Wednesday, December 31, 2008

To 2008

This year has been exactly what it needs to be, and I am so grateful for everything it contained, like a great sea or like a suitcase packed for an unknown destination. The song at the end of this New Year post, by Neutral Milk Hotel, was released in 1998, 10 years ago. I was about to come to New York City by train, my first time here since 1990, for a one-day trip with my grandparents when I was 11. That week in 1998, I visited an old pen-pal but mostly wandered the city, staying at the Gershwin Hotel and seeing Art, Les Mis, and Madame Butterly at the Met. I wandered through Central Park in the surprising snow and went to the other Met to find the Chagalls. I was 18.

I wouldn't be telling you all of this were it not for the past year, which launched this blog, new friendships, new roles at work, airplanes to India and Ireland and Scotland, a journey to Alabama, steps toward 495 miles of running, new poetry, a new President, explorations of Jewish and artistic and neighborhood communities...and something that happens to be on my mind today, which loops in the Metropolitan Opera and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, along with snow and walking and lights and yams and me turned inside-out. This song is my heart on my sleeve:

"And in my dreams you're alive and you're crying,
As your mouth moves in mine, soft and sweet,
Rings of flowers round your eyes and
I’ll love you for the rest of your life (when you’re ready)."

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Life as Prayer

I've returned to Brooklyn by by way of O'Hare, Midway, Albany, and (two days later) forested, still snowy Phoenecia. I feel like I've been away for weeks, only to get off the train tonight and run into T. We tried out Kenny's Trattoria (7 Withers, just west of Union), the new casual Italian spot opened by...Kenny (who formerly owned the well reviewed Brick Oven Gallery). The spiraled gnocchi were pretty good, like an adult version of macaroni and cheese. The ravioli of the day were a little strange, the "pasta" resembling wonton wrappers. The salads are fresh and big enough to share.

It's good to be home. There's a lot going on in the world, as usual, with the Hamas-Israel conflict taking center stage. I don't pretend to understand the full weight of politics and religious history bringing itself to bear on this poor holy region. Hamas wants to destroy Israel and instigates in words, propaganda, and the murder of students; Israel responds in such a way as to kill hundreds of innocent people. Where does it end? I pray for an end that preserves the most lives and the most capacity for wonder, kindness, and understanding, which seem like light, airy things now but which are of fundamental importance. Back in Brooklyn, with the little daily pleasures of cats and the BQE like a stream and strange ravioli, I pray for an ever-expanding sense of wonder.

"To pray is to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainments. Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living. It is all we can offer in return for the mystery by which we live. Who is worthy to be present at the constant unfolding of time? Amidst the meditation of mountains, the humility of flowers - wiser than all alphabets - clouds that die constantly for the sake of his glory, we are hating, hunting, hurting. Suddenly we feel ashamed of our clashes and complaints in the face of the tacit glory of nature. It is so embarrassing to live! How strange we are in the world, and how presumptuous our doings! Only one response can maintain us: gratefulness for witnessing the wonder, for the gift of our unearned right to serve, to adore, and to fulfill. It is gratefulness which makes the soul great." Abraham Joshua Heschel

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

To Be

I tripped on some ice on Leonard Street tonight and actually seemed to bang my knee back into place. These little brushes with mortality remind me of the bliss of days.

At the end of a 1973 lecture, Bernstein said, "I'm no longer quite sure what the question is, but I do know that the answer is Yes."

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Happy Chanukah! It just sounds nicer than Happy Day of Resting on the 25th, which is Chanukah's direct translation. While in different months (Kislev and December), the 25th marks the celebration of the beginning of Chanukah and of Christmas, just another one of the the many religious "coincidences" layered through history like geological strata and necessarily connected (for instance, Chanukah is not mentioned in the Tenakh, or Jewish Scriptures, but it is referenced in John 10:22-3: "Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter, and Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon's porch.") The story of Chanukah is, for me, a story of goodness and justice prevailing against tremendous odds - but also a story of language prevailing. "And thy word broke their sword..."

The goodness for which the Macabees fought was the living language of the Torah, which King Antiochus IV and many others mocked and defiled. And the present meaning of Torah and Judaism for me can be articulated as dialogue, which is a way to community, which is a way to peace. Language, at its best, leads to dialogue, and dialogue, with or without question marks, is a constant questioning, not only of another but also of the self. Any reminder to revive a dialogue is, for me, a blessing. This Chanukah, wonderfully also the first day of winter, when the Holly*, a letter in the Celtic Ogham alphabet of trees, feels its fullest strength, has been a particularly special one for me, as it finds me, Under the BQE, rekindling a connection to a piece of my childhood, my mother's memories (and lack of memories), my father's nurturing, and a great tradition that I am entering and re-entering with great wonder and dedication.

