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New York’s Better Little Italy

I have three very good reasons to visit New York City (and two equally good ones to visit DC) at least once a year. If I’m extraordinarily lucky, I get there more than once. And every time I’m in Manhattan, I think about leaving—but just for the better part of a day. I want to go to The Bronx. Not the zoo or the botanical gardens, which I’m told would each justify the long subway ride and bus transfer.

Instead, I want to go all the way to The Bronx for just one street. The problem is I’m the only one that does. And so it has never happened—until, last month, it finally did. I convinced Mr. Lee that it would be the perfect way to spend a day. After all, we’d both read the article that appeared in The New York Times back in 2002—and I was sure Arthur Avenue was still waiting for us.

So, on a brisk Monday morning in November, the first one in fact, we walked several blocks to the green line and waited for the #4 train. We were way down in Battery Park City, the absolute tip of the island. Oh, I forgot to mention that we had special cargo that day—one that traveled by stroller. There are probably few things more painful to watch than two adults, unfamiliar with the workings of a modern-day baby mover, trying to manage the release of a four-layer-bundled toddler from her strolling device while attempting to fold said device, at the same time fumbling with metro cards so that they can pass through the turnstile, hoping they haven’t misplace the bag filled with enough diapers for a four-day weekend, a change of clothes, and one bottle of milk—plus a last minute toss-in of teething biscuits. She’s not teething, but thank goodness for teething biscuits. Anyone familiar with the New York City Subway system will know that getting to the platform with this sort of cargo is the exact opposite of a stroll in the park.

Once seated on the #4, Mr. Lee and I breathe sighs of relief as our grandtoddler makes eye contact with the surprisingly friendly faces, unnerving them by peering deep into their eyes and completely forgetting to mention the one word she has mastered, “Hi.” We whiz past Union Square at 14th street, Grand Central at 42nd Street, and the furthest uptown I’ve ever been, 86th Street—the stop that delivers me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Central Park. But we’re not getting out anytime soon. After a while, the train goes above ground, and we pass Yankee Stadium at 161st Street. A bottle of milk and one teething biscuit later, we finally exit at Fordham Road, where we’re rushed down the stairs amid a sea of eager disembarkers, only to wait at the bus stop for the BX12 eastbound. In our haste, we don’t notice that we’ve boarded the express and overshoot our destination—at least now we know where the Bronx Zoo and the The New York Botanical Garden are. We quickly exit our eastbound BX12 and cross an extra wide street to board a westbound BX12. This time we ask more questions.

Mr. Lee and I marvel at the laid back disposition of our cargo as we secure her with straps and buckles to begin our long-awaited stroll down Arthur Avenue.

She’s fast asleep by the time we enter Calabria Pork Store, where they sell all things pork. There is so much pork in fact that what doesn’t fit on the shelves or inside the cases hangs from the ceiling. The smell is overwhelmingly raw and earthy, with a hint of mold. Further investigation of the greenish-white sausages hanging overhead explains the moldy odor. But this is all part of the process and I have no doubt that these are among the finest Italian salciccia this side of the Atlantic. Mr. Lee waits outside while I make a few purchases and soak up the aroma. (I’m descended from a family where odors like these are considered aromas.)

We’re  lured into Morrone’s Pastry Shop with their colorful display of pasticcerie. where Mr. Lee has wasted no time in procuring a tiramisu and a cannoli. We sip our coffees while I admire the two bags of Anelletti pasta I bought in the pork store. I haven’t been able to find these ‘little rings’ anywhere since our trip to Sicily in 2005.

Before we leave I order a tiramisu to go, mostly  so I can watch the gal box it up. Red and white twisted string spins from a giant spool in the back of the bakery, runs up one wall, through two eye hooks on the ceiling, and dangles just above the counter. She grabs the end and skillfully winds it around and around a signature Morrone box and ties it in a bow. I find a place to stow the tidy package, but I’m reminded that we don’t have room for much shopping. Everything has to fit in the bottom of the stroller and we already have our hands quite full of precious cargo. From here on out I’m just browsing, I promise Mr. Lee.

We make our way to Arthur Avenue Retail Market where there isn’t anything an Italian cook can’t find.

Everywhere we go patrons are greeted like old friends—in Italian. I practice eavesdropping, but catch little of the conversations. We head back up Arthur Avenue on the way to the neighborhood park, where we can let our toddler toddle a while. Of course that doesn’t stop me from doing a bit of window shopping on the way. But, I warn Mr. Lee I’m not leaving Arthur Avenue without some fresh pasta for tonight’s dinner.

Across the street from Our Lady of Mount Carmel we locate the shop where I intended to buy the homemade pasta. Sadly, when we arrive at Borgatti’s we find it closed, but the window display is worth the trip. We end our day at Ciccarone Park and head to the bus stop for the long ride back home. We’ll be back.

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