Wednesday, May 21, 2014

MOSCOW, 10028



Why didn't they think of carrying a helium
Hitler balloon?
My neighborhood, Yorkville, is located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Wikipedia designates it as running from 79th to 96th Streets, between Third Avenue and the East River (which really isn't a river, but the East Tidal Strait doesn't sound as romantic). 

Yorkville was primarily German for a century or so. During the first half of the 20th-century, it was known for restaurants, beer halls, and the headquarters of the pro-Nazi German American Bund. Enjoying a good parade like anyone else, the Bund marched down East 86th Street on October 30, 1939, roughly a month after war broke out in Europe. (If you enlarge the accompanying photo enough, you can see onlookers heiling from their open windows. Howdy, neighbor!

Ain't that a kick in the liver?
By the time I moved uptown in 1983, the swastikas were long gone, but enough businesses, like diners and pastry shops, helped evoke a time far removed. Since then, the German influence has declined even further, left only to some churches and one restaurant, the Heidelberg, which has been open continuously since 1936, and is home to a boot-shaped stein designed to hold a half gallon of beer. (No wonder Germany lost two world wars; the troops must have been dragging themselves to the front lines.) A couple blocks west of our apartment is a church which, during the summer, runs German movies from the '30s and '40s, for those, presumably, who miss the good old days when Josef Goebbels was the Harvey Weinstein of the Fatherland.

But these are the remnants of a Yorkville that live more in people's memories than reality. Another group of people are moving in, and not just the hipsters I wrote about a while back. Over the last decade, we've become the home for Eastern Europeans. To my paranoid ears, however, they sound like Russians taking over the area -- part of Putin's plan to control America, one overpriced neighborhood at a time.

And moved to a nice neighborhood!
Everywhere I walk around here, I hear the low, muffled tones of a foreign language that sounds like every 1950s anti-Soviet propaganda movie I've ever seen. Cashiers, nannies, couples strolling with their children -- it's like living in a real-life episode of the FX series The Americans, where the family next door is really a cadre of Russian spies -- only they're not even trying to acclimate to their surroundings. It's almost like they want us to know that pretty soon my ATM is going to start spouting rubles, and that every pizza joint is going to be turned into a borscht palace.

"Hello, handsome. Want
a taste of my blini?"
Our corner grocery store is staffed by Russians, mostly women, who listen to American rap music. (Somehow, every time I go in there, they're playing "Love the Way You Lie" by Eminem and Rihanna. Appropriate, no?) Many of the women are there for a few months, then suddenly replaced by another group, as if their Fearless Leader is shuffling them around from store to store in order for them to pick up as much information as possible. And we're not talking about those babushkas you see shuffling around with a sack of potatoes (and, come to think of it, look like a sack of potatoes). No, these women are young, pretty, with clear skin and wearing the latest fashions -- perfect for seducing the local sandhogs for top-secret information on the construction of the Second Avenue Subway. 

"And gimme one
of those Pick 10
games."
The Ukrainians aren't having such a hot time these days, but at least they can tell that the guys running around in tanks and polishing their Kalashnikovs aren't to be trusted. The people I run into on my daily travels look like anyone else on the Upper East Side, blending in with the ease of John Boehner at a sunbed dealers convention. I expect to wake up one sizzling summer morning to see ol' Vladimir himself, strolling shirtless to the семь-одиннадцать (formerly known as 7-11) for a copy of the New York Pravda. Guess I better reserve my corner table at the Russian Tea Room pretty soon, comrade. 

                                                ************ 

The hipsters are coming, the hipsters are coming (to the Upper East Side)! Click here to find out why.

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