

They seem to have taken a hard look at prohibition of alcohol in the United States in the years 1919-1933 and have recognized the level of criminality created by total prohibition.  With all the monies wasted on ineffective drug-law enforcement here, and the culture of terror extant in Central and South America by drug cartels, it’s somewhat surprising only a few States in the US allow personal recreational use of marijuana.

Amsterdam is well known for the easy availability of these “soft” drugs, which include weed, hashish and until recently magic mushrooms or paddos. But how does one find these places since they are not allowed to advertise? Even without the help of social media, it is not difficult to locate them.

Waiting for a favorite Coffee shop to open

A real give away of course, is the smell when you walk past the door of a certain “coffee shops”!   Usually there are groups of younger people, primarily young men, gathered outside, waiting to get into a crowded shop. When you do enter, you are usually welcomed, shown a seat and then asked how you can be helped. Just as in the old days of Speakeasies, when you would whisper some code word through a slot in the door to gain access,  here you ask : “May I see the Menu please.”

Cannabis popsicles anyone?

The menu will list all the different grades and types of cannabis available that day. Staff is on hand to answer questions about the effects of the various offerings. Prices vary but its around $12 per gram for a decent puff. To really fit in, roll a joint yourself.

Initially, back in the seventies, this kind of “coffee shop” (if you want coffee, go to a “cafe”) popped up everywhere. Lately their numbers have been reduced. There have even been efforts to restrict access to these coffee shops to residents only but that ban never came into effect when research showed that ninety percent of those frequenting these establishments are not the locals themselves, but foreign tourists. Amsterdam authorities quickly realized banning these shops altogether would have a devastating effect on the local tourist industry. There are still around 250 sprinkled across the city so there is no problem finding one with the right ambiance.

The Bulldog Coffee Shop – one of the originals.

The tourist industry not only depends on business at “coffee shops”, there is an incredible burgeoning business in cannabis edibles, creams and other accessories.

                   

I have to say, my very favorite, most imaginative product were the Girl Scout Cookies made with marijuana!  You may need to squint carefully to read the label.

Speaking of Girl Scout Cookies, as I was getting ready to post this blog, a wonderful cartoon appeared today in our local paper.  Enjoy!

Posted in Amsterdam, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Sex in the City

My friends know I love to travel and I am fortunate enough to pack in more trips than most people. When I bump into an acquaintance, I can pretty much anticipate how the conversation is going to go.

“Hi Sally, how are you? Got any trips planned”

“Well, yes, actually, I am popping off to Amsterdam for a week.” I reply, anticipating how the conversation will continue. There are the raised eyebrows and I go on to explain that I am meeting my son who is returning from a wedding in Africa and that I could not resist an airfare that was $399 round trip (if you don’t have any luggage!). The conversation inevitably continues, with a twinkle in the eye,
“Oh, isn’t that the place where prostitutes sit in windows?”
“Yes,” I tell them, “and I most certainly will be visiting the Red Light District and I will write all about it in my next blog.

The “Rossebuurt”  or “De Wallen” as the locals know it, is just a few blocks from Dam Square, one of the major plazas in the city where the Church, the Royal Palace, major department stores, Memorial to WW1 dead and the beginning of a major pedestrian shopping street are located. The District is situated close to where, back four hundreds years or so, ships would arrive from all over the world and unload sailors seeking female companionship. Most of the clubs are located primarily on two streets flanking a canal and by day is not much different to similar streets on similar canals elsewhere in Amsterdam. But by night the place comes alive with neon, music drifting out of clubs, crowds of people laughing and shouting and the buskers shouting out their offerings.

        

One of the most famous clubs is the Casa Rosso, identified by a large neon pink elephant on the front of the building and renowned as the club with live sex shows. Out on the street,the bouncer was practically grabbing people by the arm urging them to come in for “drinks and pussy!”

Just down the street is the equally famous Banana Bar, hard to miss because there are illustrations of women in erotic poses that replace the windows of the four story building.