*"In the Ogham, it was stated that the Holly was 'best in the fight,' since it helped balance both the positive and negative aspects of the self, thus revealing a new direction. It was believed to restore lost energy, bestowing the strength needed to continue toward a resolution. Despite its prickly leaves (which afford protection to the tree during winter), the Holly offered empathy and understanding within its branches and was often associated with goodwill and love. For this reason, it was frequently planted near homes for protection and to ward off evil, psychic attacks, and demons."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Vision: Share Yours!

Below is the vision and photo I shared with the Obama transition team. It seemed extra necessary given the recent appointment of Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture.

"At the end of WWII, 20 million home gardens were producing enough fruits and vegetables to feed 40 percent of the American people. My vision is for Americans to relaunch a "victory garden" movement, fueled by the sun and by the actions of President Obama and other leaders. The President will have a unique opportunity to model behaviors that demonstrate a respect for land and for local food. My vision sees a country in which agribusiness is limited, in turn reducing our dependence on petroleum, increasing our homeland security, and improving American health. What we eat says more about ourselves and our country than many of us realize, and turning some of our lawns into gardens, reclaiming empty lots for gardens, and otherwise reconnecting with our small-scale agrarian past is a necessary step toward rebuilding American community and promoting ourselves as responsible tenants of the earth to the rest of the world."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


"This sweet little word: and..."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Brooklyn Talks

Participation, in my opinon, is the key to democracy, and dialogue is the key to peace. To add further perspective to my recent Vito Lopez mention that was not taken kindly by one anonymous commenter, Brooklyn has been, for at least 130 years, a place of democratic dynamism - which can be, if we so choose, the road to greater understanding. Keep the comments coming.

From PostSecret

To which someone responded, "I wish for one day everyone would say exactly what someone else needed to hear."

To which I respond, I wish for one day the two would match.

"Sense, Heart, Feet and Hands Will be in Accord..."

Happy Birthday, Nostradamus!

Here are some opportunities to find your own alignments in the coming days, right here in North Brooklyn:

There was a march at McGorlick Park today, sponosred by Parsons Students for Greenpoint, to generate awareness around the Greenpoint Oil Spill, the result of longterm leakage from tanks and pipelines that has put between 17 and 30 million gallons of oil in the ground. The spill was three times greater than the Exxon Valdez spill, but many people know nothing about it.

J and I attended a meeting of the New Kings County Democrats yesterday, which is representing for people who feel that the Kings County Democrats machine (aka (what some would call) the Vito Lopez for Vito Lopez machine) doesn't meet their needs these days. Thanks to NKD outreach and mobilization, around 50 of the 400 or so members of the Brooklyn County Committee are of the New branch. Around 40 people turned up at Sound Fix late yesterday afternoon to lay the groundwork for local and national action under an Obama administration. While long-term plans were discussed, some immediate projects were developed, too, including a food drive for local hungry people. Stay tuned.

If you haven't yet, please add your John Hancock to a petition to keep East River State Park open through the winter.

Finally, if you're interested in contributing thoughts to the North Brooklyn Story Project, please do.

Doom and gloom aside! The world is always beginning...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Portland, Pourtland, Portlande

The Winter 2009 issue of the Portland Review is out, in which two of my poems appear. First the publication's description, then the irony:

"The Portland Review has been publishing superb short prose, poetry and art since 1956. Contributors range from the celebrated to the unknown. Editors at The Review comb through thousands of submissions annually to produce a journal of exceptional quality. Our mission to promote new authors while maintaining STRICT EDITORIAL STANDARDS* allows us to bring our readers fresh and innovative works from Oregon and around the world with every issue."

*My name is spelled three different ways in the course of the issue. In fact, the sheer number of errors made me laugh. And sigh.
But the Times can't even get Sulzberger right...and there might just be a poem hidden in the letters.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Construction A Go-Go?

Just when I thought the recession had silenced the developers, I awoke this morning to the rhythmic, earth-shaking percussion* of pylons being sunk. So someone is still bank-financed and owing debt,** independently rich, or just throwing caution to the wind and building, building, building, come hell or high...rises.


Still, many lots are empty (or in limbo).*** What can we do with them? Since moving here almost two years ago (before the corner factory was razed****), I've harbored fantasies of guerilla gardening. Mightn't the spaces also become bonafide parks or community gathering spaces?

Not according to New Yorker editor Nick Paumgarten, who recently asked a similar question: "What will become of the pits?" According to Paumgarten's research, "Vacant space tends to remain vacant, in anticipation of an upswing. Tax policy, intertia, and the eternal belief that things will get better again usually trump civic dreams of pocket parks or stickball fields."

