Imagine it’s 1880. The Lower East Side of New York City is the most densely populated place on earth…block after block of tenements house the working poor as well as unemployed immigrants of the city, including Italians, Irish, Germans, Jews, Czechs and Chinese. Imagine the darkness of an unlit hallway in one of those tenements, a hallway that’s lined with windowless rooms, 10 feet square, where entire families live and may even work…sewing, laundering, making hats, etc. At this time, 40% of New York City’s population is foreign born. (I think it’s about the same today.)
This is the backdrop for the written snapshots of life in the Lower Manhattan tenements of the 1800’s, as seen through the eyes of someone who was an immigrant …the author of this book. Although Riis’ writing style is different from our norm, it’s well worth the effort to read the different stories of the individuals who lived in this area. The lack of decent housing, medical care, education, sanitation and life’s basic comforts for these immigrants bordered on criminal. Most of the clips this journalist, reformer and photographer shares are sad…some are heartbreaking…all are factual.
Any reader whose ancestors immigrated to America through Ellis Island in New York City- whether they stayed in New York or passed through to other cities- should have a greater appreciation of what these people endured to provide for their families…and build a future for ours. While these Lower East Side neighborhoods that Jacob Riis documented have been transformed into fabulously lucrative real estate, his work still resonates on a global level.I really enjoyed the in-depth look at pieces of the lives my ancestors endured, but this book isn’t for everyone…only those who are curious about the beginnings of city life in big cities in the USA.
Michael and I visited New York City recently…before the Coronavirus scare exploded…and we spent quite a bit of time exploring the Lower East Side of the city…the area where most immigrants coming to our shores settled, at least, for a time…
Note: Click on each picture to enlarge
In the 19th century, more and more people from across the oceans and seas began piling onto ships, like sardines in a can, only to crowd into American cities… thousands of newly arrived immigrants came to New York City seeking a better life than the one they’d left behind… hoping for a new beginning in their new land. They came from Ireland, Germany and later, Italy, Eastern Europe, Russia and China, among other places…a veritable melting pot of nationalities, races and religions…a fine example of cultural diversity.
The population doubled every decade from 1800-1880 and buildings that were once single-family dwellings were increasingly divided into multiple living spaces to accommodate this growing population. Known as TENEMENTS, these narrow, low-rise apartment buildings, concentrated in the city’s lower east side, were all too often cramped, lacked indoor plumbing, proper ventilation and enough windows to provide needed light. They occupied nearly all of the lots on which they were originally built…usually 25 feet wide and 100 feet long. In 1872, there were about 20,000 tenement houses containing about 160,000 families-about 500,000 people. Some buildings contained as many as 126 families-about 700 inhabitants…in a narrow structure only 5-7 stories high. An individual apartment sometimes housed a family of as many as 10 people.
By 1900, about 2.3 million people, (two-thirds of New York City’s population at the time,) were living in tenement housing, longing for just a GLIMPSE OF SKY from their small rooms. Their only “escape” from the dingy tenements was the streets where they could enjoy the sunshine, fresh air and the other new immigrants with whom they could share common experiences as well as news from back home. In addition, they could shop from the pushcarts of enterprising newcomers who sold goods of all kinds. The streets were their arteries of life.
Many families worked out of their cramped apartments sewing clothes, rolling cigars, fixing shoes, making hats, constructing collars, taking in laundry…they called it “piece work.” The atmosphere was suffocating! These tenements were in multi-use neighborhoods and situated close to factories, docks, slaughterhouses and power stations that provided employment to some of the residents. Convenient to get to work, but it meant living with increased air pollution, loud noise, and putrid smells. There were also issues with rats, mice, and roaches. The occupants of these buildings frequently emptied their filth and refuse into the public streets. HOWEVER, the rent, though a major expense for most residents, was cheaper than they could get anywhere else. In 1892, 2 rooms in an attic cost $3-5 per month; 3 rooms cost $6-12 per month and 4 rooms ran about $12-16 per month. As a family’s financial position improved, they often sought better housing…and as it worsened, they were forced to seek cheaper quarters.
