Since we are all about #NotATourist, offbeat experiences we want to go a step further and not just provide offbeat experiences to our awesome customers, we also want to write about the things that makes a place #NotATourist - background, cultures, weird anecdotes that only a local would know. Our goal is to profile one magical location each month and then follow it with a 'Day in the Life Of' profiles of regular folks living in that location and doing AWESOME things! This month (November) our focus is on NYC - The Big Apple! And so we begin with a brief history of New York. Not the one that you read in a typical travel guide but stories that are so offbeat, that you will probably have to do a double take while reading it (at least we had to when we were doing copious amounts of research!)Okay so without further adieu , here is our profile of NYC - please note, it is not a listicle - it's an actual thought piece which is pretty long - you have been forewarned!
Okay so New York is known for 4 things or what I like to call A.F.F.F - Arts, Fashion, Finance and Food! Anytime anyone talks about the NewYork way of living or culture - its all about AFFF - take a moment and think about it if you think I am wrong. Anyway, so this got me thinking, WHY is NYC known for AFFF?! What follows next is my attempt of understanding the myriad socio-cultural events that took place to make NYC AFFF af! (Haa..get it?!) Before we delve in, lets agree on one thing - the facts are facts, my interpretation of facts are opinions that you are more than welcome to challenge. We all think and assume things differently but all biases aside, I personally think the following information should be read by both New Yorkers and Travelers visiting this great city to appreciate it on a much deeper level!
Okay so I think we cannot appreciate origins of AFFF unless we understand origins of NYC. So how did New York become NEW YORK?!
Am sure you are aware by now that New York was first occupied by American Indians. They were called Lenapes who were a pretty chill group that had a good thing going on till Henry - a Dutchman, showed up. He was searching for a way to get to Asia and bumped into NYC on the way ( I tell you all these explorers, as 'great' as they were, they were seriously terrible at directions!) Anyway, Henry shows up in NYC and was just about to leave but then sees BEAVERS...now if you know nothing about the Europeans you should know one thing - they were HELLA OBSESSED with Beaver fur coats! He saw all these beavers chillin and minding their own biz and goes wait up, "Can Haz that?!" Obviously the Lenapes had no clue what the gringo was talking about so Henry decided to explain to them through $$$. At that time, the currency used by Lenapes was called wampums (its like a bead thing which you make from underground stones). So what Henry did was he started supplying cheap tools to Lenapes so they could make more of the wampums and in return asked them to give him beaver fur. The more fur the Lenapes provided, the more tools Henry provided. But Henry was a bit of a sneaky mofo - he not only liked the Beaver fur coats he was making but also had started enjoying living in then New York and wanted it for all his people. So he devised of an interesting plan - instead of supplying cheap tools on the regular to the Lenapes, he hired a few of his buds and had them make wampums on a large scale to inflate the market with excess wampums with the intention of inflate the currency. At the same time, the beavers, despite all their cuteness are also pretty smart and realized that living in NYC was a death trap with all their brethren experiencing silence-of-the-lambs type skinning on the regular! They all bounced out and the Lenapes were left with a highly inflated currency because of all these wampums floating around. Also since the beaver trade was so good, they gave up their original professions of fishing & farming and couldn't go back to it. Anyway, prices of goods increased and their wampums' valuation decreased which then made them approach Henry & his buds for a loan. And as legend goes, the Lenapes loaned their land to the Dutch for $24 while the Dutch with some financial maneuvering made it seem that they were BUYING the land from the Lenapes! That's how the Dutch first came to rule present day NYC and while dong so renamed it to New Amsterdam.
Okay so the Dutch ruled for like 40 years and then came the British who were even more cray to the point that even before conquering the island, the King gave away the island as a gift to his younger brother York ( some people say it was his son, either way it was all in the family!) A few months later the King sends his peeps over to New Amsterdam to take it over and get this, the Dutch don't do ish! No pushback or whatever - just a simple hand-off! Fun Fact, the next year the Dutch do conquer New York back but when a peace treaty is reached between Dutch & English, the Dutch decide to give up New York for, wait for it, Suriname in South America - hyperlinked in case you were wondering where that is. The Dutch believed Suriname would be more profitable to them than New York...another face palm (no offense to Suriname!)
Okay so now, its like 1700s and the English are in control of New York. Since $$$ is tight, they decide to do something 'clever' and tell everyone that all printed materials need to be on a stamped paper oh and guess what, you have to pay them to use these stamped paper --- aka the Stamp Act. Georgie boi (Washington) and Alex (Hamilton) were not gonna have any of that and so they started what then became the Revolutionary War...Long story short, Americans eventually won and the English hads to go and this is how, NYC became part of America once and for all!
So now, New york the land belongs to America ... GREAT! What about the people who fill it? To understand that there were three waves of migration that took place right after America got its independence:
But why did they all decide to come to NYC?! They could have easily gone to Cali, Philly, Boston or even B'more! Why NYC? Two words: Erie Canal! Formed as the only water route through the Appalachian Mountains, the Erie Canal brought transportation time down by 95% (....yeah Uber got nothing on Erie!) It was the only water way that connected the coasts to middle American and this is why neither Philly, nor Boston, nor Cali or B'more were that interesting to immigrants as NYC!
Okay phew! Now lets talk about the A of A.F.F.F - ARTS!
There are a lot of types of Arts - Music (check out our blog on the origins of Harlem Jazz), Modern Art and Performance aka Broadway which is going to be our focus for today
We all know about the Broadway shows of Midtown - everything from Wicked to The Book of Mormon (both amazing shows BTW!) Ne York's Broadway is THE place to debut your show if you want any international recognition and sustained ticket sales! We have all heard and read about the great theater dynasties (think the Barrymores) who took American theater to the upper echelons of world cinema but why not take a step back and understand how 'Broadway' ended up on Broadway in the first place?! Well the answer lies in Alcoholism, Prostitution & Classism! Seriously, not kidding!
