Agnes Krup, a literary agent, is embarking upon a holiday travel adventure in New York City, where she lives. Read all of Agnes’ Notes from New York.

I wish I had gone through Ellis Island when I first came to the United States more than a dozen years ago. Instead, I arrived at Newark Airport. I had a job, a visa and spoke English. I felt like I was moving to a different city in another country. Little did I know that I was moving to another continent and into a culture and society that was radically different from mine.

I was completely unprepared for this, and it took me years to arrive at a basic understanding of where I was and what it meant. Going through the gates of Ellis Island and being stuck inside its crowded registration hall might have given me a warning of what was ahead.

On New Year’s Eve day, I visited the Ellis Island Museum. As you approach by boat, the vista of the island — as well as of New York harbor and the skyline — is spectacular, especially on a morning as crisp and sunny as this.

The building is imposing, but not uninviting. It is apparently modeled on a French renaissance palace, but it also, more befittingly, seems informed by the late-19th century railroad stations in Paris or London. Its big windows let in quite a bit of light, and its large, functional space certainly beats most contemporary airport designs.

Ellis Island, in its time, may not have been a happy place, but it also doesn’t seem to have been a bad place. There were good intentions behind it — to supply the country with needed labor and thus get immigrants in swiftly. In typical American efficiency, up to 5,000 people per day were processed, and most of those were in and out the same day. Those forced to stay longer were treated at least with some organized concern for their basic well-being. That’s more than many immigrants had ever experienced from their own governments. And all this was done without computers or even a reliable phone system. The current-day INS should take notice …

I am the only member of my immediate family to have emigrated. There are some distant family members whose immigrant forebears are mostly of my grandparents’ generation. And there is my favorite uncle (a great-uncle, really, the youngest brother of my maternal grandfather), who did indeed pass through Ellis Island toward the end of its heyday.

He is listed as arriving from Hamburg on Dec. 2, 1923, a crew member on the freight vessel Hansa, which he was — except that when he departed Hamburg some three weeks earlier he had had no intention of returning. He didn’t speak English and didn’t have a job waiting for him, nor did he know a soul in New York, but he was 18 years old and had always been known as the wild one.

For years, he lived in Brooklyn Heights, mere steps from what is now my home. I often walk by the building where he rented an attic with a view of the Brooklyn Promenade and New York Harbor, perhaps even down to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

As a child, I had been smitten with him, the tall doctor in his fancy suits and wingtips, visiting with his fashionable wife, herself the daughter of Sicilian immigrants who had passed through Ellis Island only a decade before he did. For Christmas, they would send us children new clothes that came in boxes padded with tissue paper.

Taking the ferry back to Battery Park, I realized that there would be little time to linger in a café or a restaurant. I had to race home to prepare for the evening. A few friends would gather, all of them as averse to New Year’s Eve celebrations as I am, but none of us willing to spend the evening completely alone. The food would be simple and reflect everyone’s varying schedules: Bill may stop by for a glass of wine and some cheese but leave early; he has a gig as a DJ. Katrine will arrive late, after having closed down her wine store on what is her busiest day of the year.

The food also reflects my busy week; it would consist entirely of dishes that can be served cold. The gravlax will be ready all night long, and I prepared the mango mustard to go with it, as well as the blue cheese dip for the crudité, before I went to bed the night before. The doughs for the spinach pie and the quiche Lorraine (the only hot dishes, and they easily can be kept warm) were waiting in the fridge.

The only item that required a bit of effort was an apple cake with a sour cream topping. My mother used to make it for special occasions, and as I wrote this, I could smell the aroma coming up from the kitchen stove. I figured that we would need a hefty dessert to idle away the hours until midnight, when we could justify dispersing and going to bed.

A fire in the living room fireplace and a game of Scrabble or rummy would keep us happy and comfortable together, friends who over the past years have turned into a family of choice.

And if this is the only family I have on this continent, it’s good enough for me.

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