My hometown is Astoria, Queens, New York. I don’t know how well Astoria is known outside of New York, New York. Wait, I amend that statement, Greeks all over in Greece, know someone who lives in Astoria. Trust me on this one, I know. I was there. When the Canadian boys, my sister and I were staying in the little pensione in Pelakas, Corfu, the lovely Yaya (grandma) who kept the lovely home was so excited to learn that my sister and I were from Astoria, that she brought out the family photo album to show us all of her family living in Astoria and she wasn’t the only one that we met who was excited by where we were from. It was amazing, it was like a special international community that we were a part of. Good times.
Anyway, I digress. Astoria was a great place to grow up. It wasn’t that diverse ethnically, it was a mixture of Irish, German, French and Greek. The predominate group being the Greek ethnicity and it made for a strong European influence on our upbringing. I grew up on a block, specifically 24th Street which was flanked by Hoyt Avenue on one side and 24th Avenue on the other. As you can see, Astoria was laid out in a perpendicular grid so you couldn’t get lost if you wanted to, just like New York City, aside from the Battery Park and Wall Street areas. My block was populated by traditional, middle class, blue-collar families living in 2 family brick houses and everyone knew each other on the block. My best friend, my sister and I were the only girls on the block and the rest were the boys on the block. That made for a tom boy in the making kind of growing up, since the girls were greatly outnumbered and the action was in running, climbing and playing sports. I’m not complaining, it was a lot of fun and even though we were more or less “city” kids, we were outdoors everyday after school. We had a fantastic park; Astoria park, that had tennis courts, 2 swimming pools, a track and field outdoor track and basket ball courts. It also is situated right on the East River and right next to the Triboro Bridge, which is a stunningly beautiful bridge, especially at night when it is lit up and you have the backdrop of the New York City skyline at night, right across the East river, it is a jewel like vision. Actually, that view was a daily occurrence right outside my bedroom window on 24th Street. I could have charged rent for that view, it was and is so gorgeous, the night-time lighting of all the skyscrapers with the night sky littered with starlight, I’m telling you, gorgeous.
Commuting to and from Astoria to New York City was and still is so convenient. A few subway stops, only 8 stop from Ditmars Blvd to 59th Street and 3rd Avenue New York City, only 20 minutes and you’re in Manhattan!!. Nowadays, Astoria is considered prime real estate for young professionals starting out because of the proximity yet still reasonable price index of housing.
That aspect of Astoria being so close to New York City and how lucky we were to be right there near the big apple, the city that never sleeps, didn’t really occur to us. We took Astoria for granted which looking back on it wasn’t a big deal, to us Astoria was a vast playground that we commanded and explored everyday on foot or on our bikes. We climbed onto rooftops, over fences, not to often up trees, there weren’t that many good climbing trees around. We played touch football in the street in between the various cars coming and going, we played roller hockey in the fenced-in concrete park, we played volley ball in the back alley ways behind the brick houses of the block. I think it made us a lot more independent because we were comfortable on the streets of Astoria and thus the streets of New York City. Walking 15 blocks away from home wasn’t a big deal, we had confidence in ourselves and where we lived; perhaps it was the naiveté of youth, but I’m glad that I wasn’t scared to roam around Astoria, it taught me how to take care of myself and it helped to develop my common sense.
Would I call Astoria beautiful? No, but it was very vibrant especially in the late evening along Ditmars Blvd and along all the major avenues. All the Greek Tavernas would be packed with the Greek men sitting together discussing, laughing, playing cards and drinking their ouzo and coffees. It was like this every evening, a very Greek tradition imported from the mother country. I found it to be wonderful that they kept their traditions alive, it mirrored how my parents kept our French traditions alive within our own French community.
Now, I and my family do go back to Astoria every two months to visit my mother who still lives in Astoria. When we visit, it’s only to spend time with my mother and my sister and her family. We have a lovely time together, but I’m always happy to go back home. Astoria has changed a bit since my sister and I were younger, it’s not as clean as it used to be or perhaps I just notice litter more as an adult. Living for 15 years in the country makes me less inclined to want to stay in the city, I like the laid back way of driving in the country, the slower way of being and the quiet. Now as an adult, if I’m going to be in the city, I want to be directly in Manhattan. 20 years ago, my husband and I had an apartment in Manhattan and it was fun, a lot of fun. That however, was before kids, once my babies came along, I didn’t want to live in the city any longer. I was turned off by how dirty the strollers became after only a few days of walking around the city and not to mention the cost of daycare and schooling in the city. Those costs are astronomical compared to the nice country life we are living here in MA.
I’m glad that I grew up in Astoria, I wouldn’t change that for anything but I am very glad to be living in the Berkshire mountains of MA in my adulthood.