Posted by: daynamcdowell | June 21, 2010

Day 7-Walk, Walk, Walk Till You Drop!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010—Day 7  

     Our third walking tour!  This time, we explored the Lower East side of New York City.  Walking through China Town, eating at Katz’s, and a tour of the Tenement Museum were the major activities of this tour.  Ed O’Donnell accompanied us as our guide. 

the Five Points area

This church had several owners and housed several faiths.

He mentioned that not only Chinese lived in this area of New York City but also Jews and Irish immigrants.  As a poor area of New York City, the buildings revealed the various cultures as one neighborhood shifted from Jewish and Irish churches to the Chinese architectural style of pagoda rooftops and Chinese shops and street vendors.

First Cemetery of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue

     While walking through China Town, I noticed several women in our group like Sherri the Shopper, scoping out the stores and vendors; looking for future possibilities after the tour. 

a memorial to Chinese-American veterans

a China Town neighborhood

a street vendor in China Town

China Town architecture

the deli counter at Katz's

     Lunch at the historical and famous Katz’s was a pleasant surprise, especially since it gave us a break from the walking.  (Everyone looked tired.)  Katz’s featured cuisine that the locals choose to eat.  My Reuben sandwich was tasty and so were Eloyda’s potato pancakes.  YUM! YUM! 

lunch at Katz's

The ordering was quite the experience and knowing there was a stiff penalty of $50.00 if you lost your ticket for payment impressed upon me that New Yorkers are serious about their restaurants.  Despite the tongue sandwich on the menu and the white potato salad (which should always have lots of mustard mixed in it), Katzs’ had character.  Similar to McSorley’s, there were framed photos of movie stars and other celebrities covering every inch of wall space.  Even better, a well known, stimulating scene from one of my all time favorite ‘chick flick’ movies, “When Harry Met Sally” was filmed here.  This fact of American TV culture, adds so much to the charm of Katzs’.  After an enjoyable lunch, it was time to move onward to the Tenement Museum.

located in the lower East side

     At the Tenement Museum, the rooms breathed life into past readings from Jacob Riis.  Though I had expected the rooms to be smaller, the floor plans of the building were cramped; especially for four families per floor and a family size of 6 people.           

Tenement Museum

     The tenement at 97 Orchard Street opened for renters in 1863 and closed in 1935.  At the onset, there were outhouses in the back yard and kerosene and oil lamps were used for indoor lighting.  Indoor toilets were not added until 1905 and electric lights followed in 1924.  The immigrants who lived at 97 Orchard Street worked from their rented rooms to make money.  Seamstress and tailoring work was the focus of the “Piecing It Together Tour” that we were given.  Every aspect of clothes making was accomplished in the home.  The Tenement Museum website, Tenement.org has lesson plans for elementary, middle, and high school levels.  One lesson which looks promising is designed to teach students about the use of primary sources such as death certificates, naturalization cards, and post cards in order to piece together stories from the past.  This site is definitely one worth looking into later for teaching activities.

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Posted by: daynamcdowell | June 16, 2010

Escaping the City–Day 6

   Tuesday, June 8, 2010–Day 6

     Walking tour number 2 with Ed O’Donnell occured with a daylight walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, a return to the African Burial Ground, and a walk through a portion of Central Park.  These were the personal highlights of today’s tour.  While walking through a portion of Brooklyn Heights, Ed informed us that this was the area where George Washignton fled from the British army after he and his troops were battered by the British in the American Revolution.

on the Brooklyn side of the bridge

   

in Brooklyn Heights

                                                                                                                                  

 

As we walked across the bridge, Ed reminded us that the bridge was the first suspension bridge erected.  From the locals’ perspective, the bridge is viewed as an utilitarian structure,

the multi-use bridge

the art of the bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

whereas non-New Yorkers see the bridge from an aesthetic point of view.  Regardless of viewpoints, the bridge impresses me with the planning of its uses.  The bridge was designed for multi-use.   Automobiles, pedestrians, cyclists, and above ground subways all travel across.  Ed compared the four steel cables used to hang the bridge to the invention of the silicon chip.  Steel cables were an innovative technology for that time.  Of special interest to me and several female colleagues was the bronze plaque acknowledging and commemorating the contributions of Emily Warren Roebling to the building of the bridge.  As the on-site manager of the bridge for 11 years, she took over when her husband was incapacitated.  Though the view from the bridge was beautiful, my earlier nighttime walk was more enchanting.  

more bridge art

Liberty Island from the Brooklyn Bridge

     A personal surprise was a visit to the African Burial Ground Museum that was closed yesterday.  The information centering upon the racial issues of this site can definitely be connected to teaching racial tolerance.  The African slave communities of New Amsterdam and New York City played an important role in the history of both colonies.  Sadly, the issue of race and acknowledging the slave contributions to the development of New York City is still prevalent in contemporary times.  Connecting the past events of slavery to the more recent events of the struggle to build a burial ground monument would be an effective method of teaching students that tolerance must be present in their lives. 

