Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Word for Hoboken

In Eat, Pray Love, her fraught, funny, moving memoir of a woman's search for herself in specific geographical areas, Elizabeth Gilbert makes a discovery with the help of a couple in Rome. The husband, a native of the city, tells her that every location can be summed up in one word. This one word defines the identity of the city itself, it motivates its people; it pinpoints the essence of the people and their commerce. In Rome, he says, the word is sex.

Gilbert loves Rome, and she sees what he means. In Rome, lives seem to be designed for sex, to look sexy, to feel sexy, to experience all the sex they can as they go through the other motions of their lives. Every other pastime is secondary; sex is what it's all about.

In the discussion, of course, the talk turns to Paris. No question, the word for Paris is "love." If you've ever walked the streets of Paris, strolled its bridges and looked down by the Seine, you expect to see Gene Kelly dancing his halting love-dance with the lissome young Leslie Caron. You don't, but you see lovers canoodling on benches, nuzzling against cobblestone walls, groping in every darkened corner. Eating a meal in any restaurant in Paris, you see lovers in deep conversation and intimate eye-locks over their bisteacks and red wine. Love is the ultimate Paris experience.

She turns the conversation to New York. Undoubtably there is one word for New York. ACHIEVE. The city has so much to offer, so much to take, so much to savor, but it begs its people to achieve. It's in the atmosphere. You almost feel guilty if you're not achieving, but something in air of the city makes you feel you are anyway.

I decided to choose the word for cities I knew. New Orleans, even after Katrina, has its word: Enjoy. It's hard to do anything else in New Orleans, and that's okay. Fun is the business and the currency of the city.

When I got to Hoboken, I was stumped for a while. What one activity pervades my newly adopted burg? What cuts through all classes, all personalities, all ages, styles and occupations of its citizens? What gets us all up in the morning? There must be one word.

It took some thinking, observing the discarded cartons in front of brownstones and bars alike. There was an unmistakable fragrance of tomato, cheese and garlic. There was a theme, a raison d'etre shared by the yuppies, old folks on their stoops and middle-aged smartass newbies like me. In that moment I realized the word for Hoboken. Pizza.

If you have any other suggestions, please make a comment.


swingin' said...


Mary Lois said...

That's a word?

Irene Sobolov said...

To me, Hoboken is about "connections". In all its definitions. Sure...some may snicker and think that is what is wrong with Hoboken, but it's also what is special and right about Hoboken.


FiAlfa said...

The word could be Manga! Or PATH since it was the rail hub to NYC for so long.

Hoboken Kid said...

After giving it much thought...SINATRA had the right word. SWINGIN Yes, I buy that...a swingin place to and have fun...and if ya realy can live there too. SWINGIN has got my vote.

Mary Lois said...

I was about to go along with Irene there, Slezak, and suggest "Connect," because it does happen easily in Hoboken.

But I think I like "Swingin" better.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. Can't comment on the word for Hoboken, but I suppose the word for Mullet Point would be...Mullet

Jim B said...

To your comment about Hoboken and Pizza, hmmmmmmm. In Hoboken, you would need mussels on the side, for dipping the slices in the sauce.

But Hoboken was more than pies. It was hard rolls with butter in the morning with coffee. It was a hero sandwich on Italian bread, it was the steamed clams at the clam broth house, grilled hamburgers at the Town Lunch, milk shakes at Schnachies, scrambled eggs at the 14th street diner, Chicken parm at the Union Club, steak sandwich at Helmers. Crumb buns from the bakery opposite city hall, fish cakes and devilled crabs at O'Grady's deli on Washington Street. It was the fruit guy in his truck, it was going to Appicellos for fish on first street, Mickey the butcher on 10th and Washington, the pork store downtown, the A&P on 10th and Washington.

By the way at the Clam Broth House, the bar was men only at least through 1970. They made good sandwiches, and you had steamers and threw the shells on the sawdust floor.

Hoboken has changed since I left. At one time Hoboken was black and white. Now it is color.

Regarding pizza in Hoboken, some small memories:

In 1955 Hoboken had a bicentennial, big celebration with Washington Street blocked off for rides and food. Lots of food, including pizza.

First Flying pizza in town was on 11th and Washington, you would see them toss the pies in the window.

The Blue Point had the best pies, had to drive there for them to be hot when you got home.

Julies, a bar on 13th and Washington, also had great pies. Could walk there for hot pies.

Mary Lois said...

Much as I love the Hoboken of today, memories like Jim B's (and all you other b-n-r's) make me wish I'd found it sooner!

Anonymous said...

hmmmm....maybe the word for Hoboken can be "jeet?" short for did you eat?

Many connections on Hoboken are made over food or about food. We old timers remember fondly those places of our youth. For me, Fiore's on Sundays with the family, the German Pork store (with the free slice of bologna while we waited), being sent around for salami at Katherines or noodle salad at Grubes (Willys). Once a year...if we were very good.... bar pies at Leo's

But....then there are new places I love too and like to go with friends new and old.

So much in Hoboken revolves around food. Jeet? :)

Unknown said...

In response to "jeet". I laughed out loud. Haven't heard that in decades. Jeet? no, jew? Also, in I'm gawn the show. Never the movies. I'm gawn the Avenue, walk me. Not walk with me.
I guess old time B & R were too busy having fun to add all the extra words.

Hoboken Kid said...

Hey JIM B...nice comment. Ya told it like it was...nice job (Now I want a buttered roll) ML, ya got to try a buttered roll and coffee from Hoboken. Ya got to bend over, dip da buttered roll in da coffee...ENJOY.

And you Carolyn, JEET...dat was a riot. ..NO JEW...I think ML is starting to learn all da woids, now teach her da bad woids, she's gotta know dem now that she's a DOWNTOWN GOIL.

Irene Sobolov said...

Just don't call anyone a shim....that ain't right :)