As if that was not enough, there is a large neon banana over the door. In this club there is no stage with performers. Here the girls sit on bar stools and wait tables. For a fee, they perform various “tricks” using pens and bananas. I pause here to allow your imagination to run wild. Believe me, if you can think it up, they do it here!

The Dutch are pragmatic. They realize that prostitution is never going away and by making it illegal, it would go underground. Unmonitored, the girls would be exposed to diseases and potential violence and there would be opportunities for mafia type organizations to take over the industry.

Yes, it is an industry,  but here it is highly regulated and controlled. The girls are licensed, have to pass regular health checks, their partners have to wear condoms, and there are panic buttons readily accessible in the event a client becomes threatening. In the Red Light District, (and now expanding outside of this tight area), the girls rent small rooms with large windows open to the street.

Photo of a postcard showing gals in windows

There are red curtains and a red strip light and the girls sit or stand in the window, barely clad in a bikini and pose and posture hoping to attract business. Most of them hold a cigarette and a cell phone and occasionally will tap on the window to get the attention of an attractive prospect. When a man stops, she opens the door, there is conversation regarding the “menu” and then the man either enters and the curtain is drawn, or he moves on.

         

Looking inside a room, mirrors on the wall, a wash basin and sometimes toilet, shared.

The rooms are rented by the day or the night and run around $100 per day or $150 per night. A good worker can earn $600 a night although I have read on a blog written by a regular visitor to the Rossebuurt that he thinks nothing of paying $550 for a visit with his favorite young lady, and $150 to $250 with one of the others. Visits can last as little as twenty minutes or of course, longer.

In 2008 city statistics show 142 licensed brothels in Amsterdam and about 500 window displays bringing in an estimated $100M a year.

A study by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimated in 2000 that there were between 20,000 and 25,000 prostitutes in the Netherlands with only a third being Dutch. The rest were from Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa.

There is no question that there is a lot of exploitation of women and trafficking going on, and some Mafia type organizations are involved.  Most recently the city has moved to close a large number of brothels as well as decrease the number of windows.  Interestingly, it was the prostitutes themselves, who have formed a sort of trade union, who objected most to this move since it would drive up the price of window rentals.

Along with all this sexual activity, come the ancillary businesses, souvenir shops and of course, condom stores.  One of the better known, and certainly with the brightest window display is the Condomerie with condoms of all colors (and sizes!) hanging in the window.

                

Need any other sex accessory? Shops abound with every sort of toy and souvenir paraphernalia ever possibly conceived. It is all so open and everywhere, that any sort of titillation a person might have entering an Adult Store in the States quickly evaporates. Here there is no secrecy or shame. Sex is acknowledged as being a perfectly normal activity that everyone does at one time or another.

As part of my research, I could hardly not check out the Erotic Museum. There are actually two and I chose to visit the one with more of a historical/ethnic look at sexual practices as opposed to the other museum that showed, from what I read, how to use sex toys….

Let me say right now, that if you are uncomfortable seeing images of certain parts of the body, then you might not want to read any further. I can tell you that the hundreds of people who pass through this museum every day treat it more as an amusement park sideshow than anything else and there was a lot of nervous twittering among the visitors. For about $8 you view exhibits on four floors of an old building that most likely housed a merchant family four hundred years ago!

African carving

Pair of ivory opera glasses with erotic carvings.

Interesting mechanical contraption for ladies needing a little stimulation!

Old photos depicting couples of both sexes enjoying one another.

The Red Light District certainly is a feature unique to Amsterdam.  How interesting it would be to have the opportunity to get to know some of the girls, to learn their history and their dreams.  That will have to wait for another trip to this fascinating city.

Posted in Holland, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

There’s crackers and then there’s Crackers!