     Walking through a portion of Central Park was refreshing.  After five days of city life; buildings, traffic, concrete, and crowds, the natural world was a welcome sight. 

. . . in the middle of New York City!

     The racial history of Central Park and its origins as a former shantytown for Africans and Irish shouts again of racial intolerance and civil rights.  These people, pushed out by the advent of eminent domain, lost their homes and were forced to find other places to live.  Yet, the urban planning involved in designing this park is impressive in its conservationism and aesthetics. 

nature's artwork

     Central Park, which is 840 acres in size, has no watering system which totally surprised this girl from an arid, western state.    Designed with the intention of rivaling the parks of Paris and London, Central Park shows that this goal has been achieved.  While walking through Central Park, I noticed the many uses of this park.  Runners, walkers, cyclists, dogs and dog walkers, parents with their children, bridal parties, carriages, and boaters all were in the park. 

a wedding in Central Park

     This is a park where New Yorkers go to relax and escape from the grit of the city.                                    

 
 

charm in the park

                                                                                               

Shakespeare Garden--Central Park

      Aesthetically, the gardens, paths, bridges, rock walls, lakes, and waterfalls all add to the charm of the park.  The Belvedere and Henry Luce Observatory give character to the area as well. 

the Belvedere

This Victorian Gothic castle-like structure atop Vista Rock was built on the high point in Central Park from which the lake and New York cityscape edging the park are visible below.   Walking through the park was definitely a personal highlight.

lights and shadows in Central Park

escaping the city

Posted by: daynamcdowell | June 16, 2010

Day 5-Toleration

Monday, June 7, 2010 –Day 5

     A tour of colonial New York City and Wall Street was my first guided walking tour experience in New York City.  Our guide, Ed O’Donnell was informative and down to earth in his presentation.  While walking throughout downtown New York City, the African Burial Ground and St. Paul’s Church impressed me most.

the African Burial Grounds

     A short stop at the African Burial Ground, a national monument, was a surprise.  To think that 419 African slaves were buried at this site during colonial New Amsterdam and New York and were not discovered until 1991 is unbelievable.  The contemporary monument was striking with a waterfall and the heart-shaped West African symbol called the Sankofa located in various places of the circular, polished black stone structure.

African Burial Ground fountain

Unfortunately, the museum was closed.  It would have been interesting to visit the museum and learn more about colonial slavery in New York for use in the classroom.

at the African Burial Ground

inside the African Burial Ground memorial

While walking through the downtown area, the old Woolworth building or “Cathedral of Commerce”, was visible from various street corners.  It is comparable in size to the Eiffel Tower and

the "Cathedral of Commerce"

 was built to be a symbol of financial success and trade   The building has a cathedral-like architectural design with a green spired rooftop.  It is no longer the tallest structure in the downtown area, yet it continues to catch the eye wherever you may be. 

St. Paul's Chapel-haven on 9/11

As a lover of colonial American history, George Washington’s presidential church pew should have evoked some emotional response, yet inside St. Paul’s Church more current historical events stirred my emotions.   When I saw the memorial consisting of

memorial to the fallen of 9/11

 badges from the fallen 9/11 rescue workers and the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11 a nerve was struck.  The church building became the headquarters for survivors of the attack.  A church structure with simple architectural design, the building gains its charm and memorability from its use as a haven for victims of senseless violence and hatred. 

the Bell of Hope

The Bell of Hope, rung every half hour on the morning of 9/11 to recognize the American dead from Tower One, was also rung for a solid 30 minutes after the second tower fell.  How horrific it must have been to see St. Paul’s Church filled with cots and surviving victims and the graveyard buried in debris and ash on that day.  Unfortunately, I now have a “JFK moment” in which I will always remember where I was and what I was doing on the morning of 9/11.  I did see on TV, the first tower struck by a plane while eating breakfast.  I remember the disbelief of that moment, not fully accepting what was happening. 

looking toward Ground Zero

Walking through the small graveyard looking toward Ground Zero, I questioned the hatefulness of religious beliefs and the lack of toleration that exists today.  Raised to believe that despite religious differences, a true spiritual person never hates another soul for we are all God’s creatures.  I saw a teaching moment in that emotional stirring. 

the cemetery at St. Paul's Chapel

 

     In an educational sphere, acceptance of individual differences in the middle school classroom has always been a personal teaching goal.  When teaching the Crusades, the Reformation, European colonization of North America, African slavery in America, and civil rights, this is always a focus, yet historical content has always taken the spotlight.  Teaching a lesson in which students learn to recognize individual differences and openly discuss those differences only seems possible when teaching civil rights.  Listing individual differences as a whole class and then ranking those differences from greatest to least might be a good opening activity before starting a class discussion. I am always leery of mid school students’ uninspired and inconsiderate commentaries, especially with some groups of students who are more immature than other groups.