In the olden days (around 1700s), the main pastime of New Yorkers was to drink - A LOT! The elite wanted to separate themselves from the commoners and so they got together and started a coffee house that would also host performances. Soon word spread about these theatrical singing, dancing & acting shows that got almost everyone intrigued and so the downtown landlords started opening their unrented spaces to house these performances. These buildings soon turned into make-shift theaters and in order to bring in a lot of men with $$$, the landlords began allowing prostitution in the upper balconies. This got a lot of men in - single & married in the doors that led to further demand for theatrical performances. Of course, this is not to say that people came just for the nasties! But it definitely played a role in motivating people to go to more shows!
Okay so where does classism fit in? Well one day (in around 1840s) two actors simultaneously appeared in two separate productions of Macbeth - one featured an American actor and was catered for the middle & lower classes. The other had a British super-star and was created for the exclusive viewing of the rich. Rise in anti-British sentiment and upset by this type of separation of haves & have-nots, the middle & lower class folks got extremely pissed and broke into a protest outside Astor Place where the British version of Macbeth was being featured. The protest soon turned violent and broke into a full-scale riot with 20 thousand protestors! As the violence grew, cops were called in, shots were fired which ended up killing 22 and injuring almost 150 people! Given the damage - both physical and to the social strata, theaters soon started moving uptown and due to the availability of land in Mid-town, a new era of Broadway was ushered in - one that was more tolerant to all classes and masses. This is how 'Broadway' landed on 'Broadway' in Midtown!
Moving to the first F of A.F.F.F. - FASHION!
New York City’s fashion industry employs 180,000 people and generates $10.9 billion in annual wages. Fashion Week, alone, contributes about $850 million a year to the NYC economy! So what made NYC one of the Fashion capitals of the world? Three Words: World War Deux.
Before World War 2, everyone would look to Paris for the new fashion trends, and by everyone I mean EVERYONE - including the Queen! (Still don’t know why they haven’t covered it in any of the Crown episodes) I digress, so Paris was the hoite toitte fashion capital that everyone would look up to for the next trend. However, as soon as World War 2 hit and Nazis occupied Paris, the couture houses shut down which made all the designers and fashion editors lost because they didn’t know where to look or go to pick up the trend. In comes New York! But there is a bit of a backstory for the creation of the foundations that enabled NYC to step into Paris’ shoes (yes, yes, I know, a lot of people will object to that statement, but you get the point!) Three main items Garment District, Sportswear and Press Week.
Garment District (between 35th and 42nd and 6th and 9th avenues) -- the Germans, Italians and later Eastern Europeans who had migrated to NYC during the first migration wave had great tailoring skill sets and so started opening shops to create tailored outfits for the ultra rich of NYC. Additionally, the Southern plantation owners also began reaching out to the garment district folks to make uniforms for their slaves. They believed that rather than have the slaves waste their time in creating uniform, why not outsource it? (SMH!) Anyway, as soon as World War 2 started, Garment District became even more busy because they were tasked to now create the uniforms of the American soldier. I’m sure you all know but when America was involved in the War, the women not only catered to the households left behind but also began working in the factories and other industries related to the war. To perform their jobs without having to worry about hosiery and poofy skirts, their fashion modified to include men-style wear -- pants, shirts, jackets. This mindset change in fashion led to creation of Sportswear -- not the basketball/football type outfits but beautiful trench coats, tailored pants, which were more easy to wear than the couture of Paris. Anyway, since there was nothing coming out of Paris, Sportswear from America caught the eyes of the elites and they started covering American fashion in their magazines to the point of providing credit to the respective designers rather than leaving it as Unknown as was the case before...I tell you the snootiness had no limits!!
Anyway, there was def buzz about American fashion among the elites but what took it to its current standing is Press Week -- an amazing, visionary women by the name of Eleanor realized the gap in fashion weeks (once again, there was something called as the WW II going on!) and so she suggested NYC host its FIRST Press Week and very strategically she organized it in the beginning of the year before any of the other fashion weeks could take place. It was help in the Plaza hotel with the editors, designers and everyone else staying in the same hotel so there was no issue of taxing people around which led the editors to spend significant time with the designers and observe and appreciate their creation.
This, my friends, is how NYC stamped itself in the minds and circles of Fashion’s elites as one of the top fashion capitals in the world
The Last Piece (breaks my heart!) - FINANCE
The very first bank and stock exchange established in the US was actually in Philadelphia and for a time it was Philly, not NYC, that was the pillar of the American finance. Despite Philadelphia's first mover advantage, however, a number of geographic economic and political factors helped New York overtake the city of brotherly love to become the nation's leading financial center.
The first signs of Philly being a financial juggernaut came in the formation of the Bank of Pennsylvania and it funding the Revolutionary War. Additionally, there was the Philly Stock Exchange, arguable the oldest stock exchange in the USA. Both these factors cemented Philly's stature as the place to be if you wanted to be in Big Money!
However, in 1800s, New York had become the top importer/exporter in America and had surpassed Philly in total amount of trade conducted (honestly, cannot thank that Erie canal enough!) Given their new found dominance in trade and the fact that New Yorkers hate being second best, they decided to open their own stock exchange and that's how the NYSE was established. Trading soon started shifting more to New York than Philly, given NYC had more immigrants...Yup, Immigrants - they came with their own adventurous and risk-taking spirit which was a stark contrast to the Quaker heritage in Philadelphia. The more adventurous-side led to more speculative investments that led to further trading activity shifting to New York and you know the rest is history!