‘You’re from Australia?? What are you doing here?’ the waitress in the Queens Comfort Cafe wanted to know.
Well might she ask. Astoria, Queens is not a part of New York that attracts many visitors. It’s a place where New Yorkers live. Lots of them.
And one of them happened to have an affordable apartment to rent to visitors through the Air B&B website.
I’ll have more to report on the Air B&B experience in a later post, but for the moment, let’s have a look at Astoria.
It’s a lively, multi-cultural area, with the feel of a working-class suburb that is becoming gentrified. It reminded us of Marrickville in Sydney, only bigger, brighter and a lot busier.
The Queens Comfort Cafe had only recently opened, and deserves to do well. Comfortable it certainly was, decked out in retro diner style, and serving excellent burgers. (They were the only ones we ate for the whole trip. Here in Queens it seemed only right to eat the local cuisine.)
A delightful bonus was meeting a waitress with whom I could discuss the Shetland Islands Folk Festival. She’d been there, I want to get there sometime.
But I digress…
Apart from being a nice place to live, there at first appears little to attract visitors to Queens. However, thanks to Mevrouw T’s research on the excellent smartphone app ‘Wikihood’, we found a hidden treasure of a museum.
If you’re interested in the history of cinema, or the kids just want to see Yoda from Star Wars or a gun from Men in Black, we highly recommend a trip to this place.
Nowhere else have I ever seen such a collection of early film equipment. The interesting objects above are magic lanterns. Picture show men carried them on their backs from town to town, and impressed people by screening a few seconds of moving image.
The mutoscope was really just a small advance on the technique of flipping the corners of a book to make the image move, but it was possible to put a minute or two of Charlie Chaplin film into the machine. The ones below are from 1899 and 1930 respectively.
The museum has excellent displays for kids on how film and television is made, with entertaining guides holding them enthralled with their demonstrations of how different music can completely alter the mood of a scene.
As a writer I was enthralled to see Larry David’s clumsy hand-written scripts for Seinfeld episodes. If I recall correctly, Seinfeld is set in Queens. We writers love to see how other writers struggle before nailing the masterpiece that looks so effortless when it’s finished.
Larry’s first efforts are a real mess. Apparently he’d then read them aloud to Jerry, who’d type up his versions of them, before they got on to the serious refinement process.
The kids (and I) could try our hands at animation, inspired by a clip of Terry Gilliam’s work with cut-outs on Monty Python. I was impressed with my efforts and it was surprising how fast a bit of simple animation can be achieved.
But naturally we really want to get on and see the relics from films we recognise, like the Star Wars characters…
Freddy Kruger’s hand from Nightmare on Elm Street was popular too…
I found three costumes I knew…
Quiz…can you identify them too? Answers at the bottom of the post.
Quiz answers: The Cosby Show, Annie Hall, Beverly Hills Cop.