Posted by: daynamcdowell | June 14, 2010

Day 4-Time for Adventure!

Sunday, June 6, 2010—Day 4

Waiting for a train.

     It was on this day, that I truly felt comfortable in New York City.  Our Sunday with Matt, Jonathan, and Scott didn’t start until 1:15 pm.  So before the afternoon at the Met, Lindsay and I took a trip northward to Harlem from Brooklyn Heights.  Our destination was Grant’s Tomb, just blocks from Harlem.  This was quite the journey for me, especially with such a long ride on the subway.  During the ride and transferring trains, we befriended a 70 years old woman who shared much about her life with us.  Sometimes, I wonder how much of what New Yorkers share with tourists is really true.  After all, they are human and I’m sure that messing with a tourist would be kind of fun for some.  (Then again, Jonathan cannot be right about New Yorkers!)  Nevertheless, the woman was harmless and entertaining during the long ride northward.                                                                                                                                                                    

. . . while walking in Harlem. . .

. . . at the Apollo . . .

. . . stars of Harlem

     Upon arriving in Harlem, we saw the Apollo Theater and Hotel St. Theresa and were able to take better pictures than the previous day on the bus.  After a long walk up a steep inclined sidewalk, we arrived at Riverside Park and Grant’s Tomb. Located within the park was Grant’s Tomb.  This national memorial was noteworthy. 

President's Grant's Tomb

     Inside the memorial building were the caskets of both President Grant and his wife, Julia Grant.  The domed building also contained Federalist Civil War flags which were flown under Grant’s command and a Colorado 1876 flag.                               

President and Mrs. Grant

This flag was included in the collection because Colorado was admitted as the Centennial State while Grant was president.  When we left, we saw Riverside Church across the street.  An enormous brownstone building with steeples and gothic architectural features that I wished I had time to explore, but we were pushing time to reach the Metropolitan Museum on time, so we left.               

Riverside Church

1st state flag of Colorado

     The Met was fabulous!  There were so many exhibits that it overwhelmed me!  I wanted to see everything!  The tour of the Americana Collection at the Metropolitan Museum evoked memories within me of past curriculum that I greatly enjoyed teaching; colonial American History.  The chair that folded into a table was especially inventive and demonstrated true American ingenuity.  Also of interest to me was the resourcefulness of colonials who used the hull of the ship for a roof of a meetinghouse. 

ship's hull/ meetinghouse ceiling

     Quite the innovative mind at work!  Portraits from colonial America were equally intriguing.  A much later architectural exhibit, the Frank Lloyd “Prairie House” was a surprise.  Wright is a favorite architect of mine.  Just like the magazine pictures, it was fabulous with its clean lines, symmetry, and monochromatic color scheme. 

Prairie House

  
      
    After exploring the Met, more exploration of New York City occurred.  Rockefeller Center and the Carnegie Mansion were a must to visit.  Radio City Music Hall, a walk down Park Avenue,and another visit to Times Square were also part of the late afternoon. 

inside Rockefeller Center

 

Radio City Music Hall

     Grimaldi’s Pizza and The Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory finished the evening.  Waiting in line for 40 minutes and watching the line grow longer behind me, I knew this pizza had to be among the best in the city.  What was surprising was that all takeout orders were placed from the same long line!  While standing in line for 40 minutes, minutes, Lindsay and I chatted with a couple from Santa Fe, New Mexico.  They were very friendly and reassured us that the wait for dinner was worth it.  Inside, the walls were lined with framed photos of famous people who had patronized Grimaldi’s.  The pizza was definitely New York style and it did not disappoint.  Seeing the Brooklyn Bridge at night from Old Fulton Street (DUMBO area) of Brooklyn Heights was enchanting.  What a great way to finish the day.

     The pre-Civil War history came alive for me in a particular portrait.  The portrait that I greatly enjoyed analyzing was the John Brown painting of his arrest.  This would be an excellent primary source teaching tool for students.  This painting could be used to teach in-depth content of the John Brown events, as a review of previously taught info, and could also be used to gain a more balanced perspective of Brown.  Using this portrait and another primary source illustration of Brown to show 2 perspectives of him would be a great comparison/contrast assignment in which students look and analyze two glimpses of the man with a Venn diagram (circle chart).  The diagram results could be used to write a compare/contrast essay.  This activity would definitely make a great closing activity for students and would satisfy some CSAP writing skills that we should be using and reviewing with students in our classes.

Posted by: daynamcdowell | June 14, 2010

Day 3-Learning More!

Saturday, June 5, 2010—Day 3

     Day 3 in New York City proved to be filled with urban design history and cultural diversity.  A bus tour through Harlem and the Bronx with a lunch stop in Little Italy proved to be a whirlwind of images flying by with cameras clicking non-stop in an attempt to capture as many images as possible.  So many historic and interesting buildings and people from the past to contemplate!  