Thankfully, I think things ARE better, just as they are, with the pace of development slowed - at least - and the opportunity for bulb grenades and plywood tags on every corner...

**A Philadelphia developer had this to say about his reasons for continuing development despite the housing market crash: "We get bank financing for the site improvements. The bank needs to be repaid, and so we're committed to keeping things moving."

***Click "lots" to read a great article that mentions the empty lot at Withers and Union and shares the thoughts of neighborhood advocate Phil DePaolo, who defines "Planner’s Blight" as "when speculative development is allowed to spiral out of control because city officials zone without a policy for responsible growth."


Sunday, December 7, 2008

I Too Lived

"I too lived, Brooklyn of ample hills was mine,
I too walk'd the streets of Manhattan island, and bathed in the waters around it,
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me,
In the day among crowds of people sometimes they came upon me,
In my walks home late at night or as I lay in my bed they came upon me,
I too had been struck from the float forever held in solution,
I too had receiv'd identity by my body,
That I was I knew was of my body, and what I should be I knew I should be of my body.
- Walt Whitman, "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," 1881.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Self Call

Under the BQE is now on Robert Lanham's taste-making FREEwilliamsburg site. (And self call is is just an all-around great little term. Thanks to Janos and the whole Dartmouth gang.)

And No Trampling

Put your money where you...home is.

Some ideas for Brooklyn holiday giving that would make Mr. Markowitz proud:
*A hammer from Crest Hardware.
*Brooklyn-made copper pots from Brooklyn Kitchen.
*Dog bones and cat toys from PS9.
*Drawings, photographs, snowglobes, and other artwork from The Front Room gallery's Fuse Works project.
*Chili peppers, dried and strung, from the Saturday farmers' market in McCarren Park.
*A wine cork trivet from RePlayGround.
*A gift certificate to Bamonte's.
*Mismatched teacups from Junk.
*A subscription to cheese from Bedford Cheese Shop.
*A book of poems from Spoonbill and Sugartown Booksellers.
*Tickets to Brick theater projects.
*Pomade or brushes from Mousey Brown or Beehive Salons.
*Pinoli tarts or pannetone from Settepani.
*A training session with Kwesi Morris of Tribal Fitness (workouts in McCarren Park).
*An elderflower gimlet at Hotel Delmano.
*Girl Talk's Feed the Animals or Belle & Sebastian's BBC Sessions from Sound Fix.
*Homemade photographs in Salvation Army found frames.
*A cup of Mexican hot chocolate from Beaner Bar.
*Bike gear from B's Bikes.
*A screen printing or jewelry design class at 3rd Ward.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

North Brooklyn Story Project

The NBSP is born? At NAG's organizing meeting tonight, we were a group devoted to "Improving our Quality of Life and Preserving Community Character." Nine people now believe in the North Brooklyn Story Project! (Excellently, Keith Wagstaff of Williamsburg is Dead was in my group, along with Gregor, Cheryl, Ward, Irene, Stephanie, and my pals Daniel and Terrence.) Anyway, each organizing team (the others are committed to preserving affordable housing, expanding open space, and improving transportation) had an hour or so to build consensus around a short-term and long-term project, to be pursued in subsequent meetings and presented at the next NAG organizing gathering in February. It's program development, baby. And the story project is the long-term way to galvanize people across the community to work toward all kinds of common good. (Our short-term project is to map garbage can locations and make calls to 311 and petitions to City Council for better receptacle allocation, coupled perhaps with some litter education.)

Speaking of common good, if you haven't yet, write an e-letter to Governor Patterson to keep East River State Park open all winter. Assemblyman Joseph Lentol is doing his part - won't you?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

PETA Underground

Protecting animals to the end. One of the things that has been most frustrating about PETA over the years, and about eco-movements in general, is the accompanying eco-righteousness. I am more inclined to like a PETA (and any activist movement (or NON-activist movement, as this article argues) that takes its cause seriously...but remembers how to laugh (even if it be very, very darkly).

I'll be cremated or donated to science. But if I had a coffin, I would like graffiti on it please. Piece me up.

You Know You've Made It (Lost It?) When

the Real World comes to your town. If the new-old recession, crime, and hipster bingo aren't reality enough, check out real people playing real people in Brooklyn at The Paley Center (52nd Street between 5th and 6th Aves), this Friday at 6:30 p.m.

