The story of Astoria

11 Sep

‘Are all the girls from Queens as tough as you?’ ‘The girls are.
The women will cut your liver when your head is turned and
polish it off with a nice chianti.’
— 2005 movie, “Love, Ludlow”

My street

I share an apartment with two roommates on the third floor of a three storey "family home" - each floor is a self-contained apartment. We're in the building with the black car parked outside!

My new home, Astoria in Queens, is the most ethnically diverse place I’ve ever lived in! I’ve only been here a week and I’m already fascinated by the diversity of people that live in this area and run businesses – the Chinese woman from the 99c store, the Mexican deli down the road, the numerous Greek restaurants. All I have to do is walk out of the door of the three-storey family home I currently reside in, and I have the option to eat Thai, Phillipino, Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican, Greek and American food; visit an Irish bar; or browse through the well-stocked international aisle at the Bravo supermarket nearby.

I love it! I haven’t lived in too many places around the world, just a few. In South Africa, despite the obvious after-effects of segregation by race, there’s always been segregation by class, and that was evident in the places I lived in Johannesburg. We have incredible diversity, but communities are still divided. In Germany and Switzerland, diversity was hidden in pockets: communities lived tucked away in corners of the city and I rarely had the chance to engage with them, except in my German class at the local Hochschule.

New York can blow you away with its immigrant groups and the worlds they create in the areas they settle. Reporting from Crown Heights in Brooklyn for the J-school last year really illustrated to me the incredible history of immigrants in this city, and the conflict they experience trying to hold on to their heritage while at the same time trying immerse themselves in American life. The Caribbean-West Indian festival, held in September last year, was an intense experience of color, music, dance and pride that I felt envelop the crowd and carry it throughout the day. The reserved speech and conversation of the Hasidic Jews reminded me of the beauty (and strength) of preserved traditions. Of course, the segregation and tension between these two communities in Crown Heights is evident, but less so than years before.

Here’s the neighborhood in relation to Manhattan. The city is easy to reach with the subway – a direct 20 or so minute ride to Times Square.

Astoria is … different. The neighborhood is so mixed and so busy that everybody blends in. I have the feeling that it will be the next popular place to stay after the hipsterville neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, loses its sheen. (Poor Astorians!) Before Justin moved here in July, the only thing I knew about Queens was that the main character from The Nanny originated from here. I’ve had the theme song of the show stuck in my head for weeks! (See below, you can thank me later) Cosby was also located and filmed in Astoria, and the original Sesame Street studios are here as well. It’s also the location of two great (and HUGE) beer gardens.

The intersection of Steinway and Broadway ... it calls to me!!

The intersection of Steinway and Broadway ... it calls to me!!

So I’ve gotten my library card, changed my address, found a new doctor and familiarized myself with the area … I’m trying my best to stay away from Broadway and Steinway streets, they intersect two blocks from my house and they are the busiest shopping streets in the neighborhood. You could probably find anything here. There’s a FedEx and a Gap and a Planet Fitness, Express and Children’s Place, El Mundo’s discount store (which has been “going out of business” for ages but still seems to be doing fine!) and a thousand delis and places to buy food and … ah!!! It’s not the most conducive environment for someone who is too easily swayed by the pull of consumerism. I think I should rather explore some of the other Wikipedia listed ‘places of interest’:

With graduate school and my internships behind me, moving has been a nice distraction from the stress of job-hunting and freelancing. Here’s hoping the universe gives me my break.


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