Looking up at the High Line

En route to these destinations, we saw the meatpacking district and an unusual sight, the “High Line”.  This was an above ground ell train bridge made of concrete that was constructed with the intention of trains using it to travel through buildings.  The idea never stuck, and the abandoned bridge was converted into a park. 

nearing the High Line

     While walking up the concrete steps the unexpected occurred.  Nature appeared among the solid gray.  A garden of trees, shrubs, grasses, and flowering plants, grow in garden beds atop the bridge!  A most interesting planting arrangement was the flora growing in the spaces between the concrete slats where rail road ties had once been.  The High Line is an excellent example of how New Yorkers use their limited space and recycle former buildings and constructions. All those pictures and articles in gardening books at home came to life today while walking the High Line.

a garden amid concrete

     As we progressed northward to Harlem, we drove through Times Square and down Broadway glimpsing views of buildings such as Time Warner and Hearst, Columbia University, and the Teachers College.  Then we were in Harlem driving through the streets named Malcolm X Boulevard, Frederick Douglass Boulevard, and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard.  There was the Apollo Theater, Hotel St. Theresa, Abyssinian Church,

 

a Harlem street sign

                                        

Hotel St. Theresa in Harlem

  

 

Harlem brownstones

Strivers Row and Sugar Hill.  Both were neighborhood areas where African Americans lived in brownstones.  Those in Strivers Row brownstones were people attempting to make better lives for themselves, whereas those living on Sugar Hill had achieved sweet success; they had acquired their “sugar”.

Also of interest was the home of Alexander Hamilton,    

the Grange, Alexander Hamilton's home

first Secretary of the Treasury and victim of duel with Aaron Burr.  His home, the Grange, is an architectural example of the Federal Period. 

                    

the mansion atop Coogan's Bluff

the Morris-Jumel Mansion; George Washington's Revolutionary headquarters

                    

 

     On an obscure point called Coogan’s Bluff, we 

discovered the Morris-Jumel Mansion which was used by George Washington as a temporary headquarters while fleeing northward up Manhattan Island during the Revolutionary War.  Sadly, the mansion has been neglected, primarily because of its remote location from downtown Manhattan.  Surrounded by trees and large shrubbery, the location definitely was a vantage point to be wary of the enemy. 

 

looking at the Grand Concourse in the Bronx

     Then we were in the Bronx, driving on the Grand Concourse, or as Ken Jackson our guide referred to it, “the 5th Avenue of the Jews”.  The Bronx had little appeal to me personally.  In comparison, Harlem contained more culture and charm.  The Bronx appeared cold and dingy compared to the colorful Harlem streets. 

  

Italian salad and stuffed artichokes

  

Linguini with marinara sauce-Dominic's in Little Italy

     Lunch at Dominic’s in Little Italy was an experience.  This of course is the “real” Little Italy, according to Jonathan.  Seating was European style; long rows of tables where you were sitting next to strangers.  There was no menu and no prices, just as we had been told by our guide.  The food was tasty, especially the Italian salad and the stuffed artichokes.  Was the price too much?  Well of course it was for a Coloradoan in New York!  Yet, the service was good and it was interesting selecting dishes without a menu or price list. 

photo-ops outside McSorley’s

      After the bus tour, I went to McSorley’s.  I wanted to visit this place, because of Mitchell’s account.  This establishment was identical to the assigned reading; the surly owner, the all male staff, and the bar itself.  The place had a charm of its own and not a single  square inch of wall space could be found.  Photos and other framed memorabilia decorated every inch of the walls.  New York City’s history could be read and seen on the walls!  Watching the owner “work” the customers out of their seats when he decided they were finished was truly a visual reality straight from the book.  Seeing the story come to life was an experience! 

surly owner among his patrons

New York history on McSorley's walls

A walk across the Brooklyn Bridge at night was a beautiful end to the day.  The bridge was filled with people and the weather was warm yet, the city lights twinkled in the darkness, setting the mood for the couples walking along the bridge while others strolled past, busy with their own evenings.  This bridge serves so many purposes, besides the connection between two geographic points!  It also becomes a focal point, a meeting place, and a money maker for both Brooklyn and Manhattan residents. 

twinkling night lights

     Urban planning sticks out in my mind for a teaching lesson in geography.  The High Line, which impressed me most on this tour, could be shown visually with pictures.  Teaching students the importance of reusing the abandoned structures of their community, such as what has been done with the HARP project in Pueblo, is valuable in a shrinking world that is using earth’s resources more quickly than replenishment can occur.  Instead of tearing down structures, recycling them in some way might be more beneficial.  Connecting the efforts of one community with the efforts of my students’ home town would make the lesson more personal and memorable to them.  (Remember Jonathan, teaching children means making connections. You do remember this point, don’t you?)  Having students use primary sources such as news articles of both projects as research tools would provide students with information for a project such as a class newspaper.