In the early 1900’s, with the help of social reformers who put pressure on the city to pass city housing laws, the lot of the tenement dweller was greatly improved.
Today, in modern times, it’s the Latin American and the Asian communities that continue to experience harsh living conditions in tenement areas of New York City…especially in Chinatown.
Almost all of us have relatives or friends who came from someplace other than the United States. Imagine how hard it was for them to learn English and find a job to support their families or themselves while living in such horrendous conditions…yet they did, building a city known for its cultural diversity- indeed a country built on the strength and hard work of these early immigrants. They came, not only to New York City but to Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and other pockets in the U.S.A. They made their new streets and neighborhoods the very arteries of their new lives and built on each hurdle they overcame. I’m grateful for all the early immigrants built for us…and continue to contribute to each of our lives as new immigrants join us today.
“Take care o’ the wee ones. Don’t let them o’ yer sight. D’ya hear me, lass?”Those were the last words 8 year old Maelle Gallagher heard from her Da as he pushed her and her two younger siblings out the door, away from the raging fire, to the safety of the street. Their father and mother perished as their entire tenement burned to the ground…their only family, GONE. Maelle, her brother Mattie and baby sister, Molly are put in the care of the New York City orphanage where, before long, these three young Irish immigrants are selected for relocation. They unwittingly become 3 of the estimated 200,000 homeless youngsters who travelled west on an orphan train in search of new families that might want to adopt them. Unfortunately, they’re torn apart, each going different ways with different families. Maelle heads off with a traveling photographer as his assistant; Mattie is taken by a rancher as a child laborer and baby Molly is taken by a wealthy couple. Maelle, broken, vows to find each of them as her job with the photographer will afford her the opportunity to visit many places. Sadly, she’s unsuccessful in her search. Seventeen years pass with no contact among the siblings or knowledge of each other’s whereabouts. Then, as fate would allow, all three begin their own unexpected journey to Missouri…and unknowingly, towards each other.
Kim Vogel Sawyer, the book’s author, covers a lot of ground in “My Heart Remembers”…immigration, Ellis Island, crowded tenements on the lower east side of New York City, sweat shops, child labor, orphan homes, orphan trains, early photography and faith. Against this backdrop, she beautifully and heartfully relates the story of three siblings, separated by tragedy and united by a common cause. It’s a book filled with heartbreak, determination, kindness of strangers, forgiveness, getting past selfishness and…most of all…overcoming adversity. This is the first book I’ve read by this author and it won’t be the last! “My Heart Remembers” will leave you with a smile on your face and…perhaps…a few tears in your eyes.
Your very worst memories, put behind you, may become more vague as years advance…there is a SWEETNESS of FORGETTING. But those memories are part of who you are for as long as you live. That’s one of the lessons…one of the premises behind Kristin Harmel’s best-seller, “The Sweetness of Forgetting.” She’s a gifted storyteller who weaves an amazing story with threads of love, hardship, secrets, second chances, heartbreak, family…and recipes for baked goods sprinkled throughout! The story was both as sweet as the pastries from Hope’s bakery and as solid and strong as faith. It addresses something I strongly believe…we all speak to the same God. It is not religion that divides us, it’s good and evil here on earth that gives birth to hate and prejudice!!!
“The Sweetness of Forgetting” is a story about never giving up, about the stars in the night sky and about all the brave souls who lost their lives during the Holocaust…(but there was very little about the Holocaust in this book). We hear from two heroes, (spanning the time from WWII to today …) the grandmother and family matriarch, Rose (aka Mamie,) who fell in love when she was young, while living in Paris at the start of WWII …and Hope, Mamie’s adult granddaughter, who knows nothing of her beloved grandmother’s past. Hope runs the family bakery on Cape Cod with the help of her teenaged daughter, Annie.
This is a book about life and loss, as Hope journeys to Paris and New York City to discover a 70 year old family secret. With a masterful hand, Harmel weaves a story that is profoundly deep, mysterious and heartwarming…a perfect trifecta! I highly recommend this book…it’s a quick read because you won’t be able to put it down!
The hip, urban heart of Florida’s Gulf Coast beats in Tampa, our destination for a long weekend…not so much to see Tampa, but to bask in the extraordinary voice of Andrea Bocelli!! Just recovering from a week’s bout with laryngitis (for the first time in his career,) we were fortunate that he didn’t postpone our concert as he had the three before ours. Although he was cautious and didn’t sing as much as we’d hoped, it was, nonetheless, a thrill to hear him live and be so close to him…3rd row center!! He truly is the world’s greatest tenor. The man’s middle name is ANGEL and his voice couldn’t be more angelic! What a beautiful way to celebrate Valentine’s Day! Thank you, Michael! xo
Both Michael and I had multiple cameras at the ready as we explored Tampa. With its blue skies; sunshine; extensive, culture-filled waterfront and RiverWalk;
…world-class chefs and a century of Cuban culture…(multiethnic YBOR CITY, specifically, known as CIGAR CITY in the late 1800’s and is still a major producer of hand-rolled cigars)
…and people as friendly and warm as Tampa’s weather… we had a great time walking, taking the free trolley, sampling the restaurants and just plain sightseeing!It was amazing to see all the cranes towering above downtown Tampa…a new wave of construction, raising office buildings, bars, restaurants, hotels, medical facilities as well as residential multi-storied structures.
Tampa is a booming city…Florida’s third largest…and growing. I imagine this won’t be our last visit to Tampa, Florida!
Once upon a time , in the mid-twentieth century North Carolina wetlands, there lived a forgotten girl named Kya…aka Catherine…aka “The Marsh Girl” Clark. Abandoned by her parents and siblings at a very young age and further rejected by the school system, the entire town surrounding her and what ultimately felt like life itself, Kya was left to fend for herself with only Mother Nature as her caretaker. Delia Owens weaves a colorful tale of life at a time when the people who lived by the North Carolina swamps were treated almost as harshly as “colored folks,” rejected without a chance at the same privileges everyone else enjoyed… public perception, misconception and prejudice played a significant role in this poignant novel. Kya struggled to raise herself…she was reclusive, resourceful, intelligent, curious, fearless, courageous and sensitive , finding friends in the sea gulls and comfort in the North Carolina Marsh. Survival is a natural instinct, but courage like Kya’s is learned with time and experience…both of which she gained through her lonely years.
WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING has a bit of everything I love in a book, plus more: a likeable protagonist who touches your heart; atmosphere; drama; romance; coming-of-age struggles; intrigue; murder; a bit of courtroom action and stunning, descriptive writing plus a surprise twist as a finale. It’s a rich, well written novel that, like a good southern meal, left me well satisfied and content. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! After all, it’s been on the New York Times Best Seller list for 67 weeks!!
Ok, I admit it!I’m obsessed, morbidly fascinated with…and appalled by WWII books and the horrors of the time…before, during and after the war. I love the genre of Historical Fiction as it never fails to introduce me to little known areas of history that school and history books never explored.
Did you know that there were at least FIFTY-THREE Nazi war criminals living comfortably in the United States in 1973? Hard to imagine… Kate Quinn’s follow-up book to THE ALICE NETWORK is THE HUNTRESS , addressing this issue. Based on real people, we discover that in the aftermath of war, the hunter became the hunted. It mostly takes place in the early 1950’s with some flashbacks to WWII. The war is over, but everyone knows that there are still Nazis hiding all over the world.
Quinn weaves together the stories of a British Nazi hunter and his partner, a Soviet female war pilot and a 17 year old American girl, as they collaborate in the hunt for one of the most ruthless female war criminals of Nazi Germany. THE HUNTRESS is a very rich, character-driven story with many layers and secrets.
