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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

flavors of the past


On a recent visit to New York, I was interested in documenting certain places from childhood, especially food-related. At 242nd Street, Van Cortland Park in the Bronx is the uptown starting point of the Number 1 subway line, which snakes its way into Manhattan, down through the urban intensity of Midtown, and finally to the watery destination of South Ferry. My school in Riverdale was nearby in a suburban, quiet neighborhood with Tudor-style homes, an uphill walk a few blocks away.

The 242nd street station always seemed vaguely exotic to me--today I can see why, with its freewheeling Art Deco borrowings from Eastern sources:



A view across to Van Cortland Park, situated on land sold by the Weckquaesgeek Indians to the Dutch West India Company in 1639:




Amazing that these primary-color murals from the seventies are still in place--I remember passing these images many times as a child and seeing them here still opens a door to early memories and impressions. The sporty figures express a certain urban self-sufficiency--along with a bright and hopeful bicentennial spirit of feminine aspiration:


It was good to revisit and find that this street still feels charged and mythical, a connector of dimensions and realms under the noisy shadow of its elevated tracks. The station's strange Peking grandeur seems even more beautiful as layers of paint peel away to reveal another color, another time:



The taxi station that once stood at the corner ready to accommodate weary subway riders is gone now. The station's collection of pinball machines were so intriguing with their brooding, early heavy metal imagery: around 1976 or so I recall being fascinated with one decorated with languid Led Zeppelin sylphs in bell-bottom jeans with mysterious eyes and ocean hair. 

I'd stare down at them through the scratched pinball plastic--with that much beauty, it seemed that they had something crucial and secret to tell. But always, they were silent and unreadable, staring off into some unknowable realm...

Snapping me back from my pinball reverie would be the delicious scent of an active fryer vat: the whole block was suffused with a sharp and enticing aroma of deep-fried chicken wings from the Chinese takeout place, where I'd lobby mom for some wings after one of our Manhattan sojourns. I recall happily clutching the hot, stapled wax paper bag of crispy chicken on the ride home, and the jagged, golden crunch of the wings!



Closer to home was another Broadway-residential divide. In our leafy neighborhood, dreamed up as a green commuter suburb in the late nineteenth century are spacious Victorians, elegant Federal style homes, and more modern homes from the 20th century mixed in for good measure. "Down the hill" meant a walk to South Broadway, where some of the coffee shops and pizzerias from childhood remain today.

My late, very much missed Dad often read the Sunday New York Times at the Scorpio--sometimes I'd come along and enjoy a Western omelet while we'd wade through the newspaper sections and chat. Happy memories.



As the last century merges into the new one, it is a joy to still find traces of Art Deco embellishing South Broadway's storefronts, as at the 242nd street subway station:


I love that Gino's Pizzeria has remained as it was: simple, delicious, and untouched by fads and fashions:



Many old school pizzerias in the NYC area offer Jamaican-style beef patties in addition to the pizza menu. Golden-turmeric flaky crust, Caribbean-spiced thyme and red pepper ground beef filling. What a treat (and  guilty pleasure) these are hot from the pizza oven:




Thanks for sharing this nostalgic visit...which foods and places stir your fond memories?



22 comments:

sherimiya said...

It's amazing that so many elements from your childhood are still there to be experienced and memories renewed! My childhood neighborhood is nearly completely different. Not the small town in the sugar cane fields anymore, but the second city destination via 4 lane highway. Even the eateries are all gone, mainly mom & pop joints that gave way to chains. I have to search with microscopic eyes and take a talk down my old street to find the beach walkways and tidepools of my youth. Thanks for taking me along on your journey, I enjoyed growing along wih you :)

bentobird said...

Dear Sheri, so interesting to read about your childhood places, though sorry to hear that so much has changed. The small town in sugar cane fields sounds like a place of beauty and inspiration...
Thank you for sharing this and for coming along on my photo tour :)

megan said...

i've said it before and i'll say it again - your attention to detail, appreciation for many cultures, and whimsical nature all open my eyes in new ways to the very city i live in. i just love your photo-diary-style entries about your explorations, thank you for sharing!

bentobird said...

And thank you gamene for encouraging my photo/foodie explorations! New York is so incredibly multi-layered, and I'm happy that you are living in and bentoing from this amazing city!

Angi said...

What is a Zeppol?

bentobird said...

Hi Angi,
Wow, you've got sharp eyes! Short for zeppole/zeppoli, a Neapolitan style doughy round sweet:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeppole

Lexi said...

I love your writing, so evocative. Such a lovely post, thanks for sharing.

bentobird said...

A lovely compliment, thank you Lexi!

babykins said...

I don't know why but these photos feel nostalgic to me too. I might have lived in there in my past life!? Haha.

Since I have too many foods, smells and places of fond memories I can't pick! :D

hapa bento said...

I can pretty much remember all the "firsts" and the location of each. The first cone sushi (inarizushi) and bowl of saimin (noodle soup) was eaten in a 3 table shop next door to a 1 chair barber shop. Being older, I'd escort my little brother to get his hair cut... and after with his hair all shiny and slick...we'd sit on the steps outside to eat our treats. Even to this day when I eat inarizushi, I swear I can smell pomade.

susanyuen said...

Beautiful post and great photos! It was wonderful to be able to experience these snapshots of your childhood. :D Thank you for sharing your memories!

tatabonita said...

Love to read this post. Thanks for sharing the story :D

bentobird said...

Interesting comment, Izumi! Maybe you are a native New Yorker at heart?

bentobird said...

Hi Debra, this was really fascinating to read! Thank you for sharing these rich sensory memories...

bentobird said...

Thank you, Susan, for your sweet, always uplifting comments and for coming along for this visit!

bentobird said...

Hi Tata--so nice to have you visit, glad you liked this post, dear!

tofugirl said...

Wow, great post--strange coincidence, I went to school in Riverdale too (high school, anyway!) so it's nice to see that these places are still around. You'd think I'd get back up there every now and then, but no...I haven't been up there in probably 5 years. Thanks for reminding me that I should check it out :)-elaynam (via your flickr!)

bentobird said...

Hiya elaynam :)
Thanks for visiting via my flickr stream :) So are you a Riverdale, Fieldston, or Horace Mann alum...or maybe a different school? Another bit of cool foodie history from this immediate area is Stella D'Oro, still manufacturing breadsticks and classic Italian-American cookies on 238th St. I'll never forget our 4th grade class trip there and the concentrated, hypnotic scent of pink-colored sugar crystals...

tofugirl said...

I went to HM! It was an interesting 4 years--I remember that we always drove past the Stella D'oro factory every morning in the bus and every now and then it would smell AWESOME. And of course, getting to go "down the hill" for lunch....

bentobird said...

Get out, tofugirl! So did I, K (still in Manhattan) thru 8th grade! Ha, that is too much. Ah, so you know exactly what I meant about Stella D'Oro!! So cool!

Jennifer Gildred MA ATR said...

Jenn, I love this post. Thanks to Jamison, I was able to check it out. The word that comes to mind for me throughout this post is, architexture! The textures, the colors, the history and the feel of the buildings and places of your childhood are so rich. I'm so glad you have the chance to revisit the area, that it still is intact. And I love that the old murals are still there. I remember seeing a lot of feminine empowerment images when I grew up, too. Much like that colorful mural of female shapes seen above. I love that you captured the paint peeling off revealing the moments of the past. That really struck me. And those buildings with that exotic architecture... It all makes me very curious about your childhood. And would also love to hear more about that visit to your mom's one day. Sending you and Jamison a hug full of love.
Jenn

Bentobird said...

Beautiful comments, Jenn...just finding them now! Architexture--that's brilliant! I feel so lucky to have had a 70's childhood--themes and energies were being built and expressed then that were deeply counter to previous world views.

It was a period in which enough women had found (and would not abandon)a fulcrum of truth and courage to express their reality and lived experience. That profound act started shifting so much in our culture.

We have both lost and gained ground since...but the struggle will never be put aside, now opened. There is no going back, once awareness is gained.

I did not understand the history or context of this new awareness and energy as I child, but I felt it and it shaped me.

So much for us to talk about and explore, sister. Love you.