Community, Yo

If you live in Williamsburg, Greenpoint, or a combination of the two, come out to the Neighbors Allied for Good Growth community organizing extravaganza tomorrow night at 7 p.m., at the Holy Ghost Church Hall Basement (160 North 5th Street between Bedford and Driggs). The last meeting was October 2nd and now, post-elections, W/G is ready to hit the ground running (in green, garbage-free parks!) or perhaps riding the (fast and uncrowded) L. The meeting will result in the formation of four committees to take over the world in the following ways:

1. By preserving affordable housing options for residents;
2. By improving open space and access to the waterfront;
3. By offering safe and quick transportation options for the neighborhood; and
4. By improving quality of life and preserving community character.

Ultimately, the neighborhood's walls say it best:


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Words for No Words

“When they were saying they had to leave, that an employee got killed, people were yelling, ‘I’ve been on line since yesterday morning,’ ” Ms. Cribbs told The Associated Press. “They kept shopping.”

Mumbai beseiged; Jos, Nigeria, rioting; and the word enough inanely and tragically forgotten just outside the city. Black Friday earned its name, even while joy persisted elsewhere. Sometimes only poetry will do life justice. The following is part of a project of sorts with a lawyer/artist friend whom I admire very much and who provides me with photographs for poeming.

Burning Bush

“Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” – Exodus 3:5

How can we tell,
these days of perpetual
calamity and joy,
the origin of the voice?

Not one moment less
joyful than the next,
not one less full of hell.
Everything is clamoring.

It was easier to hear
the angels then, but
difficulty has always been
the larger part of grace.

Out my own window,
there’s a sycamore,
a century-old restaurant,
and red fire escapes.

Here, too, amidst clouds
and chords, still more
unnamable things burn
and are not consumed.

Friday, November 28, 2008


Waking early (though about to sleep again), I set to thinking about the fact that I've now lived eight Novembers in New York, and I've been here for all the Thanksgivings, except for in 2001, when I went back to Illinois. 2002 was the first and only time I've seen the Macy's Parade, and yesterday was my favorite gathering yet, not to be beaten for company (more here), mellowness, and thoughtful, lovely food.

I'm also reminded of a passage in Gatsby that contrasts east coast parties to their counters in the Midwest: "They were here - They knew that presently dinner would be over and a little later the evening too would be over and casually put away. It was sharply different from the West where an evening was hurried from phase to phase toward its close in a continually disappointed anticipation or else in sheer nervous dread of a the moment itself." I'm grateful for the perpetual overcoming, which process brings me closer and closer to home in its truest sense.

Last night, we all trooped up to the roof before people headed into the night, and turning my eyes into a 360-degree panoramic camera, I was amazed afresh by the dark of South Brooklyn, the bright necklace of the Williamsburg Bridge, the grand cutout of the Orthodox dome, a turkey-colored and majestic Empire State, and the several spires marching off into Greenpoint and points further east.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Okay...I do have plans. In fact, this is going to be the most local of all local Thanksgivings, in that I don't have to set foot out of my building. T and I are cooking for half a dozen NYC denizens ("over the river and Under the BQE..."), and the food is all from local farms. The coffee I'm about to go buy, however, is not. But Michael Pollan loves corn there.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Eve

I'm boiling sweet potatoes to make sweet potato custards and thought I'd drop by and say hello. The radiator has just begun whistling, the night is clear and cold (temperature being one thing that I want below average), the cats have climbed into a paper bag, and the sky remains open over Withers Street (for now... - thanks, recession!). This has been an amazing year of growth and artistic abundance, and I just wanted to send a little love out into the ether.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hallelujah II

Unbelievably great news. May the BQE crumble and the ailanthus speak a leafy reclamation through the beautiful skeletons of automobiles.

I wish the country knew that it's going to be alright. The effects of economic collapse are being felt everywhere - Sunac prices have gone up considerably, I realized tonight (this, a rapid realization of the Pollan prophecy that Americans will no longer reliably spend just nine percent of their budgets on food), and I thought of the millions of people far less lucky than me - but, just as our strengths have been our weaknesses until now, our weaknesses will also be our strengths. We've done it before, and we can do it again...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Plug: The Cheese Stands Alone

Come ring in Thanksgiving week with cheese loving local know what I mean.

Auld Lang Kellogg's

Gone is the old Kellogg's Diner, arrived is the new. For surreal experiences, stopping by for an omelette might take the cake: walk into what was once a bright, coffee-clinking greasy spoon, and find...of course!...a lobster tank, come-hither lights, and a full bar behind the pie and cake display case. Tiffany and I (she's in the press again!) stopped by Sunday, after a fun, theatrical clothing swap at The Brick. Seeking only some coffee and a crumb or two of something sweet (that's all girls eat: crumbs), we of course would meet Courtney (Harlem bartender) and Tad (South 5th waiter), with whom we talked about the local Thanksgiving concept (no, Pathmark is not local), compulsive journaling, the South Williamsburg "mob," working on a cruise ship, and visiting "cats" (i.e. dating in the 21st century). Sanka,* a hazelnut cappuccino, crumbs, a - what the! - bottle of wine, and a couple of nips of whiskey? $13.75. Discovering new folks, facts, and recipes for sweet potato pudding? Priceless.

