This is a story connecting two Finnish women – me and my great-grandmother Ida Maria together even though more than one hundred years have passed. Ida Maria had her story to tell and I have mine. October the 2014 I went to New York with my son – to tell him the story of both.
If you prefer to read this story in Spanish, you can do so: Geoface
New York in 1909 and New York in 2014
Ida Maria left Finland at the age of twentyone. She left behind Finland, still autonomous part of the Russian Empire, at the period of oppression. She also left behind her family, her husband and her 2-year old son, Urho Wihtori Väinö Aleksander, my grandfather. She had the famous American dream of having better life for her and for her son.
I have had a kind of special connection to Ida Maria even though I have not, of course, ever met her. I was fascinated of her story since I first time heard about her.
I left Finland at the same age as Ida Maria, but in totally different situation, I was careless young girl, free to discover the world without any special expectations or obligations. I came back to Finland after 10 years stay abroad with a little baby boy and his Spanish dad.
In New York I went to see four dfferent places where I knew she has been living, and those streets and the stories behind them gave special meaning to my visit in New York.
Visiting Ellis Island was a significant moment; we entered the immigration center and found her travelling record. I was trying to imagine the feelings Ida Maria had when entering New York. We don´t know whether she just passed through Ellis Island or stayed there longer time – it depends on in which class she was travelling. For sure she had been watching the Statue of Liberty.
Ida Maria Nylund – American grandma.
Ida Maria did visit Finland several times but she never came back to live in Finland neither my grandfather or his father went to live to New York as it possibly was planned to be. Ida Maria´s husband died 10 years after she first time left Finland.
We have some letters left and my aunt Imppa who has met her has shared some memories she still remembers from grandmam´s visits.
Ida Maria first worked as a househelper and then had a ”Beauty Salon ” with an other Finnish lady on the 125th street in New York ( in Harlem!). She never got rich – when talking about money – but I hope she had a rich and happy life in other meanings.
She died in New York in 1962 and left behind a great story for us – one of the best inheritance one can give to the next generations.
I loved the atmosphere in New York. We had many nice moments when talking to people and had fun observing people in New York´s many parks, squares and cafes. The man with the guitar was playing and singing ”Imagine ” in Central Park. John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono lived in the Dakota Apartments adjacently located to this area of the park (West side). It was there, walking into his home, on December 8, 1980, that John Lennon was murdered and shot dead.
I love New York – but will it sustain?
It was a bit more than one hundred years ago when Ida Maria went to New York for the first time. I was thinking in many occasions during our visit about how was the the city then and how is it operating now. I did think of the infrastructure of the city, the population and sustainability; now there are more than 8 million of persons living in New York, in the beginning of the 20th century there were already almost 4 million inhabitants.
In addition of the inhabitants, there are more than 47 million tourists visiting New York every year – that´s a huge amount of people! As a tourist I would like to be a responsible consumer but now I found it quite difficult.
I was most worried about the waste: in too many places the food and beverage was served in disposable dishes. I also remember from my lectures of Environmental Science that New York was as an example mentioned because they used to dump the rubbish into the sea just in front of the city for long time, fortunately not any more, but I wonder if they have done something to clean that area.
I hope they do have a good way of recycling the waste and hopefully all plastic is recycled or used for heating the city or for some other usage.
I also felt sad to see homeless people sleeping on the street and noticing the rude social inequality, but in the other hand I noticed that people were helping each other in many situations.
There are many reasons to love New York
The public transportation is easy to use and as it´s easy to walk everywhere: we were walking dozens of kilometers during our stay and enjoyed it a lot.
It is easy to love New York. I love Modern art museum MoMa and I love the atmosphere, I love the people and their kindness. Live music performance of young artists singing and playing rap and hip-hop in Cafe WHA was also great experience.
Hotel can be a significant part of the story
I liked a lot the hotel where we stayed the first night. Then we changed to another hotel closer to the streets where my great-grandmother lived and closer to the most important places of interest.
The Paper Factory Hotel used to be a paper factory as the name tells us – founded in the beginning of 20th century and not so far away where Ida Maria lived; she probably knew the place and I felt again more connected to her.
The Paper Factory Hotel was a very good example of industrial architecture and design. It was also a good example of trendy hotel to gather people of the same mentality and values together.
”Urban outfitters” shops are designed in industrial way and liked them much more than Bloomingdales, Macy´s or Century 21.
A hint for Radisson Blu Seaside in Helsinki: please tell the story of the building to promote and please, change the name of the hotel as it has been a Cheese storage, laboratory of Nobel awarded A.I. Virtanen and a great example of modernism style architecture. Travellers are seeking for stories behind the places.
Urban meets Nature in New York
The urban planners of New York at the end of 19th century were very wise when deciding to leave space for the Central Park – open air place for everybody´s use.
Central Park was a good place to calm down and enjoy a moment of tranquility. It was also nice to see all kind of New Yorkers and visitors spending time outdoors; nannies meeting each other by the pond, mothers with babies doing yoga and youngsters dancing.
One of my great-grandmother´s flat was on the 5th Avenue, just in front of Central Park. She must have had nice walks in Central Park and maybe thinking about her life and son in Finland while sitting in some of the benches. Maybe she was also missing the tranquility and nature in Finland.
It was a pleasure – thank you!
Hopefully Ida Maria was as happy as she is in my story. I am grateful she had given me a special reason to explore New York.
The story of Ida Maria came true and concrete; one piece of me has been found. I will go back to New York, some day, maybe to meet someone. New York is a special place to me, it is part of my story.
I heard the empty windows whispering. ”She is finally here – she finally came to see her forgotten great-grandmother. They look somehow similar – is it the way she walks or is it the same deep gaze on her face”. I heard the comments – hoping to see at least a weak shadow of her to see that gaze, telling me she always knew I would come.
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