It is Boxing Day today, the day after Christmas, and as a transplanted Brit, I find myself reflecting back to Christmases enjoyed with family back in London as a child. It has now been over fifty years since I lived in the UK but I stay in close touch with my sister and am pleased to hear that very little has changed in the way the British celebrate this special season.

Boxing Day is celebrated throughout the Commonweath and in the UK at least, is a Bank Holiday. It is a time when friends visit friends and might involve a trip to the pub for drinks or a meal of leftovers at the home of friends or a time to visit distant family members.

The holiday began, as so many of Britain’s current Christmas traditions, with the Victorians. It is a hangover from the days when the upper classes would give their servants and trades people a gift box and the day off for them to go visit their families. It has nothing to do with pugilistic competition nor a time to return unwanted boxes (gifts) to stores for exchange!

There is also some thought that the tradition goes back even further in time, back possibly to the Romans, when money was collected for the poor and those collection boxes would be opened the day after Christmas and distributed to the poor.  Whatever its roots, Boxing Day also happens to be St. Stephens Day which is a religious holiday dating back many centuries. St Stephen was a little known saint who achieved eternal fame by being the first Christian to be martyred for his faith by being stoned to death. The Christmas carol. “Good King Wenceslas” is a very popular carol sung by many choirs in Britain around the holidays even though it has no mention of Christmas or jingling bells!

Another popular English carol which I rarely hear in the States is “The Holly and the Ivy” and when was the last time you heard “Away in a Manger” on your Pandora Christmas carols station?  Oops, excuse me, that would be HOLIDAY carols station.  Not supposed to mention Christmas because we don’t want to offend any one of another faith.

Regardless of what we call this time of year, every country has its own traditions and customs that have come with immigrants since this country was founded. Among Christians, most have a Christmas tree and lights and a special holiday meal. But there is one thing that is missing in just about every home over the holidays here in America, and that is the Christmas Cracker. I am a HUGE fan of Christmas crackers.

The other day I saw my friend Carole and I was so excited and told her
“I finally found Christmas Crackers for sale.” She politely smiled and indicated she was pleased for me. Later, when she came for Christmas Dinner and saw my Christmas Crackers, one for each person at their place setting, she realized that I didn’t mean those sorts of crackers, you know, like Saltines and Wheat Thins.   No – I meant Christmas Crackers just like we had growing up.

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If you go online, you can buy “SIX Signature Molten Brown crackers reduced from $150 to a mere $105 (that’s for just six crackers!)

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A few years ago I found crackers at Pier 1 imported from Britain. They were $25 for a box of six. I like to host all my British friends and their spouses for a true British holiday dinner and since we have at least twenty two guests or more each year, that can get quite expensive. Imagine my utter delight this year to discover that crackers have gone mainstream! I found crackers at Ross, at Target and at Marshalls! And, at one quarter the price! Hey, we can all have crackers and celebrate a proper British tradition.

Christmas crackers are short rolls of cardboard wrapped in colorful paper and stuffed with a paper hat shaped like a crown (to represent the crowns of the Wise Men (?), a riddle and a little toy. There is a thin strip of paper inside with a bit of explosive material and when the cracker is pulled apart, there is an explosion and the cracker breaks apart revealing the contents.

Some of the little treats inside crackers.

Some of the little treats inside crackers.

The riddles inside the crackers are designed to produce groans: Q: “Why does Santa have three gardens?” A: So he can ho ho ho’!

Or

Q: What does Santa suffer from if he gets stuck in a chimney?” A: ”Claustrophobia.” You get the idea! It’s the silly hats that everyone has to wear that really provides the levity.

It took about fifty years for crackers to turn up at the discount stores in Santa Cruz. Now lets see how long it takes for more of British tradition to arrive.

I am thinking in particular, of another aspect of Christmas Dinner (usually served midday to leave room for Christmas Cake at tea time!) Sure we have the big feast of turkey or some other meat and all the trimmings, but where’s the Plum Pudding, the mince pies and sherry trifle?

