Which Good Old Days?

Hardly a day passes that I don’t read a comment on some blog or news site that longs for a return to an earlier period of “East Village” history. So I thought it might be fun to see which period people would prefer.

Below is a poll, with descriptions taken from Janet Abu-Lughod’s book
“From Urban Village to East Village: The Battle for New York’s Lower East Side.”



1 Janet Abu-Lughod, From Urban Village to East Village: The Battle for New York’s Lower East Side (New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 1995), 342-345.

Notes on the Last Day of 2013

I guess there’s always a catch.

I reported in Debt and Caruso that I was going to get a free copy of Janet Abu-Lughod’s book “From Urban Village to East Village: The Battle for New York’s Lower East Side” (UVEV) from Amazon, by using points I had accumulated on my credit card. I ordered it on December 23 and the package arrived on December 26 (coincidentally enough, the same day I wrote “Debt and Caruso”). I was psyched about receiving this book, after reviewing the Table of Contents on Amazon:

Part 1 – “The Past is Still There”

  1. The Changing Economy of The Lower East Side
  2. The Tenement as a Built Form
  3. A History of Tompkins Square Park
  4. Deja Vu: Replanning the Lower East Side in the 1930s

These are all of the things that are overlooked ignored by unknown to most local reporters, in their ruthless defense of everything that exists, or that existed up to the line they drew in the sand. I have great hopes that the second piece, “The Tenement as a Built Form”, will be helpful when I finally start working on the piece I have planned, tentatively titled “What Are We Defending When We Defend Working-Class Neighborhoods?”

Part 2 – “The Process of Gentrification”, deals with much of what I’ve already read on the topic of gentrification, including a piece by Neil Smith. Part 3 – “Contesting Community: The Issues and Protagonists” also looks interesting, but Parts 1 and 2 are definitely my main draw. The book is organized exactly the way I would read the pieces if I happened onto them randomly (except the History of Tompkins Square Park, maybe) which is a big part of my attraction to it. Anything organized the way I would organize it has to be worth reading!

So where’s the catch, you ask? I opened the package as soon as it arrived, only to discover:

I contacted the seller, who just happened to be on Staten Island, of all places, and am arranging its return. If I hadn’t been sick all week, I would have taken the ferry over and returned it in person!


It’s probably just as well that this happened, because I also recently received Robert A. Caro’s “The Power Broker”. Given my nearly-absolute lack of time for reading, and the immensity of this book, if I had put off reading it until after “UVEV”, I might never have got to it, and it would have moved from the mental list of books I want to read, to the actual stack of books I want to read, someday.

I might write about my progress reading this, maybe in weekly installments. We’ll see. I have a problem with biographies, in principle. Abstracting an individual from the social forces at work, showing how he made the times instead of how the times made him – it creates a false history. Plus, I wonder: to what degree does the biographer create the man? Does Caro create the early Moses in order to posit the later Moses against him? Can you accurately write the beginning when you already know the ending, without it all being a fait accompli? Biographies of aristocrats make sense, for the reason that the King is born the King. Bourgeois biographies are not the same; everyone knows now that history is the movement of class forces, and withdrawing one man from his milieu… well, as I said, it creates a false history.

I’m still reading the book though. I read elsewhere that Caro incorporates a lot of New York history into the book, and you certainly can’t write a 20th-century New York history without Robert Moses.

Debt and Caruso

People with credit cards are probably aware, and people without credit cards might be aware, that credit card companies, in their effort to entice you to spend more money, offer “points” for every dollar you spend. These points accumulate, and eventually you can use them to partially offset the cost of new purchases. Or, if you have enough points, to offset it entirely.

I was never good at using my points. During the 1990s, I had Sprint as my phone company, and Sprint bequeathed points for usage. I had an account that allowed unlimited calls to Europe (for a higher price than the regular account) because I called Europe frequently at that time, so I started accumulating a lot of points. You could redeem a small number for useless tchotchkes, but if you held onto them, the top prize was a round-trip airplane ticket to anywhere in North/South America or Europe.

