June 2008


Tenement Museum

For those of you who have lost track of where I am (and I cannot imagine why), I’m now in New York City!

Yes, I went from Lisbon to Berlin to New York City, a substantial backtrack, but I had to, for reasons I will not go into here.

Despite having worked for four hours on the plane, I’ve had a relatively smooth transition to the local time. I woke at six this morning, took a shower, ate breakfast somewhere, dropped laundry somewhere, and then worked for a few hours in a local Starbucks.

Why Starbucks, you might ask, in horror! Because the first coffee shop I found that was local did not have, believe it or not, caffeine free coffee. Since I’d already had a cup of coffee, there was no way I could put more of it in my system. Starbucks was the next coffee shop I found, and I wasn’t going to go wandering forever before getting to work!

After completing a fair amount of work, I got on a bus and headed to the Tenement Museum, where I did a walking tour of the Lower East Side before doing an hour long tour of the actual Tenement Museum.

For those of you unfamiliar with what a “Tenement” is/was, it was a small apartment in New York City where people lived. Typically housing immigrant families, these 320 square foot (30 square meter) apartments had three rooms, little fresh air, and even less light. There were no limits on the number of people living in a tenement, probably seven or more people were crammed in. Toilets were shared, initially out back next to the water pump, later in the communal hallways.

Seeing the actual physical space is something that is well worth the time.

When I was a kid I read a series of books by Sydney Taylor about the “All-of-a-Kind Family.” I still remember, vividly, when one of the kids in the book was punished by her father in the hallway for coming home late—except it was dark and the father punished his daughter’s friend.

It seems like an odd mistake—until one is actually in a tenement and sees how dark the hallways were—especially imagining it at night when it was dark.

The spaces were communal; one got to know your neighbors; one could talk to your neighbors through the walls. In essence there was no privacy—many tenements were connected by fire doors that were left open to let air through, thus meaning that two families were sharing space in practice.

After I left the museum, it started to rain—heavily. I took the bus back to my hotel and then later foolishly went out, thinking it had let up—it had not.


2 comments to Tenement Museum

  • Ed

    They are building a group of Apartment houses here that will be used by the new Mexican population that has found its way here. They are new and nice and clean. They have balconies. The local yokels are predicting that soon they will be worse than a pig sty. The four buildings are very close together and I don’t see any place for parking except along the narrow road. Many of the Mexicans who live nearby in old trailors don’t have cars but some do. I often give one of them a lift to his job at McDonalds. He seems nice enough. Ed

  • damn starbucks to have caffein free coffee – otherwise you would have needed to go somewhere else and i wouldn’t have to ask, despite of yourself already asking this question: why starbucks…?