*If I were starting a new blog, I would call it Why I Love Sanka. Because I do.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Anthony and the Milk Bottle

It's good to be home. After running at the track today, and bumping into a couple of my old Italian neighbors (we of course talked about the weather), I picked up some produce and milk at the farmers' market. A quart of Ronnybrook Farm milk cost me $1.25, as buyers get $1 off the price for each glass bottle they return. Starting to feel ridiculous in short running shorts, as the wind finally began to pick up and banish these global warming temps, I walked, milk under arm and vegetables over shoulder, to Settepani for coffee. After a quick chat there, I was heading home, when a man outside the Lorimer Market (good for prepared salads, sandwiches, cold cuts, and the like) stopped me to talk about my bottle of milk. Anthony (it's a safe bet that Brooklyn-Italian guys you meet in the neighborhood respond to Anthony or Pete) didn't know much about the farmers' market, but he was intrigued by the glass bottle; he was looking for glass because it keeps longer and doesn't get punctured in transport. When I told him about the deposit system, whereby you get the $1 back for every glass bottle returned, he got even more excited. I suggested that the shop might start up a program like those that stores do to get people to bring back old soda and beer bottles, and also that each time people returned the bottles they'd be coming into the shop again, which is good for business. At one point, Anthony actually took the bottle and disappeared for a few minutes to show it to Jerry, his brother-in-law and the owner (Brooklyn-Italians are also all related). The long and short of it is that I told them more about the farmers' market, including its hours (6 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Saturday) and said I'd hook them up with a Ronnybrook contact. I also confirmed that there would be great local demand for the product, that they might consider carrying other Ronnybook items, and that other local proprietors (like Sunac) are already doing so. The mission I've been articulating for myself for awhile (and that is fast picking up speed) is to re/create and re/integrate local food networks, and today was a serendipitous example of the increasing interest in and potential fruits of such endeavors.

I am the Singer

Glasgow to New York: dressing up in Belle & Sebastian's "Dress Up in You."

It's always made me think of Gatsby ("The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic.") and this little expressway.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Balanced Diet

It's autumn, and what better time to 1) cook local vegetables in new and delicious ways, and 2) laugh at cute vegetables being murdered while ruminating on past relationships. If these activities appeal, then fellow Brooklyn residents Ameet and DV have the sites for you (and for Ameet I'll even bury the hatchet):

Rice of Life, proud sponsor of sharp knives, the Park Slope Food Co-Op, and chunks of energy.

(photo by AM)

Daily Violence, proudly occupying a new space above (because superior to) Daily Zen.

(drawing by DV)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Poem Interlude

Walking North from the River Clyde

In the lee of the mortuary,
weathered Victorian brick itself
in the lee of the Court,
there’s a victims’ shelter,
an art gallery, and a costume
shop, and you can steal
looks into the long windows
as you walk up Saltmarket,
continue on High, and arrive
at the dappled, climbing
Necropolis, beneath which
is a brewery and a museum
that delights in our believing.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Applying Villette

"I went wandering whither chance might lead, in a still ecstasy of freedom and enjoyment; and I got...into the heart of city life. I saw and felt London at last: I got into the Strand; I went up Cornhill; I mixed with the life passing along; I dared the perils of crossings. To do this, and to do it utterly alone, gave me, perhaps an irrational, but a real pleasure... In the city you are deeply excited." Villette, Charlote Brontë

I have wandered wherever luck takes me ("Be well. Be lucky," Leonard Cohen said last night). I have gained an ecstasy of peace without realizing it. I found an old friend in Dublin, I find a new one in Glasgow ("dear green place"), which is more hardscrabble and hence more, in a way, me (but less home than Dublin, which has held my heart for years).

I have seen and felt Glasgow. I passed the old Custom House; I went up Saltmarket to the Necropolis; I listened to the round-cornered talk all around me; I bought green beans and apples and chocolate. The key is indeed the solitude...and the pleasure is not irrational.

Happiness with the Dubs, happiness with the Weegies. (And think how great Brontë would be considered today if she had better bandied words like "weegie.")

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Empty Cystal Ball

Since I've had poetry on the brain, it was nice to turn to the old familiar Times (homesickness is the gift of fresh eyes) and find an op-ed section devoted to the words and voices of five poets. A is for Ashbery, B is for Bang...and theirs were the poems I liked best.

I am on the edge of my seat here...on the edge of my bed,
rather...because it's bedtime in Dublin,
and I am dreaming
of waking
to good news.

