Postcard from New York

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Ghetto Blast - Every day the buses go from the midtown hotels up to Harlem, the windows patchworked with the gaping faces of tourists from Germany, France, England, Japan, and other blues-hungry locales. The brave explorers have determined to see for themselves the birthplace of the swanky and syncopated jazz that they play in their well-ordered flats back home, and perhaps to garner louche adventures they can use to impress future legions of lovers. But the residents of 125th Street and other parts north mainly notice how such passengers hesitate to step out of the bus, hovering by the doors as if they were on invisible tethers. Occasionally, some will go so far as to tiptoe into a local church, where they will stand fidgeting, waiting for the sermon to stop and the rousing gospel singing to begin. When the tour guide beckons, they hop like toads in a brush fire to make it back into the rolling fort. Thus ends the average non-resident's experience of Harlem

But in the last weeks, as the heartening news rocketed round town that New York's murder rate had fallen dramatically this year - under 1000 for the first time in almost 30 years! - comedians began to despair that their repertoire of danger city jokes would have to be scrapped. "I can now walk almost an entire block without breaking into a run," comedian Lou Brockman wailed. At the same time, the trendy Southern doughnut chain Krispy Kreme set up shop on 125th Street, joining forces with such neighbourhood old-timers as the world famous Apollo Theatre and the down-home Sylvia's Restaurant, while flashy newcomers Blockbuster Video and Rite Aid Pharmacy (New York's Boots) gloated. Murmurings mounted that Harlem is about due for another renaissance. Tour guides and city planners beamed in anticipation. The day was at hand, they sensed, when tourists wanting black-eyed peas and sweet-potato pie at Sylvia's would no longer demand a heavily armoured vehicle to take them there. After that, depending on how those guinea pigs fared, perhaps actual south-of-96th Street New Yorkers might venture into Harlem, too.

In the opinion of Ralph Rolle and Marisol Figueroa, both lifelong residents of Harlem - he of the Bronx River Projects, she from Spanish Harlem on the East Side - Harlem was just fine before Madison Avenue got to it. The ghetto, they say, has got a bad rap. "There's so much good that's oozing out here," Figueroa insists. Last year Figueroa, who studied at Juilliard, and dances with an international company, and Rolle, a drummer who plays at the Apollo, started a business called Ghetto Cookies: "Made with Heart, Soul and Lots of Pride - TEL. (888)GHE-TT0 1." They began modestly, making a few dozen cookies a day for local outlets. Now, in a snug, ghetto kitchen, they make a hundred dozen a day, adorn them with merry labelling that shows a rainbow arching over a housing project, and ship them all around the world. A few people have called to berate them for using the cookies to promote the ghetto, but Figueroa finds them narrow minded. "There's really no need to focus on what's bad here. It's time to take a look at the good." Wall Street agrees; and word is that some of the gospel churches plan to start charging admission to day-trippers.

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