Tuesday, December 24, 2013

New Bronx City

I wrote this blog posting 4 1/2 years ago and it has been in draft since then. I'm going to post it today (December 24, 2013)and will be curious to see where it turns out in the order of blogs. This post described my first version of the New Bronx City tour. That tour has changed significantly, with a completely new meeting place, several new areas that we visit that we didn't then (including a block of Jerome Avenue filled with interesting shops and a stretch of White Plains Road in Van Nest that has an emerging Arabic-speaking community representing several countires) and the feel is completely different. I've led the tour three or four more times since then... So here goes: I'd like to reflect on my Saturday tour and add a recommendation. My New Bronx City tour, which took place on Saturday, has been a "work-in-progress." With the weather so lousy, there were just a handful of us. So I did something new: I told the folks that instead of paying me they'd have to lay out for all their food though but we'd do some extra exploring not in the original plan.

It turned out to be a long and fulfilling day - the tour lasted almost 5 hours! Our starting point at the Bronx Central Post Office to see a set of Ben Shahn murals painted during the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s turned out to be a bit of a letdown. I'd seen them myself prior to the tour, but I think we all agreed that although these are magnificent works of art, the setting is so drab that they almost vanish into the background. If the post office would install spotlights to showcase these murals, they would draw much attention.

The Shahn murals depict various aspects of American labor, and are especially pertinent today when the labor movement is undergoing a sea change - but there's almost a couldn't-care-less sense about them. This is a great contrast to the wonderful setting for the murals in the Flushing, Queens, post office that is part of my Flushing tour; I'll be scheduling it for the fall.

[In the years since, the Post Office has indicated possible plans to sell the building. Since its exterior is landmarked, and I think the Shahn murals are, too, it's hard to know who could possibly take it over except nearby Hostos Community College.0

We wandered to the so-called Bronx Walk of Fame, which consists of signs at corners from 149th Street north on the Concourse to at least 161st Street. (I didn't continue to follow it in the rain!)

Here are some recent photos from Joyce Kilmer Park at 161st Street and the Concourse - north side.

We then spent an unexpectedly long time at the Emigrant Savings Bank on the Grand Concourse north of Fordham Road looking at some beautiful murals depicting the early Bronx. What made this visit special was that the branch manager took time to give us some background on those murals and on the building itself, which is landmarked. This type of personal contact often makes the difference during a tour. However, at that point we hadn't eaten yet - our first tastes didn't come until afterward, when we visited a cluster of nearby markets - Cambodian, Guyanese and Bangladeshi - for beverage and snacks. However, it wasn't until we took the bus to the Pelham Parkway area and had lunch at Rawal Restaurant (641 Lydig Avenue) that we hit our culinary stride. This is where I took last year's New Bronx City tour for the first time and a large custom group in April. Sometimes I have to go back to a place to truly appreciate it, and yesterday's lunch was spectacular - flavorful, rich, varied, inexpensive, with nan and roti breads brought to us directly from the oven. We followed soon after with bureks at Burektorja Dukagjini 758 Lydig Avenue
The tour concluded at Enrico Caffe on Morris Park Avenue, a 15 minute walk from Lydig.

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