Posted by: daynamcdowell | June 6, 2010

Day 2-Discovering New York

Learning with E.Y.

Friday, June 4, 2010    

     A day at The Museum of the City of New York developed into a time o Read More…

Posted by: daynamcdowell | June 6, 2010

Day One-The Start

Thursday, June 3, 2010: 

     This was a pleasant start for my first trip.  Despite the long bus ride to Hyde Park and the longer return trip to Brooklyn, the day was a huge learning experience for me.  Having never studied any of the Roosevelt family, I was truly impressed by what I saw, heard, and learned.  The FDR exhibits in the museum were impressive, providing me with many details of this president.  Other items of interest included the Roosevelt ancestral home.  In particular, while viewing the library room, I wanted to curl up in a cozy chair next to the fire and escape within the pages of a good book.  The other equally impressive feature was FDR’s collection of political cartoons located in the foyer, some of which were from French newspapers.  The Roosevelt family dynamics definitely made an impression upon me.  Sara Roosevelt definitely had an iron fist clenched around her boy Franklin and his inheritance with her stipulations and demands.  For example, he was not allowed any overnight stays at his cottage. 

Trail to Top Cottage

      The hike to Top Cottage, FDR’s “Shangri-la” was invigorating.  A shady trail traveling upward from Val-Kill transitioned nicely to the solitude of Top Cottage.  The porch was the best architectural feature of the house.  Overlooking the Hudson Valley, the naturalistic view provided time for much needed reflection, making it obvious as to why FDR chose that location for his personal getaway.  Top Cottage definitely was the escape from the daily grind and was a place where I would have enjoyed to remain longer.

             

     The most enlightening part of the day for me centered upon Eleanor Roosevelt.  She truly was an inspirational woman for her time.  Learning about her and seeing Val-Kill, her home, convinced me that she was a more impressive person than her husband FDR. 

      In her dining room a family heirloom hangs on the center of wall.  This mirror sedately speaks of her rich ancestry from the Livingston bloodlines.  It was from this dining room that Eleanor pursued her quest for human rights at the international level as she dined with world leaders.  Through this pursuit for equality of all humans, Eleanor Roosevelt demonstrated her true compassion for others.  Eleanor Roosevelt, despite the problems in her personal life, acted with quiet dignity and a graceful respectability as she sought solutions for human rights issues.  She provided women and young girls of her time with a much needed role model and also changed the role of the first lady for all future first ladies, allowing them the opportunity to pursue public policies of their own. 

     Human rights issues can definitely be addressed and connected in the Civics classroom.  In connecting amendments and current human rights issues, students will have a clearer understanding of the importance of their own civic heritage and how it applies to the world around them, from the local to the more global arenas.

Posted by: daynamcdowell | April 2, 2010

Up In the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell

       Culture, Unconventionality, and Destruction             

McSorley's Old Ale House-a great read in Mitchell's book!

     The underclass of New York vividly springs to life in Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell and more importantly, they portray entire cultures through individual lifestyles while disliking conventionality and embracing a lust for life that ends with destructive behaviors.  Various cultures are adeptly represented by individual New Yorkers throughout the book.  Furthermore, these New Yorkers push aside traditional living and instead adopt unconventional existences in which they live carefree lives.   As a result of their loose living, harmful behaviors appear in the lives of underprivileged New Yorkers.   

     In Professor Sea Gull, Houdini’s Picnic, and King of the Gypsies distinct cultures appear.  Joe Gould in Professor Sea Gull clearly portrays the culture of the homeless and life as a bum.  He claims to be “the foremost authority in the United States . . . on the subject of doing without” (52).  To survive, Gould acquires free food and practices aggressive mooching in night clubs.   For example, he eats ketchup in large quantities because it is free, (53) making the most of affordable food and using forceful methods to obtain more provisions from night clubs such as the Vanguard.  When marching into the establishment, Joe threatens the owner when he states “Hello, Max, you dirty capitalist.  I want a bite and a beer.  If I don’t get it, I’ll walk right out on the dance floor and throw a fit” (64).  Using this bribery tactic and by eating condiments,, Gould receives free food as a member of the bum culture in New York. 

     Likewise, the Calypso music culture in Houdini’s Picnic appears in the persona of Wilmoth Houdini, a Calypso musician.  Houdini, “the first Calypsonian to make recordings” (254), contributes to the Calypso culture in New York by making “public appearances at ‘picnics’ held in Harlem halls” (254).  Picnic participants dance to the rhythms of the Calypso music and feast on Calypso food.  While the dancers gyrate, “the old women sitting stiffly on the slat-backs along the wall listen attentively with big smiles on their faces” (257) while Houdini sings.  At the picnic, attendees eat paylou, or “joints of fowl cooked with rice and onions and  herb-seasoned meat patty pies” made by Houdini and “home brewed ginger beer” (25, 261, 256).  The Calypso culture is distinguishable in Houdini’s Picnic.

