May 5, 2010 | Spanish

On Cinco de Mayo, Some Italian

A field trip to Loisaida, and Pimsleur in Central Park.

Today was Cinco de Mayo. I tried to find a good local Cinco de Mayo celebration to go to, but I had trouble and gave up after some failed Google searches. I think most of these events were probably held over this past weekend, or perhaps they’re just not well-indexed on search engines. 

Loisaida & 14th: Is This a Power Plant?!

So instead I went to Loisaida Avenue, an alternate name for Avenue C between 14th Street and Houston. Loisaida is supposedly Spanglish for Lower East Side. I say “supposedly” because I had a hard time finding much information on this strip of Manhattan real estate.

In any case, it is heavily Hispanic, I had read particularly Puerto Rican, and I did in fact see numerous signs of this heritage, including a New York City Housing Authority development on 13th Street named after Pedro Albizu Campos, and a large mural, further south on Loisaida, quoting José de Diego. Both were important figures in Puerto Rican history.

Did I know that before today? I’m afraid not.

La Plaza Cultural de Armando Perez

There is a lovely garden on the southwest corner of 9th and Loisaida named after a local community leader, Armando Perez, who was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in this neighborhood. The website for La Plaza Cultural de Armando Perez describes it as a “unique open-air theater and green space, combining the functions of a community garden, a park and play area, wildlife refuge and performance venue.”

Unfortunately, it was closed, so I stood on the street and peered in. As I did so, I thought of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, a book I read over and over as a child. A very different culture—but a beautiful garden is always magical.

Overall, I wouldn’t describe this as one of my more interactive New York expeditions. There was indeed Spanish everywhere—in conversation on the streets, in the music I heard, in shop signs—but there weren’t too many opportunities where I could reasonably walk up to people and engage them in conversation. Although there has been a lot of gentrification in this area—apparent in some of the chic restaurants and cafés—it does not give the appearance of being the safest neighborhood in Manhattan. As a woman, I also generally consider it unwise to walk up to strange men hanging out on corners and start talking to them.

I did, however, address a couple of elderly men sitting on chairs they had placed on the sidewalk. No offense meant to their masculinity, but they looked harmless. I spoke to them in Spanish, but the one who responded kept answering me in English. This was not helpful, because—and this is simply a fact, not intended to be a boast—my Spanish is much better than his English. I couldn’t understand him at all. So my questions about the neighborhood effectively went unanswered.

Unilluminated, I continued down Loisaida to Houston Street.

A Mural on a Loisaida Building

I Got A Kick out of This Restaurant's Name

Southeast Corner, Loisaida Avenue and 3rd Street

Pentecostal Church: El Divino Maestro

From Houston I headed further south and then west, finding myself on Clinton between Rivington and Delancey. The photos below are from that area. I thought perhaps I noticed a larger concentration of Spanish-language businesses on Clinton than I had on Loisaida. Not sure. I also saw Chinese signs and shops here.

Cibao Restaurant, at Clinton and Rivington

A Local Bakery

Williamsburg Bridge Releasing Cars Into Manhattan

Delancey Street

Ultimately, today’s expedition remained principally a walking tour rather than a talking tour. Too bad! I went home and studied Spanish for a while.

Then, a surprise. One thing I did not expect today to turn into, at least not to the degree it ultimately did, was an intensive Italian review day! Here’s the thing: an Italian in-law of my sister-in-law, who as I have mentioned lives in Italy with her Italian husband and their children, is coming over to our place for tea on Friday. This in-law speaks no English.

Usually Brandt and I converse with her in French. It does not go fabulously, since none of us actually speak very good French, but we make do. However, this would be the first time I would be seeing her since before I started studying Italian, and I couldn’t bear the thought of not remembering the most basic of pronouns and verbs.

So, anticipating embarrassment, yesterday evening I suddenly recalled that Pimsleur had 10 supplementary Italian lessons that I hadn’t known about back in November when I did their standard 90 lessons (Levels I, II, and III). I sent my Pimsleur contact an e-mail asking whether he could send me those more advanced lessons (they are now comping me these things, in case I haven’t mentioned that previously). I wished I had thought of this idea more than 70 hours before my in-law’s in-law was scheduled to come over, but no matter.

Anyway, this morning the Pimsleur lessons arrived electronically. I was thinking, how the hell am I going to get all this done, since I was at that moment preparing to depart for my Loisaida Avenue trip, and since I had a bunch of other things to do besides. I had an extremely powerful urge to stay with Spanish. I did not want to study Italian right now, while I was on a Spanish roll.

Once I am in a rhythm, I really, really, really don’t want to leave that rhythm. It causes me a pain that feels almost physical, and is certainly very powerful, in my brain.

But this was an opportunity. An opportunity to test my memory. And to see how much Italian I could restore to my addled brain, and how quickly. And perhaps above all, an opportunity to meet the demands of my pride, which refused to allow me to enter into an Italian conversation with a relative of my sister-in-law without first brushing up.

So this evening I loaded several Pimsleur lessons onto my iPod Shuffle and took off for a six-mile walk in Central Park. I enjoyed myself beyond my wildest Pimsleur fantasies. Seriously. Here’s why:

  1. Italian was my very favorite Pimsleur series to date.
  2. Back in November I ran through all 90 Italian lessons really quickly (in less than three weeks) and was very disappointed not to have more. This was my opportunity, five and a half months later, to pick up where I left off with Pimsleur.
  3. I thought I would do badly and have to go back to the Level III lessons, but I did not do badly. In fact, I did pretty well. Not quite as well as with Spanish, but much, much better than I expected. It was kind of like jumpstarting a car. With me being the car. Once I got going, I was okay.
  4. It was 72 degrees and beautiful outside, with runners, fresh green leaves, and singing birds everywhere.
  5. The experience was nostalgic, since it has been months since I last did a Pimsleur walk in Central Park on a balmy night. Either it has been cold or, if it was warmer, I haven’t had Pimsleur lessons left at the level I needed for whatever language I was working on. In any case, tonight’s walk made me think of the early months of this project, and how I had cycled through almost a year of it now, and how happy I am about it.
  6. Finally, I love the way Italian falls out of my mouth.

Park Fashion: How Many More Years Will I Have to Keep Looking at Strange Men's Underwear?

Me, with Pimsleur Lessons: It's Hard to Take a Good Picture of Yourself

Tomorrow: more Italian. And some Spanish, too, of course.

Comments (3)

Jill • Posted on Sat, May 15, 2010 - 11:31 am EST

“It’s hard to take a good picture of yourself”  - reminds me of Eloise - and, you are too funny!

katherine • Posted on Tue, May 18, 2010 - 1:17 pm EST

I have always been curious what kind of information they provide on those last 10 lessons of Pimsleur.  Unfortunately they only offer them for Spanish, French, Italian and German.  Could you give a brief description?  Does the program differ much from the earlier lessons?

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Wed, May 19, 2010 - 11:37 pm EST

Katherine, of those last 10 lessons available for Italian, I did not get to lessons 7-10, but I did do lessons 1-6, which I can tell you were similar to the last 10 available for Spanish. The approach is the same as in previous lessons, and (to my great delight) there was quite a bit of content in both the Spanish and Italian versions relating to books (talk of book fairs, authors, publishing companies, etc.). Because of the focus, I actually liked these advanced lessons better than some earlier ones that focused more on directions, drink orders, and business conferences. But in any case, it was more of the same approach (meaning useful).

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