March 13, 2009

After the Madoff Hearing, Reflections on the Pickpockets of Five Points, and A Trip to the Chopsticks Store

While standing with the pack of reporters, camera people, and producers facing the door of the Federal Courthouse yesterday morning, waiting for signs of movement in the Madoff case, I would occasionally turn around and watch people exercising in a group class in an outdoor playground in Columbus Park. The slow synchronized movements of dozens of people and the sounds of traditional Chinese music that played on tape made a good contrast to the media frenzy on the sidewalk.

Yet, the very place where these exercisers waved and stretched their arms and legs on a morning in a park, so peaceful a scene, was once one of the most notorious slums in New York. Known as Five Points, signifying the intersection of what is now Worth, Baxter, Mulberry, Mosco, and the defunct Little Water streets, the neighborhood's chief characteristics included desperate poverty, environmental degradation, crammed immigrant housing, poor sanitation, casual and revenge murders, exploitation, and education in the arts of the pickpocket. Martin Scorsese based Gangs of New York on historic events in this era. I believe I've also recommended before Timothy J. Gilfoyle's A Pickpocket's Tale: The Underworld of Nineteenth-Century New York, a fascinating look at this milieu through the diary of George Appo.

Up the street was Mulberry Bend, another den of depravity that Progressive-era reformer Jacob Riis made famous in a series of photographs in The Shame of Our Cities. One might say the neighborhood's old traditions came back for a day with the court appearance of Bernard Madoff, pickpocket extroardinaire.

The area has long given over to a prosperous Chinatown, and so I felt I could safely find my way to Yunhong Chopsticks Shop. Since I frequently order Asian food for delivery, and I remembered that I had some leftover chicken cashew from Rim Thai Cuisine on W. 23rd. St. (good food, water features, good prices, nice presentation) from the night before, I decided to buy some chopsticks. When I eat Asian food now at home, forks will not do. The boutique at 50 Mott St., the first of its kind, features a variety of sticks in a range of prices, including some beautiful high-end gift sets and chopsticks that say Happy Birthday in Chinese. I selected two pair of wooded ones with bright green and blue tops, and after paying for my purchase, I walked a long winding path home.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple: Mosco St. and Yunhong Chopsticks Shop. Chinatown, New York.

1 comment:

Kitty said...

I'm not too familiar with the lower downtown area at all. I love the area though.

There's a certain vibe with the narrow, sometimes winding streets and tall older buildings.