Christmas Pudding is an absolute requirement for any authentic British Christmas dinner. Its history dates back to medieval England and despite being called “Plum Pudding” (because the Victorians used to refer to raisins as plums) it actually never has plums in it! It is a steamed pudding composed of a lot of cut up dried fruits held together with egg and suet (beef drippings in the old days) and moistened with treacle or molasses, and loaded with lots of spices. In order for the fruits to mature and for flavor to become intense, these puddings are made at least five weeks or more before Christmas. There are special ceramic bowls with a lip for tying string around the pot to secure the cheesecloth or covering when the pudding is being steamed.

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Traditionally, and in my home growing up, a silver coin or little silver trinket was placed in the pudding bringing good luck or prosperity to the one lucky enough to find it in their serving.

Serving the Christmas Pudding is another ritual never to be dispensed with. Brandy or rum is poured over the pudding and the whole thing set aflame. With blue flames rising all around, the pudding is ceremoniously carried to the table and everyone sings “Bring us some Figgy Puddy and bring it right now!” or some other catchy ditty. Add hard sauce (more brandy, butter , powdered sugar and vanilla)

Sherry trifle (a layered concoction of sponge cake soaked in cognac or sweet sherry, berries, custard, cream and more cream! ) is another popular dessert along with small individual mince pies.

Sherry Trifle

Sherry Trifle

Fruit cakes in America have a bad rap. An English fruit cake, now that is something else! Dark, rich, similar to a Christmas pudding, it is wrapped in marzipan and then iced with a hard royal icing. A frilly decorated paper wrapper used to cover the sides of the cake. Like its cousin the Plum Pudding, the cake is made a couple of months before Christmas and I used to keep it turned upside down and weekly soak more brandy into fork holes I pricked over the base. Trust me, when you ate my fruit cake you could become a convert.

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Now you must excuse me while I make a cup of tea (milk in it please!) and savour my home made mince pies.  May I take a moment to wish each and every one of you who so kindly take the time to read my blogs, a very healthy and happy New Year!

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sally

 

 

Posted in England, Family, Food, Memoirs | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

We came for a better life

Several decades ago I traveled by ship across the Atlantic from Southampton, UK to New York.  I was an immigrant. Like other immigrants, I was nervous, anxious and yes, I was frightened.  I had never been to the States and the one and only person I knew, the one who had guaranteed that I would never be reliant on the welfare state, lived in California.

Like other immigrants to this country, I came to find opportunity, adventure and a life that better suited me than England offered at the time.  As the Statue of Liberty came into view, I felt the same rush of emotion as surely many others had before me.

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This grand lady standing about 150 feet above the harbor, a gift from France in 1886 has welcomed literally millions of immigrants from all over the world, but mainly from Europe.

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Clutched to my chest in a large envelope were my X-rays (to show I did not have tuberculosis), police records (indicating I had no crime record) and other official documents.  Unlike those twelve million immigrants who passed this way between 1892 and 1954, I did not have to stop at Ellis Island to be processed.

The Immigrant Inspection Station was the very first introduction to America for these non English speaking, often illiterate people, exhausted from days at sea under stressful situations.

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Packed as they were into confined spaces, sanitation minimal, and sea sickness prevalent, many arrived shaken and bewildered as they entered the big hall clutching the few possessions they were able to carry.

Front of building leading into main inspection hall

Front of building leading into main inspection hall

The hall as seen around 1912

The hall as seen around 1912

Like so many visitors before me, I am fascinated to learn more about this historical place that played a part in the lives of millions of families.  My husband’s grand parents, Eidel Gendelman and Joseph Bookman (Anglo adaptation) came through this great hall as Russian Jews in 1905. How, in retrospect, I wish I had taken the time to speak with Ida as she was known, back in the seventies, before she passed away.

The hall as it appears today after major restoration

The hall as it appears today after major restoration

Listening to the audio tour, we are informed that as new arrivals entered the building and climbed the stairs to the reception hall, health inspectors stood by and eyed each one and made a quick assessment as to whether they should be singled out for further health examination.

