After having fairly thoroughly exhausted my New York City Pass, it was time for exploring the part of the city that I lived in and go for a walk in East Harlem and walk over to Harlem. I wasn't doing anything in particular, mostly just looking to explore the city and take pictures, see things I had not seen before and maybe understand the place a bit better. I've never been so disconnected from a place I lived in, but Harlem I was disconnected from.
For the most part it was a quiet day. I walked to the little outdoor taqueria I saw all the time on my way to the train and stopped in for a breakfast of two chicken tacos. They were absolutely extraordinary. I talked to the lady running the shop in my poor Spanish/Korean until we were both amused. She gave me some free dessert which I failed to eat.
116th is a strange blend of things as you have all the historical and a touch of modern with a ho-hum run down feel. It's easy to understand why films shoot here when they are trying to get a sense of New York in the 1970s. It feels like it hasn't advanced that much since the 1970s.
I walked down to the La Marqueta, an outdoor market that is open during the season but has a few things going in the winter. I discovered Hot Bread Kitchen, which I had never heard of at all. They sell bread and employ local women and people who have trouble getting jobs. I also happened to show up during their special holiday deal, that they usually only do after 5 on weekdays, bread on a sliding scale. As much bread as you want, pay what you want. This is to help provide locals who might not have access to high quality food a chance to feed the family, while supporting growth in the community. I was very impressed.
From there I walked towards Malcolm X boulevard and for the first time walked into the Harlem African Market. I had seen this so many times, but had never gone in. It's a very interesting place run by African expats and immigrants where a number of traditional items from the home country are sold. Lots of beads and jewelry, statues, bags, hats, dresses, shoes, etc. It was very bright with a sort of vibrant life that fit well into the walls of Harlem.
I walked past old churches and run down brick and mortar houses, I walked through the various different retail avenues, avoiding groups of men who catcalled and whistled as I walked past taking my pictures. I walked with care and caution to get the photos without making myself a target for theft. I walked all the way down to 8th avenue, where I decided to take in some chicken at StreetBird. The place had great ambiance, and good drinks, though I liked the chicken from the local Cuchofritos place a bit better.
I walked down to the local butcher and finished with a piece of cake at Make My Cake in Harlem, which is a fairly popular shop and an institution with celebrities before finally walking back home. I don't know if I felt more connected to Harlem at the end of it, but somehow I did feel more at ease. Like I had finally stopped being a tourist and was now becoming something else.