April 29, 2014

Ellis Island and what seemed a good idea at the time

Ellis Island could be one of the best things to see in NYC. It could be, but it isn't. However, if you want a tiny glimpse of what must have happened to immigrants to the Excited States at the end of the 1800s, this might be for you.

Herded around in various lines at The Battery at the southern most tip of Manhattan, then submitted to "airport" screening to get on a ferry, was all part of the experience. It seemed to take forever and reinforced the homeland security apparatus that is the Excited States today. I'm guessing the folks from Latvia and Estonia and everywhere else, must have felt the same in 1904, when 12,000 people were processed on a normal day.

In its heyday, the government wanted to restrict entry to certain individuals of a lesser physical or mental capacity. The amount of time provided to determine eligibility was brief to say the least, and most were granted entry. Today about 100 million Americans can trace their entry in some way to Ellis Island.

However. The historic site that is Ellis Island today is primarily static, with lots of reading and not much to see. It's all about "telling me" something. The "show me" exhibits used in more contemporary historical exhibits in Australia or Canada is not present here.

A better introduction to Ellis Island is the wonderful Italian movie from 2006 called Nuovomondo or Golden Door. The film was written and directed by Emanuele Crialese and opens in Sicily and concludes in the promised land of New York. Filmed in Rome and Buenos Aires (BA provided most of the Ellis Island scenes) the movie provides an alternative to the normal Hollywood depiction of the immigrant story.

In Italy, the family in the film dreams of a land of opportunity, where giant vegetables are grown, people swim in milk and coins fall from the sky. It is a beautiful film and much more rewarding than our visit to Ellis Island.

At the end of our Ellis Island escapade, firmly planted back in Manhattan, we started walking through Tribeca towards SoHo where we stopped for some rest and relaxation at a place called The Brick. Gus was our genial and generous host and as an introduction to Tribeca, I'd recommend the place for Gus alone.

After that interlude we wandered through SoHo where we happened upon Graham and his two female friends. Being a friendly New Yorker, Graham recommended a dining establishment down the street and around a block or two, depending on which way you go, called Lupa, which is one of the current hot spots in Manhattan. The front of house staff were clearly cool kids, or whatever they might be called these days, with one looking just like Justin Timberlake as he appeared in the latest Coen brothers film: Inside Llewyn Davis. Jeem's pasta was great and Sherry's lamb pedestrian at best. Waiting over an hour for a table: sort of like Ellis Island, without the metal detectors. It's all part of the New York experience.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.