Was  Ida one of those 10% taken away for further medical examination? Did she have to fit pieces of wood in a puzzle to show she was mentally competent? Did she have some health issues that meant she had to go across the water to the hospital buildings for further examination and hospital stay? Regardless, she must have been frightened, speaking only Yiddish and arriving entirely alone.

Looking across Ellis Island to the hospital buildings

Looking across Ellis Island to the hospital buildings

Those who had to remain in the building while a family member was recovering in the hospital ward, slept in confined conditions, but were fed three meals a day.  Interestingly enough, these meals had to be paid for by the shipping company that brought the immigrants to American shores. The dining room was able to seat 1,000 diners at a time!

Dormitory room. An immigrant from Britain recalls that it was best to secure a lower bunk since there were no stools or other aids for reaching the top bunks!

Dormitory room. An immigrant from Britain recalls that it was best to secure a lower bunk since there were no stools or other aids for reaching the top bunks!

Most of those entering Ellis Island were quickly processed and helped to either get tickets for trains to their destination or went down another staircase to be greeted by waiting family members.  Fathers were reunited with their wife and children;  mail order brides were greeted by husbands-to-be.

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Not everyone got to stay.  If the authorities determined someone was of ill repute, indigent or of ill health, they were sent down another staircase and put on a ship to be returned home.  The audio tour introduces us to a woman who speaks of her arrival on Ellis Island as a child with her entire family from Eastern Europe and it was determined by the health inspectors that the grandmother was not of strong enough health to enter the country. She was sent back, alone. The family never saw nor heard from her again.

Families traveled with their most treasured possessions.  These often included the  family Bible, costume of their native land and perhaps something belonging to a loved one left behind.

Photos of just a few of the many who passed this way.

Photos of just a few of the many who passed this way.

Many immigrants did not travel far once they left the island.  Not knowing the language, they moved to communities where fellow countrymen were already established.  One of these areas was the Lower East Side of New York where there were hundreds of tenement buildings packed in close together with six or more stories of tiny little apartments, each one housing a family.

Life was very hard for these new immigrants at the turn of the century with no heat, no running water and no light except what came through two small windows in the front of the building.  At 97 Orchard Street a tenement house has been preserved just as it was left in 1935. Built in 1863, it saw sixty years of uninterrupted occupancy. The Census report for 1900 shows 111 people living in this one building.

97 Orchard Street

97 Orchard Street

Thousands of these buildings were constructed as immigrants poured into the city. To maximize rents, as many as twenty families were housed in tiny apartments, less than 400 sq.ft (the size of a double car garage.) 97 Orchard Street had four apartments on each of its five floors – 2o apartments in all. As stricter immigration laws were enacted and fewer immigrants arrived, occupancy decreased until it was easier to close up the upper floors and simply rent out retail space on ground level, leaving this building stuck in time, and perfect for what became the Tenement Museum.

Staircase used by everyone living in the apartments above. Everyone would have to come down these stairs to use the outside toilets and to get water from common spigot

Staircase used by everyone living in the apartments above. Everyone would have to come down these stairs to use the outside toilets and to get water from common spigot

It was around 1988 when the interior of this building was discovered. It was found to be completely untouched with tin pressed ceilings, oil paintings darkened with soot from coal fired stoves and the original well worn staircase leading upstairs to the apartments. Even the old toilets were still standing in the yard.

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The apartments consisted of just one very small back bedroom, a kitchen and the front room where the family lived and often worked.  Most of these inhabitants were poor and unskilled and survived by doing piece meal sewing of clothes.

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One can only imagine the noise with sewing machines whirling, scissors snipping, pressers thumping their irons, chatter, children running everywhere and this going on in twenty different apartments.

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Outside on the streets, crowds of vendors shouting their wares, shoppers and people simply milling about added to the noise.

