Back in the land of the living again .... I was on the train to grand central two days ago when the cough tore muscles on my right side leaving me in excruciating pain. I waited 4 hours in a clinic to see a doctor and get some of the medication I needed. The dr was really nice but frustrated with the limitations on her. She could prescribe codeine and antibiotics and stronger asthma meds, but no painkillers at all, so I had two days of no sleep or relief, I didn't leave the apartment and tried hard not to even move. What are you to do - I have suitable stuff at home but they are illegal here, which is why I didn't bring them, and we kept getting told that we didn't meet eligibility for documents for prescribed meds - maybe the dr did me a favour and prescribed anyway as I was in agony and one step away from an emergency ward. Why does it all have to be so hard.
I can move today and the pain is tolerable and I need to get out doing what I came here to do. I have a walking tour of Harlem booked and an interesting restaurant to try. I arrive in time for an early lunch at red rooster - not the red rooster that we know but a slick modern take on comfort food, preferred soul food restaurant of the president when he is in town, and dining destination this evening of the Swedish royal family. I meet a local at the concierge desk and we share a table. She works across the road and its her first time dining there - a special treat to herself for Mother's Day. We both have the $25 prix fixe menu - ginger carrot soup to start (yum), Swedish meatballs with pickles and lingonberries (the chefs signature dish) followed by carrot cake. Really nice and small servings for once - with a homemade ginger beer! A pleasant surprise, company and all.
The tour was a big group - about 28 of us due to the gorgeous weather. We met in front of the Shomburg centre for research into black culture and were given a brief history of the neighbourhood. We were given time to see the two featured exhibitions there - one featuring a well travelled black female artist inspired in France during the cubist movement, then back to her roots with colorful art showing life in Haiti and life in America. The other was even stranger - the impact of black Africans in India and how they rose to prominence in power and culture there! Who knew?
We then walked through the neighbourhood, and the first thing I notice is the change in food - all the iconic family restaurants like ihop, Applebee's, McDonald's, Wendy's all immediately make an appearance. Menus list soul foods which don't really sound that appetizing. There's lots of wig shops and African jewellery and pirate DVDs. There is lots of loiterers in the street, and blinged up men without much to do. Conversations are louder and more heated and more swearing is heard. It's a strange dynamic, I'm in a minority now and will never fit in to this neighbourhood.
It's interesting to see that the gentrification is starting to spread into Harlem - the uproar over a whole foods supermarket that might be built - too expensive, gourmet, hippie organic. But this will affect the mom and pop businesses and change the dynamic to less black - so is it necessary? A lot of black music artists got their start in this area, and political activists all have roots to Harlem as well - so it was extremely interesting to get to know a bit about this part of New York that has seen so many changes.