I love the Lower East Side. It’s shabby chic, so you’d think it hadn’t really been updated – apart from what’s in the shops – since its inception.
For an hour, Bellel, who grew up in the area, gave us audience members a crash course in the history of the LES as he chatted with tour guide Joyce Mendelsohn and flicked through pictures comparing the area at the start of the century to the same streets today.
The images, which stretched from the end of the 19th century, were so fascinating – particularly as I walk through the streets so often. The pictures from ye olde Chinatown, for example, showed roads empty of cars but crammed full of people. And thanks to the Chinese exclusion act, which made it tough for women to enter the U.S., the streets were like bachelor towns.
The buildings were also decked with ornamental doorways and balconies that are nowhere to be seen today.
And yet some things were eerily similar; where an Italian fishmongers once stood at 71 Mulberry Street, there is still a fish stall – the only difference is that it’s run by Chinese families instead.
At the start of the presentation, there seemed to be a few busy-bodies muscling their way into the conversation – correcting Bellel or chipping in at something he might have skimmed over. While I rolled my eyes at first, I soon started to realise that it was less nagging and more supplementary; these women had spent their lives in this neighbourhood, so as they shared their titbits, I started to build up a much better picture of what had happened here or there.
It was a brilliant evening (and freee). Although I’ve not been in the area as long as the busy-bodies, I did catch myself going ‘ahhh’ with recognition. And it made me feel like a little bit of LES was mine.