It was indeed not the life these immigrants had expected.  America had promised more. But with time and hard work, most of the immigrants who came through Ellis Island, who moved to Orchard Street and other Lower East Side neighborhoods did do well enough to move away and today their children and grandchildren can look back with pride on their heritage.

 

Posted in New York, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

It’s always about the Apple …..

There seems to be an apple threading it’s way through everything important in Western history. It all began with  Adam and Eve, turned up in art through the ages, and then came Steve Jobs and his apple, and of course the one and only Big Apple. It was the Big Apple that drew millions of immigrants at the turn of the century and it was that same apple that was the target of jihadists in 2001.

Today in New York, we revisited the site of the tragic events of September 11th, 2001.

Before photo

Before photo

During the attack

During the attack

Where to begin to describe the range of emotions one experiences visiting the 9/11 Memorial Museum.  The floors descend to literally Ground Zero, with five themed galleries. The stark reality of seeing crumpled, twisted steel girders, burned out fire trucks and bits and pieces of personal lives collected and saved stabs at one’s heart and brings tears to the eyes.

These steel girders hang three stories high. You can just see a person below for sense of scale

These steel girders hang three stories high. You can just see a person below for sense of scale

The exterior face of the Towers had Trident shaped supports that were covered in a thin layer of aluminum.  This quickly melted away leaving the exposed metal that in most cases, ultimately collapsed.

Metal tridents from exterior of the Towers.

Metal tridents from exterior of the Towers.

Photo showing some of the Trident structures still standing

Photo showing some of the Trident structures still standing

The Golden Globe that sat in the Plaza between the Towers is now safely situated in Battery Park, in view of the Statue of Liberty.

As I descended to the lowest level, I came upon Ladder 3, a badly scorched fire truck and read that all eleven firemen were killed inside the building.  I was too emotionally moved to answer the fireman standing by the truck asking  “Can I answer any questions?” I just had to shake my head and turn away.  The last words from these eleven men were that they were on the 35th floor, people were coming down but they were going up….

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At the very base of the Tower is the slump wall, part of the original foundation built to hold back the waters of the Hudson and in front of it is the last column saved from the recovery.  All those involved in the process and families of lost ones, were encouraged to make their mark on this beam and then it was ceremonially pulled out of the site and placed here in the building.  This piece of steel, along with the fire truck, had to be installed first and then the building erected around them.

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Close up of the last column showing momentos

Close up of the last column showing momentos

I found particularly moving the inclusion in the exhibit of what is now called the Survivors’ Stairs. On September 11th, this staircase and an adjacent escalator provided an unobstructed exit for hundreds seeking to escape.

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Showing stairs and escalator still standing

Showing stairs and escalator still standing

The actual stairs

The actual stairs

Right after the attack, posters went up everywhere with photos of missing family and friends.  Many of these have been saved and are projected on a wall.  So many hundreds that they are constantly appearing and disappearing and new ones coming into view.

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Artists were encouraged to express their grief through their paintings. One project asked people to paint the sky as they remembered it that day and these colors, one for every death, were placed as a mosaic on the wall of this vast cavernous museum space.

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Another artist, Manju Shandler, chose to express her grief by creating individual paintings, one for each victim.  She turned to the images that dominated the news media after 9/11.  Of the approximate 3,000 images she created, 850 are shown in the exhibit.

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Detail

Detail

Out in the open, we walked over to the very stirring reflecting pools with the names of those lost carved into the surrounding marble.

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A huge dark square pit in the middle of the pond  captures the water that flows from under the names, down the walls, captures the light from the sky and reflections of tall glass buildings and then spills down into the depths.

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The rain that accompanied us into the Memorial had passed, and left a sharpness to the colors of the changing leaves of the many trees that have been planted in this sacred site. A beautiful memorial to so many precious lives cut short in a moment in time. Their lives changed forever, as are ours and those of our children.

Posted in Art, Memoirs, New York, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments