Sunday, March 6, 2016

Adventures in the Lower East Side

            We met at the Horace Greeley statue park, a sweet reminder of the moments before the last day of the Warrior Vision Quest, when we were still untainted City Semester novices. This time around, however, we felt a little more like we knew what was coming, even if only to a small degree. The wind was whipping and the dark clouds were growing. We were already, unfortunately, prepared to accommodate for rushing.
            In anticipation of this trip, a self-organized tour of the Lower East Side, we all, as always, prepared group presentations. The point of the trip was to actively learn about immigration and the trying journeys that come along with it. A rather relevant theme, given that we, America, still haven’t figured out exactly how to handle it... However, our current curriculum only revolves around the first immigration wave to NYC, from mid 1800s to 1900s. Our groups’ focuses ranged from inter/intra-ethnicity behaviors and social politics, housing, culture (focus on food), economics and employment, and markets and commerce.
            While walking around, we were faced with an exemplary representation of a New York characteristic. There are so many different types of places/neighborhoods in such a small radius. Throughout the whole trip we travelled maybe a collective 1.5 miles. But, we walked through the outskirts of Chinatown, found ourselves in industrial areas, “financial” areas, and calm, well-off residential areas, to name a few.
            After a couple presentations that took place in areas students thought to be most appropriate to their topic, and after running into a Fieldston alum (Gotham class alum, no less), we made our way to a nice 10:30am dim sum lunch. Mr. Meyers claims it’s some of the best dim sum. It was the first time I’d ever had dim sum, so I concur. I will say though, that the adorable toddler who plopped down in the seat next to me also influenced my opinion. In terms of the restaurant itself, English was essentially absent; communicating with the waitresses about food was mostly a series of nods and shakes and pointing, and we only vaguely knew what we were eating. My favorite dish was a type of sweet pork(?) bun with onions and other things.
            We left and walked to our next stop, while beginning to endure the ice rain that had just started. We taught each other about the feuds between the Irish, German, Chinese and “whites”; we taught each other about the windowless tenements the immigrants attempted to cope with; the shocking conditions of the factories they worked in; newspapers that they created and propagated; the rich guys who helped them; finally, the food that they ate.
            The weather rudely prevented us from completing our journey, but we came to a pleasant end at Kossar’s Bialys and The Pickle Guys. These two shops reminisced of the community that the immigrants found in the wild and mean monster that New York could be to them. They’re quaint neighborhood spots, and both extremely welcoming to the bombarding of hungry high schoolers.

            We all then rushed home to get out of the freezing rain, and once finally dry, settled with full stomachs, tired legs and stirring minds.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Mott Haven: Trip #1

The Bronx Experience continues in City Semester. My name is Benjy (but you probably already knew that), and here's what there is to say about week number 3 of City Semester 2016. Fresh off of our experience with the Warriors Vision Quest, we started a new sort of vision quest. Mott Haven is the neighborhood of the South Bronx. Some refer to it as the "Piano District" because of its history of having piano factories. Right away, after getting off of the bus, we were greeted with an interesting opportunity. An opportunity to get a "Brazilian Butt Lift."

Brazilian Butt Lift Billboard

It was a very interesting offer... But seeing as how we had business to attend to, we passed on it. We started off visiting an old factory, so one group could present on Mott Haven's history. Prior to the trip, we were broken up into 6 groups, and we were each given one specific part of Mott Haven to research. From its history, to community projects, to gentrification, we had a lot of grounds to cover. Unfortunately, not every group got to present this time, but we will be returning there soon, so those groups will present then. Anyway, we learned about Mott Haven's history with pianos, and why it is sometimes referred to as the "Piano District." We later stopped by a restaurant that I believe was called "Charlie's." There, another group presented. An interesting topic they brought up was how not everyone in the neighborhood could afford going to that restaurant, but other richer people from other neighborhoods often came in to that restaurant. From there, we walked to some public housing locations, and another group talked to us about public housing. From there, we walked to Brook Park. There, we met Harry Bubbins. He talked to us about the park, and how it was funded, taken care of, and the Friends of Brook Park organization that he belonged to. He also gave us a sample of their own hot pepper sauce, and honey. One was very hot, the other was sweet and delicious. You can likely tell which is which. We did an activity where we sketched out the biomes and plants of the park for Mr Waldman's science class.