Ian, a war correspondent turned Nazi hunter; Tony, a former soldier and Ian’s friend and Nina, a Russian bomber pilot downed behind enemy lines, who survived an encounter with the Huntress, join forces to track and capture this heinous Nazi killer…”die Jagerin.” Nina was a member of an elite group, the Soviet Night Witches…the only female pilots in WWI. This all-female night bomber regiment wreaked havoc on Hitler’s eastern front! Add to this mix Jordan McBride, a teenaged girl growing up in post WWII Boston, determined to become a famous photographer. When her widowed father brings home a fiancé and Jordan snaps a photo of her that shows an evil side in a flash, she believes the woman is hiding something that will disrupt their peaceful lives.
THE HUNTRESSis a suspenseful, exciting, compelling, vividly written story that explores justice and revenge with a hint of romance to warm your heart…and characters you won’t soon forget. Nina is armed with a straight razor, Ian with his words and Jordan with her camera as they attempt to find the Huntress and make certain she’s punished for her crimes.
I love how Kate Quinn puts women back into the history of which they’ve long been written out. She reminds us that women were pilots and spies and fighters and…yes, even murderers. Plus, knowing that much of the book is based on actual events and real people made it all come alive that much more.
I would HIGHLY recommend his book to anyone who’s a fan of Historical Fiction.
Their parents are longtime friends. Andrew was my first charter pilot on the earliest trips to Africa. He and his wife, Ingrid, have become dear friends… special people in my life. Naturally, I’ve known their daughters, Emma and Holly, since they were born…I visit with them in their South African town, East London, every couple of years! Fast forwarding, Emma was graduating from high school, so Michael and I offered to bring her to the USA to celebrate the milestone. It turned into a trip for both Emma and her younger sister Holly (age 12,)leaving their country for the first time, to join us in the United States for two weeks…and so, the adventure began.
Our whirlwind two weeks started the first week in Decemberwhen we collected the girls at JFK airport and checked into our Manhattan hotel… right in the middle of the theater district and a stone’s throw from Times Square.
ACTION and AMAZEMENT were the keywords for our 5 days in the Big Apple. The skyscrapers, the crowds, the Christmas decorations, all the Starbucks shops (there are none in East London,) and the giant pretzels were just some of the most anticipated attractions. With YouTube, the girls came with some expectations, but everything seemed bigger and better in person!
We added a Broadway show…WICKED…to the mix!
We left Manhattan and drove for 5 hours to our home in a suburb of Syracuse, New York. We hoped to see some snow, as the girls were really anxious to have their first experience with the white, fluffy stuff!We did see a bit, but they looked forward to actually seeing it falling!
We decided to use our few days at home as chill time…we all needed it!The girls watched “American Netflix” (different from South African Netflix,)worked on their journals, explored the area a bit….and did see the snow falling. The Dollar Store was a tremendous hit… they don’t have anything like that at home. Our local art museum was hosting a Christmas Tree Contest…fun to see and the ropes course high up in Destiny Mall’s ceiling areawas a scary challenge (for us as watchers…)
The weekend found us in Niagara Falls where we caught up with our daughter and her kids…the kids have all been social media friends for a while, but this was the first time they actually met. A visit to TARGET was another “must see” for the girls…they knew TARGET from YouTube!Our last couple of days at homewe had snow, built a snowman (in spite of the fact that there wasn’t much snow,) and we celebrated Emma’s turning 18…again…(we celebrated in NYC, too. After all, you’re only EIGHTEEN once!!)
With a send-off from longtime friend, Martina, and her very sweet therapy dog, Poppy, we were off for the final leg of our collective journey …to Orlando, Florida for the Universal and Disney experience. I think Harry Potter World and all the scariest looking rides were the highlights…as was our hotel at Universal, the Portofino Bay Hotel…almost like being in Italy!
