Monday, March 08, 2010

Let Us Go Into the House of Pops

Louis Armstrong House, Corona, Queens

My Flushing holiday wasn't all about food.  There were the cultural attractions too.  Recently in The New Yorker, Patricia Marx discussed the chauvinism of Brooklynites.  And we do have plenty to be chauvinistic about, living in the greatest borough, but that doesn't blind us to the lures of outer boroughs like Manhattan and Queens.

On Saturday I saw a Chinese music meets jazz concert at Flushing Town Hall and on Sunday I took the subway two stops back toward Manhattan to Corona, for a visit to the long-time home of Louis Armstrong.  It shouldn't have taken this long for a jazz fanatic like me to make the pilgrimage (the house opened to the public in 2003), but after all, a subway ride to Corona is a commitment.

Armstrong and his wife Lucille lived together in the house in this modest middle income neighborhood (now mostly Latino) from 1943 until his death in 1971. Lucille lived on into the early eighties and left the house and its effects to the city as a cultural landmark.  Soon a new visitors and study center will be built across the street to house the Armstrong archives, currently at Queens College.  The 40-minute docent-led house tour includes neighborhood history, biographical detail (most of which I was familiar with), and description of the house's furnishings, more luxurious and elaborate, for sure, than the otherwise similar houses on the block.  In all those years Louis spent maybe fifty days a year in the house, living the life of a jazzman on the road, while Lucille kept the home fires burning.  An extra treat of my visit was the opportunity to chat with Selma, the Armstrongs' neighbor all those years and my mother's contemporary, decked out in her Sunday best.

On the same block I noticed a Latin American restaurant and almost felt compelled to buy an empanada de yuca, so official did the sign look, a dare to ignore.  But stuffed from my Chinese binging of the weekend, I went ahead and broke the law of Mama Dolores.

It's nice that they have that neon Corona beer sign right in the heart of Corona, though.

After my house tour I decided to walk down 37th Avenue toward Jackson Heights, to check out some of the Latin American restaurants along the stretch.  I noted several places that certainly warrant a visit with an emptier stomach.  And I was also thrilled to see an old Buster Brown shoes sign above a shop whose awning says "La Casa de Buster Brown."


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