New York Minute #2 – The Amazing Moth Girl (or, “Crazy Canadian writer girl catches a moth in Manhattan.”)

This post is part of my ongoing feature New York Minutes. To see the other posts in the series, click on the “New York Minute” category in the sidebar labelled “Stuff I blog about, a lot.”

pickles and Dr. Brown's soda at Katz's Deli ("I'll have what she's having.")

Whenever I’m in New York, I spend at least one day walking around the Lower East Side. It’s become a bit of a pilgrimage for me, since that’s where my great-great grandmother got her start as a “lady” doctor (and as a kick-a&& rebellious young woman.) So many people have started their lives in the LES, businessmen hoping to build empires, immigrants struggling for new lives. There’s an energy that still exists there today- part ghost, part magic, and part nose to the grindstone determination.

I had the wonderful Mr. McKay with me for my tour of the LES this past May. It was his first time in New York, so I insisted on taking him around to my favourite haunts. Katz’s Deli is a must when it comes to eateries, (as well as the fabulous Momofuku noodle bar.)

And it’s no secret how much I adore the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, which is a hop, skip, and jump from Katz’s. If you’re in New York, you MUST go there. (That’s all I’ll say about that for now.)

A cabinet of medical instruments and curiosities at Obscura.

A new stop for me this trip was Obscura Antiques and Oddities (located at 207 Avenue A.) While I was writing The Virgin Cure, I became a big fan of the tv show that’s filmed there called “Oddities.” A lachrymatory featured in an episode of the show even served as the inspiration for the tearcatcher Mrs. Riordan gives to Moth in the novel.

Reading proof copy of The Virgin Cure in hand, I went into the shop to leave it as a thank-you gift for Evan Michelson, one of the store’s owners.

Doing my best Norma Desmond at Obscura.

Evan was away, but a lovely woman (un-televised shop girl, was it you?) was looking after the shop. She kindly took my book and my card and said she’d pass it along for me. She also boxed up two amazing finds that I purchased during my visit.  (A CdV reminiscent of Mr. Dink, and a silver coffin plate engraved with a name that will appear in my next novel, The Witches of New York.)

A moth appears…

After we’d left the shop and had started to walk up street, Mr. McKay nudged me and said, “Did you see the girl who just went by?”

“What girl?” I said, still giddy and distracted over the treasures I now had in my bag.

“The one in the polka dot dress. She had a huge tattoo of a moth on her arm.”

“No,” I said with a sigh. “I guess I missed her.”

Ian looked up the sidewalk hoping to spot her again, but she was gone. “Too bad, you would’ve loved her, she made me think of your Moth.”

As we walked on I was more than a little disappointed that I hadn’t seen the elusive moth girl. I’m a nut for coincidences, and sightings like that feed my soul in ways I can’t fully explain. What were the chances of being in the heart of the setting for the novel, in the centre of my character Moth’s world and crossing paths with a young woman with a giant tattoo of a moth on her arm?

We made other stops the rest of that day, the Strand bookstore, Pear Tree Corner (which I’ll cover in an upcoming post,) and the site where the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children once stood. As we sat across from St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery contemplating the trek back to our hotel, I turned to Ian and said, “I always feel sad when I’m about to leave this part of town. It’s like part of myself gets left behind. Is that weird?”

“It’s not strange at all,” he said. “You’ve spent the last few years of your life dreaming and writing about this place. Your grandmother’s past is here as well. It’s only natural you feel tied to it.”

(See why I love this man?)

the moth appears again…

Just as we were about to head for the subway, Ian grabbed my arm. “There she is,” he said. “It’s the moth girl! Go get her!”

I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I caught her, but I ran up to the young woman and stopped her and her boyfriend on the sidewalk.

“Hi,” I said, hoping what I was about to say wouldn’t sound as creepy as it did in my head. “My husband saw you earlier and noticed your tattoo. I kind of have a thing for moths, would you mind if I take a picture?”

Moth girl smiled at me and said, “no, sure, go ahead.”

The Amazing Moth Girl!

We chatted for a few minutes (well, mostly I babbled about my book and my character named Moth, while she was polite enough to listen.) Then she explained to me that she wasn’t from New York and that the main reason’s she’d come to the city was to get the tattoo.

“It’s still fresh,” she said, looking down and admiring the artwork that now graced her forearm.

“So, where are you from?” I asked.

“Canada…Montreal, Quebec.”

Imagine that.

Me and moth girl.

LES places mentioned in this post: Katz’s Deli, Momofuku, The Tenement Museum, Obscura Antiques and Oddities

Also – YOU can take a virtual walking tour of historic places in The Virgin Cure by visiting Moth’s Manhattan.

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7 Responses to The Amazing Moth Girl!

  1. shelagh says:

    Ami how serendipitous! What an amazing tattoo. I love the tenement museum too, fascinating and sad. Katz’s!! I’ll have what she had and what you had too. Loved it! Now I’m a veggie not sure what I would have there:( Maybe lots of pickles and coleslaw.

  2. Cat says:

    what a great story
    great tattoo
    great dress
    great hair!!!
    so awesome you saw her again
    and of course she was Canadian!!! lol

    so awesome

    love and light

  3. Lisa says:

    I love this post, Ami! I am going to visit some of these spots that I haven’t been to yet the next time I am in NY!! I have only recently been to the Tenement Museum for the first time and have just started discovering the magic of the LES so this is wonderful! I look forward to more NY posts from you.

  4. Stephenie says:

    Great story, Ami! It’s funny how things go… we go to a huge city with millions of people and meet someone on the street from “back home.” Love it.
    Met you last summer when you read at Port Williams library..an unexpected holiday bonus for sure. Mentioned you in my “summer reads” blog…thought you might like to see.
    http://theminddoeswander.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/beach-blanket-book-bash/
    Congrats on the U.S. publication this month!

  5. marta says:

    I think you are blessed with a serendipity fairy. And I’m jealous you got to go to the Oddities shop. We love that show! Well, one day we’ll go.

    That was a beautiful tattoo.

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