     In King of the Gypsies, the gypsy culture in New York and the personality of King Cockeye Johnny, a Russian gypsy, are also synonymous.  Johnny Nikanov claims personal leadership of a group of gypsies as the king of exactly thirty-eight families of Russian gypsies —about two hundred and thirty men, women, and children, to all of whom he is related by blood and marriage (148), with whom he feels a familial bond.  In his role as a gypsy king, Johnny serves as a judge and peacemaker.  For serious arguments, “he holds a Romany kris, or gypsy trial in his home” (154) using the gypsy culture to his political advantage.  As an older gypsy, Johnny further portrays the culture in his belief of child marriage and his multilingual abilities.  For “Johnny sold his daughter, Rosie, to a Chicago gypsy” for a bride price and speaks “Russian, Rumanian, Romany, and English” (149).   King Cockeye Johnny and the gypsy culture of New York are one and the same.

     Also apparent in the three Mitchell stories are examples of underclass New Yorkers who push aside traditional living and adopt unconventional existences in which they live carefree lives.  For instance, in Professor Sea Gull, Joe Gould lives as a bohemian, and more specifically as a writer with an unconventional lifestyle.  Gould has no permanent home in Greenwich Village and finds sleeping quarters wherever he can (52), focusing solely on his An Oral History of Our Time and writing anywhere he can.  Joe “writes in parks, in doorways, in flophouse lobbies, in cafeterias, on benches on elevated railroad platforms in subway trains, and in public libraries” (55).  He is a wanderer; “restless and footloose as an alley cat,” disappearing for several weeks, never telling his friends his destination (54); recording the mundane, everyday events that he sees.  He does not have a steady job and despises money.  Joe admits that a steady job would interfere with his thinking and he “seems miserable with money in his pockets” (55, 68) until it is spent.   Joe’s resistance to permanency and financial responsibility are reflected in his eccentric lifestyle. 

     Wilmoth Houdini also rejects the conventions of society and lives as he chooses.  In Houdini’s Picnic, Houdini is a wanderer of sorts without a consistent home.  His desire to move back and forth from New York to Trinidad is obvious when he claims he must re-experience Calypso culture.  “I have to go back to Trinidad to renew my inspiration”.  He goes back to eat calaloo; blue crab soup and drink some gin juleps; green-coconut water and gin (160).  Houdini learned this roaming behavior as a child, for even though the Calypso singer was born in Brooklyn, his family returned to Trinidad when he was two.  In fact, Houdini says that “I came from a wandering family” (160).  In the financial realm, Houdini earns some money but, he is not a financial saver.  In fact when Calypso singers are paid, “they promptly spend their money for clothes and liquor”, two goods with lesser value and limited use.  Wilmoth Houdini also opts for an atypical lifestyle without consistent living arrangements and limited finances.  

     Johnny Cockeye, the gypsy king, also shuns conventional living arrangements veers from the traditional view of who should be the main family provider.  As a child, Johnny grew up wandering from one town to the next with his family. Johnny’s observations of the men tinkering at odd jobs and the women conning and stealing for money, food, and clothes (159- 160) showed him an alternate lifestyle.  In addition, Johnny grew up living in a tent and as an older gypsy chooses to sleep on the floor using his bedroom for his headquarters instead (155).  He even tries to fashion his apartment like a tent, hanging blankets and tent carpets on the walls and in the doorways (155).  In regard to work, Johnny like other gypsy men does not earn a living.  Gypsy men are incapable of working a steady job.  Johnny explains that his skills as a coppersmith are outdated (149) and admits that “if I had to take a steady job or be exterminated, I would beg to be exterminated” (147).  In fact, the gypsy women are the providers.  Johnny “is supported by his wife, Mrs. Looba Johnny Nikanov” (154).  As king of the gypsies, Johnny Cockeye rejects standard living quarters and allows a woman to be the breadwinner. 

     As a result of their loose living, harmful behaviors appear in the lives of Joe Gould, Wilmouth Houdini, and Johnny Cockeye Nikanov, three underprivileged New Yorkers.  Joe Gould for example, experiences social rejection from the literary world because of his outspokenness and his deliberate acts opposing societal norms.  The Raven Poetry Circle refused to accept him as a member after his appearances solely for the free wine (68), his submissions of foolish poems such as “In winter I’m a Buddhist, And in summer I’m a nudist” (69), and his shocking poetic interpretation of a sea gull when he ”jumped out of his chair and began to wave his arms and leap about and scream” as though he was a sea gull in flight (70).  Gould, through his destructive behavior, terminates all chances of acceptance by his peers as a writer.