Irish Eyes, and the World's

The 2.5-inch headline in a Dublin daily yesterday: "Barack to the Future in U.S?" Then: "It's decision time. The most dramatic election ever seen in Ireland is about to reach its climax - and the Irish don't even have a say in it."

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Homage to Leaving

I'm off to Ireland and Scotland and, as always, felt that pre-homesick pang yesterday, walking around this dear neighborhood. Since the Pool is now under construction (they're building a Skate Park on the south end, and refurbishing the arch - both projects slated for completion in 2009), I tried to capture a little of what the space is now...inside and out.

Here's to coming home to President-Elect Obama and a joyful November.

(Skate park under construction.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Gratitude and Tongues

I forgot, yesterday, to mention four lines Ashbery read from four different poems, on Monday, which themselves could make a poem (poet: Ashbery, editor: Me):

"He wears a question in his left eye.
The land was made of paper.
The print could rhyme with a falling star.
Things merely ended when they ended."

And, still considering the tongue, we went to the Taste of Greenmarket benefit on Wednesday (all proceeds benefitting the Greenmarket/Council on the Environment of NYC, and I decided to eat meat. It's a foray I haven't made since February 2006, when I ended a year of chef apprenticing and meat exploration with a steak in Buenos Aires. That year reminded me of the reasons I'd become vegetarian when I was 19, and I went back to it feeling very alive and very grateful. I found that, having been vegetarian for so long, eating meat became a spiritual experience during which I could visualize another animal's body becoming part of my own. I decided on Wednesday to feel this deep connection again, by tasting as many animals as possible (five!), all raised humanely on local turf, as follows:

Chicken by Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern (courtesy my Swedish chef friend Svante, who after all did not move to Italy): skewers of Norwich Meadows Farm Chicken, Husk Cherries [aka tomatillos!], and Cherry Lane Farm Brussels Sprouts.

Pork and Duck by Mary Cleaver of The Green Table: Greenmarket Gumbo with Flying Pigs Pork and Quattro's Game Farm Duck.

Goat by Patti Jackson of Centovini, I Trulli: Farroto with Lynnhaven Braised Baby Goat and Autumn Vegetables from Mountain Sweet Berry Farm, Paffenroth Gardens, and Gorzynski Ornery Farm.

Oysters by Marc Meyer of Cookshop: Fried Blue Moon Oysters, Red Jacket Orchards Apple Slaw, and Eckerton Hill Farms Chili Remoulade.

Pork by Damon Wise of Craft: Braised Pork Cheek, Pickled Black Trumpets, Butternut Squash and Pancetta Vinaigrette, featuring produce from Paffenroth Gardens.

All told, more than 11 local farms provided the vegetables and animals for these dishes. Kind of like lots of Ashbery lines combining into something nourishing and new.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wonder v. Fatigue

"I think you (and John, too, for that matter) must watch what is always the great danger with any 'surrealistic' style, namely of confusing authentic nonlogical relations which arouse wonder with accidental ones which arouse mere surprise and in the end fatigue." - W.H. Auden, in his 1956 rejection of Frank O'Hara for the Yale Younger Poets Prize. I heard Ashbery (who was 29 in 1956) read on Monday, at the Y, his breath hardly caught between poems, and bearing easy. He actually didn't read one of his poems that, for whatever reason of timing and light, struck me the most, back in May 2004, when it appeared in The New Yorker:

by John Ashbery

Dear spit, the week is turning over
with the world. All is angry shouting outdoors.
I feel like one of St. Ursula's virgins
taking a last look at shelving rock and tree,
sailing into what must be the ineffable
if indeed it means anything to itself.

Tomorrow the stone judge will be here,
then more and more pioneers,
covering the basin as far as one can see
into blue beginnings. The have their place
in the populations, but are nominally
no more than we, planted here to survey them
and moving backward with sips of the tide.

We knew the tower bridge was jury-rigged,
the spirit spoof a trickle in the eye of God
we behold from a questioning though necessary
distance. In summer it was straw hats and licorice,
which, fading, leave a taste for other novelties
and sundries. It is never too late for stealth,
mourning itself, or the other irregular phantoms.

Poem Interlude

Poem on an Oatmeal Tin

Finest needs and good steel,
the works of all nations.

The chairman executive,
the centennial commission:

100 per the facts – and

1 into 2008:

one day (100% minutes

in accordance
with honey)

best saturated,

fresh and stirring

and stirring:
insoluble beginning

characteristic heart.