This was during the time phone companies would call and offer you money to switch to them. You might get a call from someone offering you $50 to switch your service to AT&T, and then another call offering $50 to switch back to Sprint. You would lose your points, however, by doing this. I held out all through this time, sacrificing this money because I wanted that ticket. By the time I moved in 2001, I had long since stopped making frequent calls to Europe, and I had forgotten all about my points. When I closed the account, they vanished forever.

Fast forward to the present. I was unemployed from October 2008 to July 2010. During that time, I was one of those people you may have read about who used credit cards to buy groceries. This was going along fine until one day I got a letter in the mail telling me my credit limit had been lowered to an amount that effectively prevented me from ever using the card again.

I had accumulated a lot of points by this time, and I would see them listed on the bill when it came, but I never thought about how to go about using them. Then, when I was checking on Amazon for the publication date of Palestinian Rights: Affirmation and Denial for my post on Janet Abu-Lughod, and found a copy of her book From Urban Village to East Village: The Battle for New York’s Lower East Side for a whopping $4.81, I suddenly remembered those points!

Seeing that after this purchase I would still have points left, I went back to my “shopping cart” and added the Enrico Caruso: 21 Favorite Arias CD that’s been there for over a year. So both the book and the CD were free! And guess what? When you buy a CD from Amazon, you get MP3 versions of the songs as well. Luckily for me, I paid attention to the web page I landed on after the purchase, and saw the Download button.

So here, for your listening pleasure, is “Je Crois Entendre Encore” from Georges Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles. (Unfortunately, I can’t upload MP3s, so this is the YouTube version):

Janet Abu-Lughod

I have been so busy at work these past three weeks that I haven’t had any time to keep up with anything that’s been going on. Only today did I read Exiting the Vampire Castle, and this is from a month ago (to the very day).

But as you are probably accustomed to by now, this is not what I’m writing about. On the occasion of the death of Janet Abu-Lughod, I have a story to tell.

I went to a small college in Kentucky (which has since grown, and is now a small university). I had recently graduated and was hanging around thinking about what to do next, when Israel invaded Lebanon. This was 1982. I was appalled, and decided I was going to do something about it. I asked a Political Science professor from the school for his ideas, and he told me a cousin of his, who lived in Chicago, had just returned from Beirut. Her name was Janet Abu-Lughod, and she had with her the first photos of the invasion to make it past Israeli censors.

I had no idea who she was. I knew she was married to Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, but only after being told by the Political Science professor, and I didn’t know who he was either! It didn’t matter though. The Israeli army was censoring information of their attack, and we were going to make it public.

He contacted her and she agreed to come down and talk at the college. I arranged with the administration for the use of the auditorium, wrote a press release and invited all the newspapers and television stations within fifty miles, and advertised the event on local radio stations and newspapers.

We had a really good turnout, especially considering that school was not in session. Her talk was mostly about her work with the Palestinian government-in-exile in Beirut, the schools and hospitals and such, everything that existed that was being destroyed by Israeli bombs.

The reporting that evening and the next day was amazing. They really were the first images of the bombing; I think the reporters were probably just as ecstatic. The story was picked up by CBS Morning News and was scheduled to be broadcast the next day. However, during that time, President Reagan announced that the U.S. was considering sending troops, and our story got bumped. At the time, I thought his announcement was designed specifically to kill our story, but all these years later, I’m less certain of that.

So that’s it. That was both the first event that I organized, and my first brush with an academic notable. But I have to say, I was so busy running things that I barely remember her. We didn’t spend much time together, and back at the professor’s house, they talked mostly about family things. I still have the copy of a book she gave me though, that had just been published, a collection of essays titled: Palestinian Rights: Affirmation and Denial.

Two months later, I was on the bus for New York.