Rough Sketch of Brook Park plants, part of Mr. Waldman's activity for us there

After Brook Park, we went to a restaurant called "La Morada." A restaurant that was famous for a dish known as "mole." I tried it, and it was very delicious. The spanish speaking students talked a bit with a lady at the restaurant, Natalia. She told us about how she and her husband came from Oaxaca, Mexico, and how they ended up at the restaurant. As we were leaving the restaurant, we met with Michael Johnson, head of South Bronx Unite. He took us down to the waterfront to talk to us a little bit more about gentrification, and how several corporations, such as FreshDirect, are trying to use the neighborhood for projects. It was very fascinating, and very much worth talking about. Unfortunately, at that time, it had started raining very hard. We were all getting incredibly wet at that point. But regardless, after that, it was time to go. We had to make it back to school in time for our history and english classes, as this was not a full day trip. We returned. Our first trip to Mott Haven was a great time, and I am definitely looking forward to going back later! Week 3 was also supposed to be the start of Unit 2, "Immigrant Metropolis." But the true start of it felt like the week after. Mott Haven was great, regardless, and I look forward to whatever else we will be doing there.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

THE WARRIORS: The Legend of the Y Chromosomes

My feet are tired, belly was full and I had seen more of New York City in two days than I had in the 16 years of my life. We were only five days into City Semester and I had already had one of the best school experiences of my life.

On Monday we were assigned our Spirit Guides, who would be leading us through our NYC on our Vision Quest. My group, The Y Chromosomes, were assigned Herman Melville, Joseph Pulitzer, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. After lots of research and thought our group decided on the three different gifts that we would present to our guides. For Herman Melville Jeremy #1 constructed a scene from Moby Dick, his most famous book, for Joseph Pulitzer Jeremy #2 wrote a poem that summarized his life and impact, and lastly for Elizabeth Cady Stanton some bozo brought in a modern feminism starter pack that consisted of nipple pasties, and even more ridiculous Hillary Clinton propaganda. While the nipple pasties took some explaining, the gifts were eventually accepted and the first hint was given. After 10 minuets of back and fourth with our medium we finally discovered that the first place we would be visiting was The Columbia University School of Journalism, which was started by Pulitzer.

Once we arrived our medium sent us into the admissions office and told us to request a application form, so of course Jeremy #2 bursts in and announces to the head of admissions that all 5 of us high school students are applying to The Columbia School of Journalism and demands that we have 5 forms. Disclaimer: if anyone has any interest in applying, do not put write that you were in City Sem on your application because you will not get it. Anyway, after a prolonged awkward conversation we snapped this pic and got the hell out of there. (I just realized I don't have the photo, but I will try and get it and add it later).

From there we were sent to the statue in honor of Pulitzer on the south side of Central Park and asked to take a video reading a sensationalist headline. Mr. Drybala offered extra points if I read something bashing conservatives, but...

After that we were sent to a few more locations then ate lunch at AG Kitchen, where I ate the best burger of my life. The thing was a work of art. It tasted so good that it made me hate vegetarians.

After lunch we headed down to Pearl street, which Melville named after a character in the Scarlet Letter, which is a book written by Hawthorne, who was 100% Melville's gay lover. There is literally a 0% chance this is false. Anyway once we got to Pearl Street we went to Starbucks, which was named after a character in Moby Dick, and were asked to buy a Starbucks beverage to bring to the ship down the street that Melville came to America on. But I'm cheap so I got a water. Anyway we headed down to the ship and snapped some awesome pics in front of the Brooklyn bridge, which I also do not have.

Next we pretty much rapped up the day and went home to rest up for day 2. Day 2 started right near the Brooklyn bridge, which my group walked across and it was really amazing because it was cold and after rush hour so we were pretty much the only people on it, which is a rare thing. After crossing the bridge we made our way to plymouth church, where we learned about Henry Ward Bleacher and the crucial role he played in the underground rail road and the abolishment of slavery. We also learned that Walt Whitman spoke his famous "Oh Captain, My Captain" poem here after the death of Abraham Lincoln. We then head towards our second location where we met up with Ms. Oberman-Breindel aka Ms. OB aka HOB aka the Hobbit. Next instead of going to our third location we went to go get pancakes, which in hindsight, while they were amazing was a bad idea because I was already stuffed for the Russian food. Anyway, while we were at the pancake place Jeremy #2 just out of nowhere asks HOB to get a beer with him. To Ms. OB's credit she handled it really well, but that doesn't take away from how awkward it was.

After finishing our food we made our way to Coney Island to close out the trip. We walked down the board walk to Tatiana's, a Russian restaurant that got a C from the health inspection that doubles as a strip club at night, but that also may have fed me the best meal of my life.

All in all, it was an amazing experience that I will never forget that set the bar really high for City Sem, so from now on I am expecting nothing but excellence from this course.