What’s the 5 Points and Essex Street Market got to do with Love?

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The scrapbook is pretty large, about 15 x 17. Each linen page is pasted back and front with scraps of printed woodcuts and engravings hand-colored with watercolor paint.
The whole thing is dirty, creased and coming apart— but its fabulous.

In terms of American History?  You would not have to go too far in New York to find a T REX or some semblance of ancient architectural tid bits in our own Gotham city.  There is no place in the whole of the U.S.A that fascinates me more than the Lower East Side of New York and most especially the area  called 5 Points where immigrants landed circa 1840’s and of course earlier.   A sullied  and insipid version, which was attempted to be covered in the film, Gangs of New York by Martin Scorcese.

  Scorcese’s version of our very own local anthropology focused solely on the personal lives of the rival gangs, but covered very little of the cultural magic of the very area where he was born.

Scorcese lived briefly, I stress very briefly right here in Little Italy on Elizabeth Street adjacent and above Mary and Moe Albanese, the local butchers.  Mary lived to the grand old age of 100 and her son, Moe still serves the community in terms of local restaurants.   Elizabeth being aka the Sicilian street then.

I was deeply disapointed and the only culinary anthropology which exists in his film, is the bloody steak of Bill the Butcher. Bill is  a fictional character undoubted influenced by Mary and Moe! Alas, I am positive Mary and Moe made a better dinner.

  Bill’s cooking technique is to barely take his tough as nails cut of beef on a pointy tines and let the fire barely breath over it like a stifled whisper.  He would pan fry some for less than a second over his diabolical fires and then with  his blackened teeth (and not Cajun!)  : Chew it up blood thirsty like a swamp beast. It’s impossible not to have mixed feelings about this powerful portrayal.  Lewis invites us to a terrific and amazing character he plays, as Bill the American Butcher! 

His strange accent so lush and angular with squawks and little admonishments of staccato trills and his favorite word “Festoon”. He has  invented a brutal hormonal TRex  cocktail of testesterone  and mad cow diseased mad man! Of course later he has played an award winning version of Lincoln.  How ironic and apropos.  Alas, American history is  a wee bit more than senseless violence and blabbering hordes of primal ooze.

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The fictional book , Gangs of New York, the novel written by Asbury spoke of the area just South of Canal street called The Five Points. I have waltzed the streets in search of magic.  A few documentaries have covered the myriad of tunnels beneath the ground which allowed a few lucky insiders a private world of travel.

Fortunately there are remnants of each eventually thriving culture, be it Dutch, English, Irish, Chinese and Italian have left an indelible mark recording

American history.

I was hoping that Scorcese would delve a bit more into their intricate cultural tapestries as Coppola manages to do in the Godfather series.  But?  You just have to walk to Ludlow street and this historic district to learn about the later periods when the rich Jewish and Italian cultures made their entry.  I love the Farmers Market and the area once known as the 5 Points.  I love to envision what these early settlers ate and drank?  Wore and bought?   What books if any did they read?  Where did they live and how?  The Tenement museum gives terrific tours and you never know what will be dug up?  An old accordion from an organ grinder to antique shot glasses or even ?Exploring these areas for me is much more interesting then Mystic CT and it’s hard biscuits the sailors ate or their enchanting  figurines and scrimshaw carvings.  I love every inch of the Lower East Side.

The reinvigorating of the Farmers Market is no doubt a luxurious and expensive version of what simple fare the poor peasants may have endured?  Alas, you can find a lush dichotomy of old and new. 

Before Farmers’ Markets Were Cool: Essex Street Market19 Thursday Jan 2012Posted by ny history walks in Lower East Side, Manhattan

≈ 1 CommentTagsculture, Essex Street Market, Fiorello LaGuardia, food, history, immigration, Lower East Side, Manhattan, New York City, tenements, travel, WPACourtesy of the New York Public Library.In 19th century New York City, it was not uncommon for the poor and working-class to buy baked goods, produce, and even meat, downstairs in the open air from sidewalk peddlers in front of their tenement buildings. By 1930, 47,000 families made their living as pushcart peddlers, most of them heavily concentrated in the Lower East Side.Courtesy of nyc-architecture.comThe legal and economic battles between today’s food trucks and their competing storefronts emulate the yesteryear rivalries between pushcarts and merchants. Merchants complained about the garbage and unsanitary conditions of pushcarts; they also felt threatened by vendors aggressively “pulling in” customers and offering the opportunity to haggle over prices. City officials claimed the pushcarts prevented police and fire vehicles from passing through.By the 1930s, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia made it a mission to eradicate “pushcart evil”, calling it “a blemish on the face of the city” that must be removed. He envisioned a brighter, cleaner Lower East Side that erased any vestiges left from its ethnic immigrant past. Under LaGuardia’s leadership, new laws forbade any goods from being sold on the street.Fiorello LaGuardia, 1940. Courtesy of Library of Congress.Financed by federal WPA funds, Essex Street Market was opened in 1940, eventually growing to 475 vendors spread out over four buildings. 70% of its vendors were Jewish, the remainder was predominantly Italian. Peddlers who were forced off the streets and could not afford indoor spaces became unemployed.Essex Street Market, 1940. Courtesy of Shopsins.WPA Photo of Essex Street Market and 122 Delancey Street. Courtesy of New York City Municipal Archives.The Essex Street Market along Delancey Street today.Jeffrey’s Meat Market, the last original business from Essex Street Market, closed in 2011 due to financial difficulties. Kidneys, neck bones,and lungs were among the most-requested cuts by customers when Jeffrey’s great-grandfather and grandfather operated business in the Market. In the business’ latter years, Ruhalter began to offer venison and wild boar as the demographics of his customers changed.

via Before Farmers’ Markets Were Cool: Essex Street Market.

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