Emma and Holly were pure delight for Michael and me… responsible, smart, independent, sensible, and so much fun. We enjoyed talking with them, seeing things through their eyes. We’ll miss them as they return to their home and loved ones and look forward to seeing them again when we travel back to South Africa. We send them off with our always love and best wishes for the coming year.
Think about Mongolia for just a moment. What visions come to mind? (It’s the land that gave us Genghis Khan…remember him from our history classes? He was Mongolia’s founding father…their George Washington.) Yes, he was a brutal warrior, amassing the largest contiguous empire in history… but he also established Mongolia’s first writing system, encouraged religious tolerance, and expanded the cultural horizons and trading routes for his country and those surrounding Mongolia.
Do you imagine a country with bustling big cities or with wide open spaces…a modern, cosmopolitan nation or a traditional one…or a bit of it all? It’s an enormous country…the 18th largest and most sparsely populated sovereign state in the world…with only 3 million people!
I must admit that when we finally landed in Ulaanbaatar (called UB by the locals) after two days of air travel, I didn’t expect to see such a large, buzzing, happening city.
This is Mongolia’s capital city…the coldest in the world. It’s home to nearly half of the country’s 3 million people and more housing is under construction. There’s a mix of modern and old architecture…some of the buildings are clearly from the Soviet satellite era (1921-1990.) Interesting that many of the city’s residents still live in gers (or yurts, as the Russians call them.) You can even find them in very close proximity to the city center…suburbs and outskirts are full of them. Old habits die hard…and they’re much more affordable than the newer, modern housing! Looking at UB, it’s hard to imagine that this is the capital of a country that’s primarily nomadic. It has nice shops, restaurants, malls, high rise buildings…skyscrapers…and ridiculous traffic, like any big city anywhere in the world!
With immensemountains and rolling plateaus in the north, west and southwest and the expansive Gobi Desert in the southeast, Mongolia is bordered on the north by Russia and the south, by China. A landlocked country, but it has numerous natural lakes, both salt and fresh water, with many large rivers as well. The landscape changed with each hour, as we drove on dirt roads…paths really…that crisscrossed through fields, sometimes leading to isolated settlements and small towns…like veins flowing to the heart.
The distances from place to place are huge and the transport infrastructure for tourists venturing outside Ulaanbaatar is non-existent. There are scarcely any paved roads…traveling is very rough!
With a literacy rate of 96%, we were surprised that very few people spoke any language, other than their own, outside of the capital. We were thankful for our knowledgeable guide, driver and our van. Although Mongolia is known as a ‘horse culture,” somehow I couldn’t see us touring this vast country on horseback!!
Awed and seduced by the simplicity and beauty of the variety of landscapes, we marveled at being in the middle of nowhere…stepping out of the van for a leg stretch…without a soul in sight.
There were only scattered gatherings of livestock, with many miles between herds…horses, sheep, cashmere goats, yak, cows and camels (once in a while) and in the higher elevations, the argali sheep, ibex and the little marmots. We even saw the only wild horses left in the world… It is said that Mongolia has more horses than people, but we saw more and more motorcycles…seemingly the new horse!
There are also great distances between gers (yurts) …between neighbors. So family is THE most important commodity to nomadic people. They live a spartan life in the silence of the mountains, the star-studded darkness of night and the sighs of the wind.
They have always lived in sympathy with the land, moving with their animals for the changing seasons. The traditional felt tent, the ger, is integral to their sense of national identity. It’s an easily transportable dwelling…a structure of circular walls, poles and peaked roof covered with felt and canvas and tightened with ropes made from animal hair or wool…the most natural dwelling in the world . Because it’s one round space with no corners, it’s quite roomy. We stayed primarily in gers wherever we were. A couple had electricity, the majority didn’t…and most had outside bathroom facilities. The little stove in the center of each ger kept us fairly comfortable, even when the temperature was below zero.