     Wilmoth Houdini also faces destructive behavior in his loose living.  His reason for a lack of consistent living arrangements centers partially upon alcohol when he explains that the gin juleps of Trinidad “build up me vitamin and contribute to me inspiration” (260).   For this reason he must return to Trinidad.  In addition, alcohol of which Houdini partakes, surrounds him at his gigs,.  Ginger beer, rye, and gin all are consumed at Houdini’s picnic (257) where he also “mixed drinks for the band” (257).  In his own words, Houdini admits a potential problem and a fear of whiskey when speaking of future successes. If “whiskey don’t murder me, Madison Square Garden is where I wind up” (261).  Houdini’s choice of income clearly shows destructive behavior. 

     Johnny Cockeye deals with the harmful behaviors of his thirty-eight gypsy families as well.  Behaviors involving petty crime, swindling, and thieving directly connect to the loose lifestyle of impermanent homes and men who do not work.  The gypsies are “pickpockets, wallet-switch swindlers, and fortune tellers” (143) who rely on Johnny to intercede for them with the police.  Johnny is also expected to help the gypsies when they “have trouble with policemen, truant officers, relief investigators, and health inspectors (154).  Clearly the unconventional life of a gypsy develops into detrimental behaviors.

     Thus, a sole underprivileged New Yorker is a representation of  a culture, as with Joe Gould and the homeless, Wilmoth Houdini and the Calypso singers, and King Johnny Cockeye and the gypsies.  Furthermore, the stories Professor Sea Gull, Houdini’s Picnic, and King of the Gypsies emphasize individuals who exemplify nontraditional lifestyles in which they live casually according to their own desires.  As a result, each story contains a subtle message that damaging consequences are often included with unconventional choices.

Posted by: daynamcdowell | April 2, 2010

Culture, Unconventionality, and Destruction

The underclass of New York vividly springs to life in Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell and more importantly, they portray entire cultures through individual lifestyles while disliking conventionality and embracing a lust for life that ends with destructive behaviors.  Various cultures are adeptly represented by individual New Yorkers throughout the book.  Furthermore, these New Yorkers push aside traditional living and instead adopt unconventional existences in which they live carefree lives.   As a result of their loose living, harmful behaviors appear in the lives of underprivileged New Yorkers.

In Professor Sea Gull, Houdini’s Picnic, and King of the Gypsies distinct cultures appear.  Joe Gould in Professor Sea Gull clearly portrays the culture of the homeless and life as a bum.  He claims to be “the foremost authority in the United States . . . on the subject of doing without” (52).  To survive, Gould acquires free food and practices aggressive mooching in night clubs.   For example, he eats ketchup in large quantities because it is free, (53) making the most of affordable food and using forceful methods to obtain more provisions from night clubs such as the Vanguard.  When marching into the establishment, Joe threatens the owner when he states “Hello, Max, you dirty capitalist.  I want a bite and a beer.  If I don’t get it, I’ll walk right out on the dance floor and throw a fit” (64).  Using this bribery tactic and by eating condiments,, Gould receives free food as a member of the bum culture in New York. 

Likewise, the Calypso music culture in Houdini’s Picnic appears in the persona of Wilmoth Houdini, a Calypso musician.  Houdini, “the first Calypsonian to make recordings” (254), contributes to the Calypso culture in New York by making “public appearances at ‘picnics’ held in Harlem halls” (254).  Picnic participants dance to the rhythms of the Calypso music and feast on Calypso food.  While the dancers gyrate, “the old women sitting stiffly on the slat-backs along the wall listen attentively with big smiles on their faces” (257) while Houdini sings.  At the picnic, attendees eat paylou, or “joints of fowl cooked with rice and onions and  herb-seasoned meat patty pies” made by Houdini and “home brewed ginger beer” (25, 261, 256).  The Calypso culture is distinguishable in Houdini’s Picnic.

In King of the Gypsies, the gypsy culture in New York and the personality of King Cockeye Johnny, a Russian gypsy, are also synonymous.  Johnny Nikanov claims personal leadership of a group of gypsies as  “the king of exactly thirty-eight families of Russian gypsies —about two hundred and thirty men, women, and children, to all of whom he is related by blood and marriage (148),” with whom he feels a familial bond.  In his role as a gypsy king, Johnny serves as a judge and peacemaker.  For serious arguments, “he holds a Romany kris, or gypsy trial in his home” (154) using the gypsy culture to his political advantage.  As an older gypsy, Johnny further portrays the culture in his belief of child marriage and his multilingual abilities.  For “Johnny sold his daughter, Rosie, to a Chicago gypsy” for a bride price and speaks “Russian, Rumanian, Romany, and English” (149).   King Cockeye Johnny and the gypsy culture of New York are one and the same.

