Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Living Abroad? Sort of.

I live in Jersey City, just across the river from NYC. After living in NYC for a little over 15 years, Jersey City (JC) was a difficult move. It had to be done, of course. We'd been living in Brooklyn and once I got accepted to Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ, we knew the commute would be too much, particularly without a car. JC was our choice based on proximity to NYC and Rutgers. In truth, my commute is pretty long (about 1 hr 35 min on average, but it can be as long as 2 hrs each way), but it would have been longer if we'd stayed in Brooklyn. 'We' refers to my partner and me. Ciprian. I talk about him a lot. Many of you (most of you?) know him.

In any event, why am I discussing this on my travel blog? Because I like to think of our move to JC as an extended living-abroad experience. I do not mean to suggest that Jersey is a foreign country, only that the move is temporary for us, and that it is different enough from NYC to feel sometimes as if we are indeed living abroad. This may be more true for me than for Ciprian. He works in Manhattan and rarely spends much time in JC or anywhere else in Jersey. I, on the other hand, go deeper into the state at least 4 days a week, more often 5, and am far enough away from NYC that it feels like a completely different place. There are aspects of this that I like. New Brunswick has its charm and the Rutgers campus that I spend most of my time on, the Douglass campus, is really quite lovely. There are massive old pines that have been permanently bent from years of heavy winds. There are even wild animals in New Brunswick (and sometimes in JC for that matter). I've seen raccoons, skunks, lots of geese, and deer all on the Rutgers campuses. Not exactly bears and bobcats, but wildlife nonetheless. Also, it is quiet in New Brunswick, or as quiet as a college campus can be, but relative to NYC, it is serene. This has its drawbacks at times, such as when I have to go in on a weekend. It can be a little too quiet in my small corner of the Biological Sciences building, particularly since I have no windows, but for the most part I like the quiet.

JC is probably more like NYC than like New Brunswick, but I have not yet figured it out. I mean that I don't understand JC. JC is segmented and lacks a sense of community pride, something that is ever present in NYC and in many other cities I've visited (such as New Orleans). It appears to be a random scatter of lower, middle and upper middle class families living next door to extremely poor and out-of-work families, with pockets of immigrants from Egypt, Vietnam and Senegal, among other places, gorgeous old Victorian buildings and homes, many of which have been superbly refurbished, nestled in between dilapidated apartment houses with obvious drug deals taking place on the corner, and Park Slope-like gentrification in the rather isolated area around Grove Street. I have never been to the riverfront areas of JC such as Liberty Park and Exchange Place. My suspicion is that they feel more like NYC than JC. The bus service in JC (run by NJ Transit) is decent but difficult to figure out, and includes privately-managed buses such as our own Bergen Avenue line, that are clearly neglected. One gets the sense that the busses are never cleaned or inspected (in fact I just saw one being towed in front of my house). We have a light rail but I have never taken it since it only runs in small sections of the city. We do have a recycling service and reliable trash pick-up, but the streets are frequently scattered with litter and there is a feeling of carelessness that pervades at least our little section of JC.

We live near Lincoln Park. I believe it is a county park (Hudson County). It's nicely laid out but it is not cleaned very often. I wonder if it is due to a lack of funding, too much corruption, lack of organization or some combination. When we lived in Brooklyn, I always noticed how much the community of Sunset Park was involved with the care of its namesake. They had a volunteer program for young people and neighbors who wanted to help keep the park looking good. They frequently mowed the grass and the park sponsored after-school programs for community kids. It's possible that I live one too many blocks from Lincoln Park to know what really goes on, but my few walks through and by the park have suggested to me that it is not a central piece in our community but that it could be with a little public relations effort. In any event, the park has a large statue of Abe Lincoln at the entrance. It was commissioned by JC's Lincoln Association. Apparently the association is the first, or one of the first, in the country, organized shortly after the death of Lincoln. I think the park must have been beautiful at one point.

There is more to JC than I see on the surface during my walk to and from the PATH train each day. A lot goes on here, and a lot went on in the past, further back than the American Revolution. I am curious to learn more about my temporary home and I've decided that I'd like to share what I learn and what I observe. So I'll be writing a bit in between my travels, as I explore my own home. It will also give me a chance to work on my writing.

For starters, I want to talk about the Loews Jersey - a 1920s movie palace on Kennedy Boulevard at Journal Square. It has been partially refurbished in recent years and is run by a non-profit organization with a volunteer staff. They show movies almost every month and also have some live performances. The orchestra level seating is open, the balcony seating is still being worked on. If I recall correctly, the orchestra has 1500 seats and once the whole place is finished there will be 3000 seats. It is an incredible space. It is large and ornate, with gold detailing covering virtually every inch of the walls and ceilings. Furthermore, the movies they show are primarily old films that no longer show in theaters and they show them for a steal, usually around $6 with $1 for popcorn. It's a great deal for a fabulous night of entertainment and old movie magic. One of the best parts is the Wonder Organ. Yes, they have an old pipe organ and an organist who plays before and after every show. If you happen to live in JC or nearby, I strongly recommend the Loews Jersey. They'll be showing The Third Man next month. Any takers?


Anonymous said...

I'm in for the movie! And dammit, I guess I'm a gentrifier once again. Also wanted to mention the huge Indian and philipino communities that make up a good chunk of jc. Look forward to exploring the citywith you! - leener

Red Cat said...

I love to go to that kind of place and have some relaxing tour.

BuddhaPublicist said...

Hi there, I like your entry about JC and your impressions of it. I am a little familiar with the Grove Street area, and I completely agree with your description--I always thought JC was a little schizophrenic! But now you'll have Alina and Eric to help you explore. If I know Alina, she'll have found the best places for bagels, coffee, and a late-night glass of wine in about, oh, the first week they live there!

The old theater sounds nice. I love when they restore old treasures like that. We have something similar in Brookline, the Coolidge Corner theater. It's got a lot of community support. But they show new release, rarely old movies. I'd love to see Audrey Hepburn or The Thin Man on the big screen!

Keep writing...


PS: I liked Rutgers a lot--affordable and yet it has a sense of history. I'm glad I went there instead of an overpriced private college.