Because Mongolia is a country of extremes, the food consumed reflects what’s readily available, provided by livestock and hunting expeditions that yield fox, perhaps wolves, hares, marmots and deer with the help of trained golden eagles…a tradition among the Kazakh people for thousands of years. To survive the frigid winters, fatty meat is the most important part of the local diet. (If you’re a vegetarian, you probably won’t survive in Mongolia!) Fat helps the body “bulk up” for winter, along with a variety of dairy products, noodles, meat-filled dumplings, rice, some potatoes, horse milk (from the mares) and tea (with salt and butter.)
A few words about the Gobi Desert…
it’s the most expansive, arid region in Asia
it spans two countries…China and Mongolia
the desert floor is mostly bare rock
rock formations date back 70 million years
it’s the home of the two-humped camel
it’s the largest dinosaur reservoir in the world, yielding the richest collection of dinosaur remains’the first know fossil dinosaur eggs were found here in the 1920’s
Gobi is the world’s 5th larget desert and Asia’s largest
it’s made up of level, treeless areas; grasslands; alpine forests; sand; bare rock; mountains; salt plains; canyons and lakes
it’s rich in natural resources like copper, gold and coal
For me, the best part of the Gobi was its human inhabitants, though few and far between…less than 3 persons per square mile. These nomads work at raising livestock…their life-blood…and are the most hospitable people on the planet!
THE HIGHLIGHT of our Mongolian adventure came as we traveled west to the city of Olgii…then continued to the Altai Mountains and the freezing cold. The roads were rocky and dusty…again, just paths traversing endless fields. Eternal blue skies and mountains surrounded us in this desolately stunning landscape…breathtaking…home to the Kazakh ethnic minority…the EAGLE HUNTERS.
Although Mongolia is primarily Buddhist, this is the only province where Islam is the main religion. Here, the tradition of hunting with golden eagles was born out of need for food more than 4,000 years ago. (It is said that Genghis Khan was an eagle hunter.)
Stark, where little actually grows, people had to depend on their livestock for all their needs. But they needed more to help them survive the uncommonly harsh winters. Thus, the practice of training eagles to hunt for the people began.
Throughout the deserted fields leading to the festival, nothing was stirring. Suddenly, a cloud of dust appeared in the distance, signaling the arrival of some hunters on horseback… solo and in groups… their eagles held high on their right arms. Exciting to see them from the back, surrounded by the mountains, but we drove fast to get in front of them and meet them as they approached. They couldn’t have been more accommodating, stopping for some photos. IT WAS A RUSH TO SEE!!! We had read about these intrepid eagle hunters, but to actually SEE them was extraordinary! Traditionally male dominated, it’s now open to women with the ability and passion to take on the challenge of becoming an eagle hunter.
There’s a festival each year where the eagle hunters from all over the province compete, testing not only the training of the eagles and the hunters’ skill, but also the bond between the raptor and the hunter. They’re rated for speed, agility, accuracy as well as best traditional Kazakh dress (made of animal skins from their eagles’ captures. ) Here are some photos I made at the festival…it was quite a sight to see!
In these competitions, the hunter must call his eagle down from the surrounding mountains to land on his or her arm or have her “capture” a piece of fur that represents prey…a hare, a marmot, a fox, etc….in a certain period of time. This tests loyalty, accuracy, relationship and the quality of the training…amazing to watch!! Sometimes, the eagles just flew away…never responded to the hunter’s call at all… and the hunter had to leave the arena to find her…the eagles trained are all females.
MONGOLIA IN A CAPSULE…
extraordinary and most unique scenery
no paved roads (other than in the capital city)…awful, rocky paths instead
HANDS DOWN, THE GOLDEN EAGLE FESTIVAL was the most exciting event I’ve ever experienced
You say…”Why Mongolia?”
I say…”Why not?”(What a great way to celebrate Michael’s birthday...happy birthday, honey!)