How to Dine Exceptionally Late at the End of October

*a handful of couscous
*some garlic and shallots, minced
*half a dozen leaves Italian kale
*a daikon radish
*some chopped onion
*some olive oil
*some lemon juice
*a handful of dried berries
*lettuce leaves
*a dressing of mustard, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, thyme, and soy sauce
*salt, pepper, and a few hot pepper flakes

Sauté the onion, radish, and kale (in that order) in hot olive oil. Add some lemon juice. Boil water and cook the couscous with the garlic and shallots; add berries. Tear up some lettuce, sprinkle with feta, and dress lightly. Season the hot couscous and sautéed vegetables, mix into the crisp salad, and eat immediately, preferably while reading a magazine, wrapped in a blanket.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday Zen

"The voidness of the universe
is capable of containing all
things of various forms and shapes,
such as the sun, moon, stars,
mountains, rivers, the great earth,
springs, streams, mountain torrents,
plants, trees and woods,
good and bad people,
good and bad things,
heavens and hells,
all the great oceans.
All these are in the void.
The voidness of worldly people
is also contained in it. " -Altar Sutra

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Poem Interlude

Ode to a Coil

There's something
about a coil. The black
licorice phone cord. And
the chignon against a word
like nape. The snake,
resting dryly, tasting
the light. The thin curl of smoke
from a thin cigarette. A spiral
of Cumberland pig. And
springs and boing,
hives and buzz. And
screws for twisting
corks of sky, and a spiral
nebula, which is a spiral
galaxy, and the more amorphous
patterning, round and round
figure-eighting, which
spirographically sighs
nothing new and
once upon a time.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


When the landlords wanted to raise rents from $2,400/month to $6,000+, Laurence Elliott, proprietor (with wife Ayako) of the old Read Café, headed south. His new joint, Rabbithole (Bedford and South 3rd, marked by a carrot), serves ~$12 brunch plates, including things like soft French omelettes with goat cheese and tomatoes, fennel and raisin french toast, baked eggs with Mornay sauce, and spicy corn salad. The coffee is good and the outdoor garden lively and peaceful at once - prepare to enjoy it because the wait for food can be long (a waitress today was overheard saying that the cooks are still learning the recently changed menu). On this fine morning/afternoon, T and I occupied ourselves by recounting urban escapades and making leaf sculptures (photo courtesy T, shadow courtesy me).

The monthly rag, Williamsburg Greenpoint News+Arts, recently featured an article about Rabbithole by Carlos Centeno, who writes, "Rabbithole, which opened in June, has brought much of the Read's zest and spirit to the Southside...It retains the same neighborhood hangout vibe, with regulars coming in as often as three times a day." The indoor space is indeed spacious and cozy, with lots of wood, the smell of things baking below-ground, and friendly people sitting with mugs and books.

Neither among customers nor cooks is there the slightest trace of a hurrying hare.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Portrait: The Farm in North Brooklyn

From left to right: Red Jacket Orchards quince and Pippin and Fuji apples; Hearty Roots Farm carrots, turnips, parsley, kohlrabi*, celeriac, potato, lettuce, leek, and baby bear pumkin; Red Jacket Orchards tomatillos; Consider Bardwell Farm Danby Feta**; Ronnybrook Farm milk (my new favorite thing: the organic, straight-from-the-cow and minimally processed milk costs $2.25/quart when you return the previous week's glass bottle. The farm also offers yogurts, crème fraîche, half-and-half, butter, and eggs); and local garlic (the woman from whom I purchased the bulbs called them "wee").

Not pictured: bok choy and, from last week, green cabbage, daikon, eggplants, beets, kale, collards, broccoli, thyme...

*From Hearty Roots weekly update: "Kohlrabi is a German word meaning turnip cabbage. The preparation can be as easy as radish and delicious eaten raw. Peel the outer skin with a paring knife. Slice, dice, or grate, and add to salads. Use on raw vegetable platters or serve with a creamy dip. Substitute in recipes calling for radishes. Grated kohlrabi can be added to slaw, but lightly salt it first and let stand for several minutes. Squeeze to remove any excess water before adding dressing. Kohlrabi can also be steamed or boiled. For this preparation don't peel until after they are cooked. Steam or boil until bulbs are tender, peel skin, and season with butter, salt, and pepper, a cheese sauce, or just enjoy plain."

**"From Consider Bardwell Farm's cheese descriptions: A firm yet crumbly, sharply tangy and salty raw-milk cheese in the Greek Feta style, made from goat’s milk and aged in brined whey. We often drizzle this cheese with a little light oil and herbs but it is also a great addition to fresh green salads and pizza. It is available by the round or wedge, or crumbled and marinated in 8-ounce containers."

