More Cousins and N.Y.C.

Our travel pace has really picked up in the last two months.  A combination of “last travel as dean” efforts and a pent-up desire to explore has put me on the road two to three times per month, and in some instances for longer periods of time.  We were in New York and New Jersey twice in August and early September, first to the wedding of our unofficially adopted son Boris (and his wife Oxana), and then for an Ardovino cousin reunion.

In both cases we flew from Omaha to Hartford, Connecticut, although not directly.  For the wedding we flew through Minneapolis, and for the reunion we flew through Chicago (Midway).  Our reasons to fly to Hartford included: 1) we had never been to Hartford before, 2) we thought that the drive from Hartford to Bridgeport would be interesting (it was), and 3) we wanted to take the ferry across Long Island Sound.  The ferry from Bridgeport to Port Jefferson (they call it Port Jeff) takes about an hour.  Industry-based Bridgeport looks and feels much different from tourist-oriented Port Jeff.  The port in Bridgeport is in a relatively worn-down area of the city and is isolated from most of the rest of the ‘what to dos.’  The port in Port Jeff is in the center of town, in the middle of shops, restaurants and small hotels.

For our three ferry runs, the relatively calm waters, ample sunlight, and the distinctive smell of saltwater made the trips a delight.  We watched other boats come and go and saw children, who seemed to be having the time of their lives, walk and run on the upper deck, hair blowing in all directions, arms and legs flailing, not a care, with parents trying to chase them down from time-to-time.

For both trips we drove from Port Jeff to Baiting Hollow to stay at my cousin Vinnie’s place, quite close to Long Island Sound.  I’ve written about Baiting Hollow before (our trip last year) and will not do that again here.  We did have a wonderful time on both occasions.  A combination of great food (thank you Mary, Jim, and Terry) and drink brought out the best in conversations.  My mother, my sister Terry, my cousin Patricia, and other cousins from New York and New Jersey gathered up, with some heading down to the beach and others just hanging out, telling old family tales (how did he get that nickname?), and planning for the reunion the next day.

The reunion was hosted by my cousin Joann and her husband Tony.  They were most gracious in their hospitality.  Imagine 30 or so Ardovino cousins and 20 plus outlaws showing up at your place intending to have a really good time.  The celebration was held outside around their pool and expansive deck and patio combination.  The weather was great: no rain, moderate temps, and a nice breeze.  There were four generations of us there, talking the Italian way, hands and arms flying everywhere.  There were no arguments, and only the slightest hint of stories about who did what to whom 40 or 50 years ago. My mother was delighted.  She is now the second oldest in her generation and was the oldest in attendance.  The pictures, by generation, tell the whole story in many ways.  I have included my mother’s generation picture in this post.  She is on the left.  The age range is from 91 (my mother) to 62 (my cousin Vinnie).  I am also including the outlaw picture (non-Ardovinos who are in some way connected to us).  They appear to be having a lot of fun as well, probably happy that they are not related to us by blood.

We spent the last days of the second trip in the city, and then driving back to Hartford for our ride home.  Our hotel in the city was located near the corner of 39th Street and 8th Avenue, a very short walk to much of the Theatre District and the Garment District and not far from the Hudson River.  Manhattan is quite small in many ways, making it possible to quickly walk to places like Grand Central Station and the New York Public Library from our hotel.  For our visit to the city, my sister Terry and cousin Patricia joined us.  We saw The Book of Morman, at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, a great production.  We laughed and laughed, even a long time after the show had ended.  Patricia had already seen that show, so she went to see Ain’t Too Proud to Beg at the Imperial Theater.  She told us it was excellent.  She also saw To Kill a Mockingbird – she arrived in New York a few days before we did.

I mentioned the Garment District earlier in this post.  This is a special place for me.  Giorgio Giunta and Ersilia Ardovino Giunta, my mother’s parents, met there.  She was a beader, among other things, and he eventually became a shop foreman.  Together with his cousins, the Pantanos, they became a tight-knit group.  The level of discrimination against Italians was less in the ‘rag business’ than in some other industries.  It was a place they could move up. My grandfather loved his work, and my grandmother was a real talent.  One of my favorite stories (though a bit gruesome) shared with me by my grandfather (Pop) occurred while he was at work in the Garment District. A military plane crashed into the Empire State Building on July 28, 1945.  It was a Saturday, but he was there just down the street. It was a miserable day weather-wise.  Thick fog enveloped Manhattan, clearly not a day to be flying.  And, the destination was not even New York City.  The pilot and his crew were headed for Newark Airport (you now know it as Liberty Airport).  Because it was a Saturday, there was a small crowd on 34th Street that day. Pop witnessed the aftermath.  The B-25 had crashed between the 78th and 80th floors of the tallest building in the world, sending one engine straight through the building.  The pilot and his crew as well as 11 others died in the crash.

Statues can be found everywhere in New York City.  Most of these celebrate the city’s rich history, including Judith Wellers’ 1984 work, “The Garment Worker”.  The statue is of her grandfather sitting at a sewing machine, but it could be of any of our grandfathers who were so talented and worked so hard.  Just a few feet away is another statue, Button and Needle, again celebrating those who made New York City the fashion center of the world.

I made mention of changing laws vis-à- vis marijuana in my most recent post about my recent drives to Texas.  Most of my references were to roadside and other signs I observed in Oklahoma.  New York is New York and as one might expect citizens and visitors encounter different forms of promotion in a post-legalization environment.  My favorite is The Weed Store, a large corner mart on 7th Avenue that offers a range of products, including Weed World candies, weed-related clothing, and every kind of bong you can imagine.  Employees work hard out in front of the store as they hawk various options while potential customers, real customers, and gawkers make their way into the store.  Not to be outdone by competitors, Weed World has gone mobile with a Weed World vehicle that looks like a greened up Good Humor ice cream truck.  Why does everyone look so happy in their promotional pictures?

Just a few more pictures; my favorite building, The Chrysler, along with Grand Central Station and the New York Public Library.

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