Monday, July 5, 2010
New York State of Mind
The other day, I locked myself out. While I waited for Slim to come and rescue me, I went to the library. As I've mentioned, our local branch is very peculiar: it has a sparse collection, but then you'll find, say, Hebrew for Dummies. And, in addition, Arthur Schwartz's New York City Food, one of my favorite books that I don't own. It's a wonderful compendium of recipes and histories of old New York institutions and iconic foodstuffs, but I can't own it because it makes me so melancholy. And, indeed, after half an hour with it, I was so depressed at the loss of Lundy's and Luchow's and Mary Elizabeth's and Child's and all the German coffeehouses in Yorkville - to say nothing of the Automat! - that I could hardly bear it.
(As my good friends know, I have a particular obsession with the Horn and Hardart Automats; on a videotape my dad made while she was dying, my grandmother, Sadie Stein I, rhapsodizes about the baked beans, so maybe that's what started it. Anyway, if I ever get patron-of-the-arts rich, the first thing I'll do is force either Museum of the City of New York or the New York Historical Society to install an authentic automat, with original recipes.)
I love old New York. If you've eaten out with me, you'll know that it's my mission to go to only those places that allow me to maintain the illusion that computers are still only used by NASA. Le Veau d'Or, Glaser's Bake Shop, Ferdinando's Foccaceria, Barney Greengrass - these are just the places where I feel most at home.
I've been despairing lately about NYC real estate prices and the near-impossibility of affording to raise a family here, and have been thinking seriously about leaving. And yet, the thought makes me unspeakably blue: after all, this happens to be where I'm from, and my dad before me, and his parents before him. It's not about making it or glamor, it's simply my hometown. I like having family nearby; being able to get a coffee and a buttered roll at any bodega; the sense of being in on the most obvious in-joke in the world.
I've been putting together a NYC mix for a pal who's moving here. She's apprehensive about the move - she's coming from somewhere rural and beautiful where all her family lives - and I am advising the liberal application of both Joseph Mitchell's collected works and Here is New York. As to the mix, I decided "Empire State of Mind" etc. were compulsory - nostalgia only goes so far!