The Consider Bardwell goats, photo courtesry CBF:

Friday, October 17, 2008


Free association makes constellations of disparate stars - and some of the forms burn brighter, whether because of fate or timing or dumb luck. I saw Woyzeck, with music by Nick Cave, at BAM tonight. Chris Isherwood didn't love it, claiming that it lacks the tragic spirit of Georg Büchner's still-modern 1836 play (unfinished and fragmentary when the author died at 23). Yet...this increasingly disjointed, stimulus-driven world can be well served in art, I think, by expanses of silence - and also by rapid-fire sensory experience and juxtapositions of the sweet and the horrible, of which this version of Woyzeck delivers plenty. I found it evocative and sad, and drew star patterns with the themes of torture, simplicity versus mechanization, true love versus material splash, inwardness, modern despair, and the loss of innocence and thoughtfulness in a world of brutality and homogenization.

Woyzeck slowly goes mad, experimented on by doctors in order to earn money for the woman he loves, crazed by this woman's affair with the drum major, and dehumanized in his milirary experiences. Today, I was reading an article from the September 29th New Yorker, about the great love some people bear the U.S. military, even while their experiences in it unravel their lives. Travis Twiggs, a Marine deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan five times, is the article's tragic protagonist. Following his various stints in the Middle East, and the torment of coming home, Twiggs (courageously) shared with the military community his experience with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and worked with returning soldiers who suffered from it. For myriad reasons, and despite being well loved, Twiggs committed suicide in May.

In January, Twiggs had written, "Every day is a better day now. As my body and mind grow does my spirit. I see everything so much differently now. Looking back, I don't believe anyone is to blame for my craziness, but I do think we can do better. We have got to make our Marines and sailors more aware of PTSD before they end up like me and others."

According to the New Yorker article, a RAND Corporation study estimated that nearly 20 percent of people who have served in "America's post-9/11 wars" suffer from PTSD, which many doctors believe should be considered not a disorder but an injury. That's 300,000 veterans. Yet Dr. Ira Katz, chief of mental services at the Department of Veteran Affairs, in hearing about numbers like these, wrote in an e-mail to a colleague, "Shh!...Is this something we should (carefully address ourselves in some sort of release before somebody stumbles on it?"

This is the world Woyzeck lives in. It's also a world of love, potentially. The New Yorker article is as much about Twiggs' wife, Kellee, as it is about him. If cowardice is many costumes...courage is many different kinds of nakedness. Kellee remembers, "He'd hear a car coming up our gravel road here and just hit the floor, just bam, because the tires crunching sounded like machine-gun fire to him. Or he'd just go sit upstairs and watch for lights - watch for Iraquis, because that's what he used to do in Iraq. I'd call his name, get him back to bed, and the only way I could get him to sleep was to put him in a bear hug and rock him. Then he'd sleep."

This is the world Woyzeck lives in. Tom Waits wrote a musical based on the play in 2002, called Blood Money. It incorporates Waits' signature carnival sounds with poignant lyrics and vocals that, by turn, grate and break the heart.

I went walking when I got back to this corner of Brooklyn tonight, and captured, Under the BQE, my own version of these stars, this moon (the middle light in the last photo), and the surrounding dark.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Celebration Interlude


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

If You Missed It

Post-Debate Analysis

We wanted real issues during tonight's third and final presidential debate, and what did we get? From Barack "Eight-Year-Old Terrorist Prodigy" Obama: more intelligent, graceful proof that there will be a steady hand at the wheel come January 20th. From John "Hatchet to the Head" McCain: more self-satisfied and inarticulate hogwash - and you can't even put lipstick on hogwash.

But despite their differences, both candidates steered clear of a big issue on the minds of many Americans tonight (yes, perhaps even Joe the Plumber). That issue? Penguins. America, allow me to set the record straight:

(The release happened 10/4/08. Sure, energy was required to make it happen. Sure, the future of the little guys is uncertain. But a bunch of people banded together to do something with a heart - and that's a beginning, whether on La Calle Main or Pennsylvania Avenue.)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Brilliance Plus Brilliance

A breath of fresh air in the land of existential angst, courtesy of the wry and pint-loving Dan Walsh in Dublin.

The site came to my attention whilst reading a recent Rolling Stone article about the new, "naturalist" face of humor: "The new deadpan style has reached its purest expression in Dan Walsh's Garfield Minus Garfield. Last February, Walsh started posting Jim Davis' Garfield comic strip online, with one significant change: he deleted Garfield. In cutting the cat, Walsh put the strip's straight-man protagonist, Jon Arbuckle, in a Beckett-like world of semicomic despair. Davis, embracing the zeitgeist, gave the remix his blessing."

Says Walsh of his own (re)creation, "[It's] a comic about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life...a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness and methamphetamine addiction in a quiet American suburb."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Aloft Around the Block

"Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns." George Eliot