I’m not sure what was the best part of my weekend visit in New York. Wait. I take that back. The best part was seeing my son, Joseph. Among other things, we visited his school, and we went to Jackson Heights to explore the neighborhood, and returned laden with East Indian ingredients, our stomachs full of fabulous dosa.
Above and beyond the sheer joy of being with Joe was a visit to the Public Library and its exhibit on the Lunch Hour New York City. Laura Shapiro, who co-curated it with Rebecca Federman and who is the author of numerous books including Perfection Salad (Farrar, Strauss, Giroux 1986) and Julia Child: A Life (Penguin Lives 2009), had dropped hints and bits of her work on this exhibit over the two years she worked on it. The theme wasn’t unfamiliar, but the sheer depth, humor, and delight of the exhibit was unexpected.
It shouldn’t have been. Laura’s work is always impeccably researched, and always tinted with her particular sparkle, intelligence, and good humor. This exhibit relies on materials drawn from throughout the Public library. With its recreated automat, its excerpts from vintage movies showing how life revolved – for certain characters – around the food that came out of those tiny automat cubicles; its detailed descriptions about everything from the first New York school lunch program to the free milk program during the Depression, to the inception of the Power Lunch, to Joe Baum’s New York restaurant empire; its photographs of tenements and the food therein, it was spectacularly fascinating.
It was also crowded, with people poring over the well-written notations, the wonderful menus, photographs and lithographs, the vintage dishes and kitchen furniture. If you’re in New York, don’t miss this exhibit. New York Public Library, through February 17, 2013.