Also apparent in the three Mitchell stories are examples of underclass New Yorkers who push aside traditional living and adopt unconventional existences in which they live carefree lives.  For instance, in Professor Sea Gull, Joe Gould lives as a bohemian, and more specifically as a writer with an unconventional lifestyle.  Gould has no permanent home in Greenwich Village and finds sleeping quarters wherever he can (52), focusing solely on his An Oral History of Our Time and writing anywhere he can.  Joe

“writes in parks, in doorways, in flophouse lobbies, in cafeterias, on benches on elevated railroad platforms in subway trains, and in public libraries” (55).  He is a wanderer; “restless and footloose as an alley cat,” disappearing for several weeks, never telling his friends his destination (54); recording the mundane, everyday events that he sees.  He does not have a steady job and despises money.  Joe admits that a steady job would interfere with his thinking and he “seems miserable with money in his pockets” (55, 68) until it is spent.   Joe’s resistance to permanency and financial responsibility are reflected in his eccentric lifestyle.

Wilmoth Houdini also rejects the conventions of society and lives as he chooses.  In Houdini’s Picnic, Houdini is a wanderer of sorts without a consistent home.  His desire to move back and forth from New York to Trinidad is obvious when he claims he must re-experience Calypso culture.  “I have to go back to Trinidad to renew my inspiration”.  He goes back to eat calaloo; blue crab soup and drink some gin juleps; green-coconut water and gin (160).  Houdini learned this roaming behavior as a child, for even though the Calypso singer was born in Brooklyn, his family returned to Trinidad when he was two.  In fact, Houdini says that “I came from a wandering family” (160).  In the financial realm, Houdini earns some money but, he is not a financial saver.  In fact when Calypso singers are paid, “they promptly spend their money for clothes and liquor”, two goods with lesser value and limited use.  Wilmoth Houdini also opts for an atypical lifestyle without consistent living arrangements and limited finances.

Johnny Cockeye, the gypsy king, also shuns conventional living arrangements veers from the traditional view of who should be the main family provider.  As a child, Johnny grew up wandering from one town to the next with his family. Johnny’s observations of the men tinkering at odd jobs and the women conning and stealing for money, food, and clothes (159- 160) showed him an alternate lifestyle.  In addition, Johnny grew up living in a tent and as an older gypsy chooses to sleep on the floor using his bedroom for his headquarters instead (155).  He even tries to fashion his apartment like a tent, hanging blankets and tent carpets on the walls and in the doorways (155).  In regard to work, Johnny like other gypsy men does not earn a living.  Gypsy men are incapable of working a steady job.  Johnny explains that his skills as a coppersmith are outdated (149) and admits that “if I had to take a steady job or be exterminated, I would beg to be exterminated” (147).  In fact, the gypsy women are the providers.  Johnny “is supported by his wife, Mrs. Looba Johnny Nikanov” (154).  As king of the gypsies, Johnny Cockeye rejects standard living quarters and allows a woman to be the breadwinner.

As a result of their loose living, harmful behaviors appear in the lives of Joe Gould, Wilmouth Houdini, and Johnny Cockeye Nikanov, three underprivileged New Yorkers.  Joe Gould for example, experiences social rejection from the literary world because of his outspokenness and his deliberate acts opposing societal norms.  The Raven Poetry Circle refused to accept him as a member after his appearances solely for the free wine (68), his submissions of foolish poems such as “In winter I’m a Buddhist, And in summer I’m a nudist” (69), and his shocking poetic interpretation of a sea gull when he ”jumped out of his chair and began to wave his arms and leap about and scream” as though he was a sea gull in flight (70).  Gould, through his destructive behavior, terminates all chances of acceptance by his peers as a writer.

Wilmoth Houdini also faces destructive behavior in his loose living.  His reason for a lack of consistent living arrangements centers partially upon alcohol when he explains that the gin juleps of Trinidad “build up me vitamin and contribute to me inspiration” (260).   For this reason he must return to Trinidad.  In addition, alcohol of which Houdini partakes, surrounds him at his gigs,.  Ginger beer, rye, and gin all are consumed at Houdini’s picnic (257) where he also “mixed drinks for the band” (257).  In his own words, Houdini admits a potential problem and a fear of whiskey when speaking of future successes. If “whiskey don’t murder me, Madison Square Garden is where I wind up” (261).  Houdini’s choice of income clearly shows destructive behavior.

Johnny Cockeye deals with the harmful behaviors of his thirty-eight gypsy families as well.  Behaviors involving petty crime, swindling, and thieving directly connect to the loose lifestyle of impermanent homes and men who do not work.  The gypsies are “pickpockets, wallet-switch swindlers, and fortune tellers” (143) who rely on Johnny to intercede for them with the police.  Johnny is also expected to help the gypsies when they “have trouble with policemen, truant officers, relief investigators, and health inspectors (154).  Clearly the unconventional life of a gypsy develops into detrimental behaviors.

Thus, a sole underprivileged New Yorker is a representation of  a culture, as with Joe Gould and the homeless, Wilmoth Houdini and the Calypso singers, and King Johnny Cockeye and the gypsies.  Furthermore, the stories Professor Sea Gull, Houdini’s Picnic, and King of the Gypsies emphasize individuals who exemplify nontraditional lifestyles in which they live casually according to their own desires.  As a result, each story contains a subtle message that damaging consequences are often included with unconventional choices.

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