A Gypsy in New York (part 2.2)
by Juliette de Bairacli Levy
It is said of many New York pavements that there "filth shoves against filth." That is certainly true of many of the neighborhoods in which we walked. On those sidewalks of the Bowery, the Bronx, Harlem, and many reaches of First, Second, Third, and others of the avenues, including Avenue of the Americas, away in the Village, it was difficult to avoid treading on dog and cat excreta, soiled papers, straw, slivers of wood, mucus from unclean mouths, glass from broken bottles, and so on.
And all the while the surrounding factories of New York, blew their belches of poison smoke upon us and all the other people walking in the streets, and grimed the wilting trees that totter on their filth-nourished roots, protected by grime-painted palisades from the acid urine of the many city dogs.
Refuse clearance seems one of the problems of New York. There are bins in the streets outside the apartment houses, and it is a finable offense to deposit litter in the roads or parks; and all refuse bins must have their lids put over them. Only in New York, such a region of gusty winds, lids are often blown off. And the bins are often too crammed with litter to carry a lid, and then on sidewalk and street, the wind-lifted, typical New York litter of paper, empty food and cigarette wrappers and cartons and empty small food cans will perform a strange Irish jig, round and round, wind-whipped into a mad dance.
Dead dogs and cats are also put into the New York refuse bins. I remember one night when walking down First Avenue, my children and I were startled at seeing the head of a large white cat staring out at us forbiddingly, with a lid across its neck. I soon saw that it was dead and would no longer prowl the grey land of concrete that must have been its former unattractive territory.
When a poodle puppy of a friend died, he was put out into a refuse bin. That puppy had been a typical unhealthy product of city life. He had been raised from the time he was weaned on a lifeless diet of pasteurized milk, cooked meat out of cans, and fancy biscuits out of packets. The city poodle had almost never had sunlight on its body, nor been able to get the raw flesh diet and the medicinal grasses such as had once been available for the stalwart and disease-free dogs that companioned the American Indians. A distemper vaccination shot had killed that poodle puppy within three days. My children had come to know the small black dog. They had given it a Christmas present of a toy mouse of grey velvet that squeaked when pressed. Weeping, the two children had rescued the poodle from the bin and brought it to me, for "a kinder grave under a tree." Such a grave we had once made for a cat of ours that had been poisoned.
I decided that the only possible grave for the poodle available to us in Manhattan would be a watery one down the East River, and I promised my children that we could made a small boat from one of our Spanish Gypsy baskets (at quite a sacrifice for me, as I valued everyone of my many baskets), and put the dead puppy inside and send it away down the river. I felt sure that dead things should not be put into the river, although it is there that the bodies of gangsters killed in gang fights are said to show up now and then, in that very river; but nevertheless, I prepared the basket, put the toy mouse in along with the poodle for companionship, Gypsy-like. And then, with much difficulty, launched the basket-boat on the possibly distant journey. I remember that seagulls kept a wailing company overhead, and yet farther up in the sky were those typical clouds of the East River in winter months, which resemble a flock of grey-white sheep huddled together, dispersed by the strong winds, only to come together in their flocks again.
There is much refuse put out in the New York streets considerably too bulky to go into the bins. One can see anything there as one walks by. The refuse-collecting vans go by nightly--along Second Avenue, their hour is midnight--but sometimes they refuse to collect items of rubbish, and there it stays for weeks, as happened with an old mattress that came into the street a few blocks away from where we lived and appeared as if it would crawl away with the bedbugs that must live in such a stained, rent, and horrible-looking thing! There were old chairs put out into the gutter, chairs of broken cane, others of armchair type, with the stuffing hanging out. Once we were amused to see at midday down 78th Street, off First Avenue, a truly ragged tramp, sitting in a thrown-out armchair in the gutter, and there eating his luncheon, splendid with a can of beer for complete refreshment. There was cast out broken crockery, broken wooden toilet seats, old corsets, one battered guitar in such a state it looked as if it must have been used to club somebody, old gramophone records, broken toys, and often umbrellas that were blown inside-out, typical in New York’s gusty winter weather.
Strangely, despite the usually crowded pavements, many New Yorkers use umbrellas in rainy weather. Then, New York being such a gusty place, the things are blown inside-out and the material torn by the metal spokes within minutes. One windy morning my children and I counted nearly one dozen abandoned umbrellas standing upright in Manhattan street-corner bins.
Litter that I liked to see, and which was typical of New York, was that of the discarded Christmas trees and boughs. Nowhere is Christmas celebrated more ardently or romantically than in New York. Thousands of Christmas trees go up into the apartment houses and at the ending of the Christmas festival come down again into the streets. There they are piled, often for days, something green and natural looking on the stretching miles of monotonous concrete. Many of the trees were still entangled with their adornments of silver streamers and tinsel, which glittered like stardust when street and shop-window lamps shone down upon them. Some of the trees also still carried their bright Stars of Bethlehem. When it snowed on the piled tree litter, all became extra beautiful, and when it rained one could smell resin, and one walked again in memory through lonely pine forests where there were wild deer and the quiet-winged owls. The New York animals, dogs and cats, all loved the green, rustling litter, the few cats allowed there played at jungle games, and the dogs trampled on the springy places and, sadly, urinated there also.
by Juliette de Bairacli Levy
Author of Nature's Children, Traveler's Joy, Common Herbs for Natural Health, Juliette of the Herbs
“In Memory of Juliette the Grandmother of Herbal medicine”
In this richly detailed memoir, Juliette de Bairacli Levy – one of the founders of American herbalism – offers us a rare documentary. It is at once an herbal, a travel book and a compendium of Gypsy lore and Gypsy ways. 210 pages,
Herbs for Natural Health
de Bairacli Levy
Re-indexed, re-designed, and expanded. Lore and uses for 200
herbs including cosmetic, culinary, and medical recipes. Juliette
de Bairacli Levy is famed for her mastery of herbal lore and her
many books on living in tune with nature. Foreword by Rosemary
Gladstar. 236 pages, index, illustrations.
Retails for $15.95
"This is the book that got me started
in herbal medicine. It's solid gold; not only useful but incredibly
fascinating." Susun Weed
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Juliette of the Herbs DVD Video
Award-winning DVD video! Juliette of the Herbs is a beautifully filmed lyrical portrait of the life and work of Juliette de Bairacli Levy; herbalist, author, breeder of Afghan hounds, friend of the Gypsies, traveler in search of herbal wisdom and a pioneer of holistic veterinary medicine. Filmed on location in Greece, Spain, France, Portugal, Switzerland, England and America, and interwoven with Juliette's vast collection of archival photographs, together with scenes of Gypsies dancing and Bedouins with their herds, is an inspiring portrait of a remarkable woman.
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