The Newtown Pentacle

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archaic chirography

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It’s National Pepper Pot day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, I was hanging out with a friend over in the City, and we decided to hit the eastern side of Chinatown for a wee photo walk. This is the Manhattan side definition of “DUMBO,” which is an area still defined by the presence of late 19th century tenement buildings and narrow streets. Chatham Square, the Five Points, and Paradise Alley aren’t too far away, and it’s one of the few spots on the island which haven’t been ruined by the real estate industrial complex in recent decades. Off in the distance, a municipal complex of government buildings and courthouses positively looms.

We were wandering about, my friend and I, and decided to grab some lunch at a Chinese bakery before heading south and east. After a super hot cup of coffee and a couple of roast pork buns (Bao) we fired up the cameras and started marching about in an area which has apparently been called “Two Bridges” since 1955. I think the Two Bridges thing, since I’ve never actually heard it before, is real estate industrial complex propaganda being specifically disseminated by the Extell corporation which happens to be building a 68 story market rate tower nearby. Just a hunch there, by the way.

Saying that, as of 2003 there’s been a Two Bridges Historic District on the national list of such things, so…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This part of Manhattan Island has been occupied for longer than the United States has existed, and was part of the exurbs of the New Amsterdam colony. During the “Gangs of New York” era, Chatham Square was a central market place and meeting point where foodstuffs, farm goods, and often less than salubrious goods and services were offered for sale. The tenement dwellers in this area, who were those “huddled masses” mentioned by the screed on the Statue of Liberty, were largely destitute and lived in conditions which modernity would perceive as squalor. Jakob Riis and other contemporaries described it as squalor, it should be mentioned, so maybe…

from wikipedia

Up until about 1820, the square was used as a large open air market for goods and livestock, mainly horses. By the mid-19th century, it became a center for tattoo parlors, flophouses and saloons, as a seedy section of the old Five Points neighborhood. In the 20th century, after The Great Depression and Prohibition, the area was reformed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I always try to analogize the era of early to mid 19th century New York City to people by reminding them that this was the same age as when Cowboys were riding horses about the west, and that folks in Europe were still fighting each other with swords, spears, and arrows. They had cannons and firearms over in Europe, of course, but these early weapons were pretty clumsy, prone to misfires, and inaccurate. There’s a reason that they used to affix those long bayonets on muskets back then, y’know.

Guns were practically a brand new commodity, with Mr. Remington having begun the democratization of rifle firearms only in 1816. It wasn’t until 1852 that Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson incorporated, becoming the Henry Fords of firearms. In NYC, a pistol was a fairly uncommon and expensive commodity, as I understand things. Rifles and shot guns were more common but still relatively rare amongst the tenement crowd.

It would be far more likely, were you to invent time travel and visit this section of Manhattan in the 1850’s, that you would be beaten to death or fatally stabbed shortly after stepping out of your time machine. They were big on blades back then…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You can’t walk through Chinatown and not grab some shots of the foodstuffs being offered for sale on the sidewalks in front of shops. Thing is, these fish may or may not be considered “food” per se. A lot of what’s on sale in this eastern section of Chinatown is actually medicinal in nature, which my ignorant and dross western eyes cannot discern. Have to admit, I’m pretty ignorant about the nuances of the Chinese culture(s)…

from wikipedia

Manhattan’s Chinatown (simplified Chinese: 曼哈顿华埠; traditional Chinese: 曼哈頓華埠; pinyin: Mànhādùn huábù; juytping: Maan6haa1deon6 waa1bou6) is a neighborhood in Lower Manhattan, New York City, bordering the Lower East Side to its east, Little Italy to its north, Civic Center to its south, and Tribeca to its west. Chinatown is home to the highest concentration of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, I love the fact that there are still junkie squats and homeless camps found in and amongst the streets/alleys of this area. It’s good to know that there are still some parts of Manhattan that have been resistant to the high fructose financial syrup that has decimated the East and West Village, turned the Lower East Side into bro-hipster Disneyland, and rendered the neighborhood around Port Authority into a grotesque.

I miss the old days, when Manhattan was ecstatic and predatory all at the same time…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My friend and I continued south and east, into the boring Battery section. We had a quick refreshment at a local watering hole, used the facilities, and got the hell out of dodge before rush hour started. A quick trip on the 5 line got us to 59/Lex, where a transfer was enacted to the IND R line which carried us beneath the river and back to the almond eyed milieu known as Astoria. As is always the case, a warm feeling erupted in my chest upon returning to Queens.

Might have been indigestion though, from eating those two roast pork buns. Probably should have had just one…


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 29, 2017 at 1:30 pm

One Response

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  1. A good cha siu bao will never hurt you, Mitch. Good pictures, this article. Makes me nostalgic. Glad to see you digitally memorializing what remains, as always.

    One wonders whether we’d have a “safer” society were we all armed – with swords, hatchets and the like. Certainly a more brutal one. But probably not much more than the one we cope with now.

    TommyR

    January 3, 2018 at 12:25 pm


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