New York Daily Photo Analytics

Monday, February 09, 2009

Continental Divide

Most likely, you have never been to Corona, Queens, and most likely, you will never visit either. You will neither read of any gentrification movements there nor of an exodus of disenfranchised Manhattan artists discovering the neighborhood. This is a working-class neighborhood - at one time predominantly Italian and now 75% Hispanic. Like many area of Queens, the neighborhood has a broad ethnic diversity - Mexicans,  Dominicans, Bolivians, Ecuadorians, Colombians, Guatemalans, Peruvians, Asians, Pakistanis, and Italians.
I say that you will likely not travel there because the rivers of this city that separate the boroughs are in many ways like the Great Wall of China. A body of water can be a big cultural divide - it separates countries, states, cities, and in New York City, the boroughs.

The rivers of New York City are also a tremendous mental impasse - unless a commuter, most will rarely cross one even if the distance and travel time is short. Central Park seems nearer to a downtown Manhattan resident than a closer destination in Brooklyn. So there must be a very good reason to leave your borough, and visiting Corona will not usually be a good reason.

Each borough, and even each neighborhood, is a world unto itself, and many find little reason to leave it except for work. The population density of New York City supports an incredible range of services in a small area. Many Manhattan residents get much of what they need in walking distance of their home - a great luxury and convenience. Step out of your apartment, and there is a universe of goods and services a short stroll away. This is true to a lesser extent in the boroughs, where you have larger tracts of residential housing without commercial establishments. However, every neighborhood is like a small town, and its center typically has its own set of services.

Many of the neighborhoods in the outer boroughs are dominated by one or more ethnic groups - traveling to these lesser known neighborhoods can be culture shock. There are signs in other languages, unfamiliar foods, and unusual dress. The pace is slower. And here, extravagance is out of place. Money is real, and careful husbandry the rule.

So, with a sudden break from our frigid weather and temperatures in the 50s, Sunday seemed the perfect time to sample the goods without waiting until summer. I am sure I was the only person who drove from Manhattan to Queens to sample Italian ices at the Lemon Ice King of Corona (which is open all year). The ices have been made by Pete Benfaremo for 58 years at the same location.
It was chillier than expected, and I, along with a friend, found ourselves alone when we arrived at the Lemon Ice King at 108th Street and 52nd Avenue. I felt a little awkward and foolish. The clerk apparently did not share my enthusiasm or spirit of adventure.

There were few patrons, and I did not know that there was no indoor space for customers. So, after choosing our flavors from a selection of 20 plus flavors at the street counter, we ate our ices standing on a blustery side street, while seeking as much sunshine and as little wind as possible. See here for a peek inside.

And did the ices live up to their legendary status? Honestly, we both found them too sweet, virtually killing the flavors. But perhaps I will try again on a warm summer's eve and when I am in the mood to travel across a continental divide...


Anonymous said...

Hi. I check out both your photographs and your observations often. I started looking at the photos, but have come to recognize that your descriptions (essays?) are thoughtful and interesting. Keep up the good work.

SP said...

Love the blog photos, especially the random places like this one. Cheers, Steve