Monday, October 27, 2008

On Saturday, September 20th, the class, sleepy and yawning, arrived in New York City and immediately hopped on the subway to get to the Lower East Side to go to the Tenement Museum at 97 Orchard Street. The red brick flat, which had at one time housed about 720,000 people, was about four or five stories tall, and looked rather ordinary from the outside. However, when you walked inside, the difference was quite profound. First, on our tour, we walked up about three or four flights of stairs to see apartments where immigrants had lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The tiny rooms were covered in several layers of wallpaper and dust and did not appear safe in any way; I have to admit I was a little bit worried that we might even fall right through the floor beneath us. Our guide went on to explain that not only did the tenement look unsafe, but, when it was inhabited, it was most certainly not safe. The paste that they used to put up wallpaper attracted vermin, the boxes they built up around pipes to hide them created excellent homes for the vermin that the wall paper was attracting, and the water, lighting, and bathroom facilities were very poor, causing disease to spread like wildfire. After our tour of the building itself, our guide took us down to an apartment where we were to act as a new immigrant family coming over from Ireland, and an actress hired by the museum acted as a woman who lived in the building and showed us how she lived and answered our questions. In addition to showing us her small living quarters and all the furnishings in her apartment, she taught us how to fox trot, a popular dance in her day, and how to work her new apparatus used for washing clothes. She also told us girls that we all needed to buy skirts because pants were for men. Interacting with Victoria forced me to feel for the immigrants of the past and wonder if immigrant life today is even any better, for she was a living, breathing person, not just the walls and props of a museum coupled with the drone of a tour guide’s voice; speaking with her really brought the immigrant experience to life by giving it a name and a young, female face, comparable to ours. After our adventure at the museum, we walked to the Feast of San Genarro, where the streets were lined with red, white, and green, and vendors and carnival rides were around every turn. We ate at a restaurant on Mulberry Street, and they served me the best ravioli I’ve ever tasted in my life; however, I might have been biased by my extreme hunger since I hadn’t eaten breakfast. Unfortunately, since we only had an hour and a half at the festival, right after we finished our lunch we had to get back on the subway, after buying a few t-shirts, and make our way back to the Broadway Theatre District. That night, at [Title of Show], we saw a hilarious musical written by two guys about two guys writing a Broadway musical about two guys writing a Broadway musical; Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell wrote their ingenious musical about themselves and their two friends, Heidi and Susan, and the plot line spans from their decision to write a musical about themselves to its award-winning success off Broadway to their musical’s premiere on Broadway, and it includes all of the drama that their quest induces. Their somewhat strange plot line coupled with their use of vulgar humor was something I had certainly never expected to see in a Broadway theatre, but this was kind of refreshing and the actors seemed just like everyday people, living their lives; it gave me a good laugh before we had to bid the city farewell and return to Bethlehem.