So after breakfast I started to pack. Wow, I was pretty shocked how much stuff there was to pack. Where did it all come from? I had thought just packing all my stuff into my suitcase and rucksack would be an easy task. But I still had to go through papers – would I still need them? – and had to get rid of tons of plastic bags and bottles.
When I was ready, at about 1 pm, I called Ettice to ask if I could come earlier. But she was working. She offered to arrange it somehow, but I didn’t want to cause any unnecessary efforts, so we kept my arrival time in Harlem by around 5 pm. I sat down on the roof deck one last time, watched Nichole and Micah gardening, pampered Albert – who bit my foot – read my crime book and caught a sunburn.
At 3 pm I said goodbye to my Greenpoint hosts. They said I have been a good guest and could come back anytime and if something went wrong and I needed a place to stay I should just call. So now I do have two fallback positions. Micah carried down my suitcase and I walked to the bus stop.
I was lucky, a kneeling bus was coming and I easily got my luggage into it. But then the hassle began. I asked the driver which stop I should get off to catch the 7 train. He waved me into the bus and said something I interpreted like he would tell me. He didn’t say anything however and kept me in the bus until the last stop – that was at Queensboro Plaza. I could catch the 7 there, but there is no elevator. So I pulled my suitcase all the way back to Court Square. Two elevators brought me up to the elevated platform. On the Mezzanine I had to ask the Indian station agent to open the special entry for me, because I would not get my suitcase through the normal entries. I got off at Times Square to catch a 2 or 3 train there. There was an elevator at the other end of the platform. It did not arrive for ages. Once I stood inside, I had no idea where to go. I had the choice between Lower Mezzanine, 7 Ave platform and Upper Mezzanine. No indication what train runs where. I pressed Lower Mezzanine first and spotted a 2 and 3 sign. But it just took me to a staircase. So I tried 7 Ave platform next. 2 and 3 trains are running there but only downtown. Harlem is more uptown. I asked a girl who had to take out her earplugs first. But having done so she told me I had to go up and then down again to the other platform. So I once more waited for the elevator to get to Upper Mezzanine. The elevator was going down to where I had come from. When I finally arrived at Upper Mezzanine I found a second elevator that I – knowledgeable now – took to 7 Ave platform where an uptown 3 train just arrived. Why can’t they give the information where to go for which train in the elevator?
In the train checked the subway map and saw that 125th street station does not have an elevator but 135th does. So I got out there, took the emergency exit and caused and alarm – but a lot of people do this and no one cares. I walked down Lenox Avenue where groups of people were having sort of picnics right on the sidewalk. First impression of Harlem.
Ettice greeted me very friendly on her front porch in Astor Row. That’s where I am now, historic Astor Row.
She showed me my room, brought me a stack of towels and a piece of French soap, asked me to get settled then she would take me around. I hung my dresses, skirts, blouses and jackets into the closet, arranged my books on my bookshelf and joined her in the kitchen. She first showed me the apartment which is very nice and cozy. The kitchen is small but well equipped. I will have my own shelf for my supplies. When I asked for a restaurant for tonight’s dinner she offered to take me on a walk around the neighborhood. She talked and laughed a lot and did not just show me places but took me inside and where she knew the people she introduced me. So when we got back to Astor Row I knew the owner of an African American restaurant just around the corner, the waiter of a French restaurant whom she knows from her farming coop, her landlady, the next door and the upstairs neighbors as well as a friend and her son just setting up a barbecue on their front porch. I had already seen quite a lot of Harlem, knew where I could eat and shop, where the local library branch is, what is going on at the park and got a program of the cinema.
“Do you drink?” Ettice asked me.
“Yes” I said.
“What do you drink?”
“Beer and wine” I answered carefully.
“Now and then”
“So shall we have a cocktail?”
She wanted to serve it on the front porch but as the landlady, a resolute elderly African American woman, was around – and might not tolerate alcohol on her front porch – we had it inside on the sofa. There she questioned me about my writing and told me she feels bad because she would have to leave me alone tonight.
It was dinner time and I chose the African American restaurant around the corner. Finally I was in Harlem and wanted to learn about its culture. When I passed the barbecue the son waved to me. No one was sitting inside the restaurant but a lot of people – all black – picked up packed dishes to take home. A TV above the door just showed CNN News. The woman in a bright yellow Bengali dress, whom I had met earlier, told me to check the menu, she would come and help me then. She did not come for quite a long time being busy with the takeaway customers. I think she had forgotten I was there. I was watching people. A young guy came and sat at a table. A man at another table. Both had their food before I had even ordered. Regular customers probably. When she finally went to the bathroom and saw me sitting there she remembered me. I chose Dibi, lamb chops and sauteed onions, recommended by Ettice and fried plantains with it. I got a plate with at least 6 lamb chops and a mountain of plantain slices. When I unrolled my napkin I found a fork and a spoon – no knife. I looked around. The man at the other table was eating his meat with his hands. So I tried to do so as well, until the woman kindly brought me a little knife. When there were no more customers waiting for their takeaways she went to a corner in the restaurants and knelt down to pray. She did it very devotedly, kneeling down and standing up several times and when she got back and passed the boy she told him he should start praying now. After a while a man came from the kitchen and s well prayed in the corner. Then the boy did before he moved outside. I did not manage half of my family portion although it was good, especially the plantains. When I paid, the woman got talkative after scolding a young Senegalese girl about her English. She asked me where I come from and told me she loved Michael Ballack – “the soccer player, you know him?” – and German men were wonderful anyway. So tall and handsome. Could I help her find one?
Outside the boy was sitting with some friends. He asked me if I had liked the food and wished me a good night.
So this is Harlem…
What I learned today:
Harlem is totally different – and I like it on the spot.