Thursday, July 31, 2008

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Girl is Strange, No Question

Thanks to Justine at Greenpointers for including me in her Blog Buzz feature. Lots of love in the hood today...waved to Kiki on the track, exchanged good mornings with the old men outside the Catholic war veterans hang-out on Lorimer and Jackson, picked up some trash, and chatted with folks at the bakery. Lest this start to sound too much like some insipid fantasy-land, know that the pylon-diggers are pounding away, everyone is using too much energy, and happily ever after might be a category in the DSM. (But, despite all this, I can't quite shake it...the joy.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dream, Dream, Fail, Repeat

My iPod was stolen last week, and not Under the BQE but on the glittering island itself by some member of the glittering masses. I hope they enjoy the music; I'm considering it a fresh start. In fact, having fewer songs to choose from is making me appreciate what's there more. Why did I need the mansion iPod when I could have the cute Brooklyn apartment iPod? I mean really.

Anyway, it's about music now - read: happiness - and seeing Ravens & Chimes last night was one dose (despite the hipsters lurking and, yea, talking during the show. C'mon guys - strut your nonchalant stuff, but RESPECT, okay?).

Anyway, R&C were wonderful at the Bowery Ballroom, and they were followed by The Silver State and Margot and the Nuclear So & So's. I like the sound of Margot lots. The Silver State not as much...a little too smug, both musically and lyrically. (Disclaimer: I didn't actually hear the second two bands because I was in the cozy upstairs of the Ballroom chattering, which was lovely).

But let's do a quick comparison. Of all three bands, I would say that, for me, Ravens & Chimes has it all - melody, lyrics, heart (read: earnestness), and (for crying out loud) the know-how and bravery to cover Leonard Cohen (perhaps my only constant companion). The Silver State has some clean songs, but they leave me feeling pretty cold. And Margot, she's got the sound but the lyrics sometimes lack the poetry I'm seeking. For a side-by-side comparison (actually, a one-on-top-of-the-other comparison), consider these words:

Ravens & Chimes, from "The House Where You Were Born": "The last time we were in this house/you were younger then/and you danced in the kitchen all night/while I played the mandolin/and you said if the sun never comes up/would you lay with me all day/but outside the window to the east/the morning bloomed in glorious red."

The Silver State, from "Faith You Changed Your Name": "There's a billboard outside my window/that's telling me to drink/a bottle a hundred times/bigger than me - and/believe me I've been trying/for weeks now."

Margot and the Nuclear So & So's, from "Broadripple is Burning": Honey broadripple is burning/and the girls are gettin' sick/off snorting coke up in the bathroom/while their boyfriends pick up chicks/and darling I'm lost/I heard you whispering /that night in Fountain Square/trash-filled streets made me wish we were headin' home."

Another band (rather, artist) that seems to have it all is Drew Henkels of Drew & the Medicinal Pen. He's playing at a Sound Fix-sponsored gig this Friday (Sound Fix: Bedford and North 11th; the event is at Automotive High (a real high school, not an ironic name!), part of the Rooftop Films series, which is building community, sustaining art, and perhaps saving something like Bohemia).

Here's a Fordham Observer article about Drew, and here are a couple of excerpts that particularly spoke to me:

"Around New York, Henkels is probably best known for his music, which follows in the tradition of contemporary singer-songwriters such as Elliot Smith and John Darnielle (of the Mountain Goats). Under the moniker Drew and the Medicinal Pen, his most recent undertaking is a self-produced collection of songs entitled "dream, dream, fail, repeat," which will be released March 31, 2007... His lyrics reflect an optimistic wistfulness. 'A lot of stuff that I write comes from free verse, I'll just pick up the pen and not put it down,' Henkels said. 'Growing up, I've had a lot of health issues, and the older I've gotten, the more I write, and figure out how deal with that stuff on my own...' Perhaps the strongest aspect of Henkels' music is his capability to craft poetic verses that fit like puzzle pieces with his folksy melodies - a skill previously mastered by classic American songsmiths and less common among today's artists in the genre. 'I love melody, and people that can craft melody and then match that with lyrics, that's what I aspire to.'"

Poem Interlude


Then the eye
I guess part
of it was lost
along with what
we stopped saying

She said I'll never
see perfectly again,
the cuts too close
to center, scarring

as much there
as where we stopped
feeling or kept
feeling but stopped
believing in sight

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Who Thought This Was A Good Idea: Part 1

Please enjoy the first part of a - yes, believe it or not - more than one-part series of home videos taken by people driving on the BQE. This video alone has been viewed almost 3,000 times and testifies to H. L. Mencken's pet opinon that democracy is "incomparably idiotic, and hence incomparably amusing."

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Beyond Stones

...old photographs; a nap; tomatoes and carrots from Hearty Roots; bread from Settepani; solid poetry work at the café; the lingering warmth of real friends!; running without music; a simple bottle of Bordeaux; the feel of autumn in my bones...

"The Stone Age didn't end because there were no more stones. It ended because people became more intelligent." Ahmed Zaki Yamani

Poem Interlude

Not poems but a self-call: last week two of my poems were accepted by The Portland Review. They receive over 1,000 poems each year and only accept around 30.

Local Farms Verbatim

A letter from Benjamin Shute, Hearty Roots farmer:

"Farm Notes: Sustainable Farms in the Media

Small sustainable farmers are all over the media lately. A few years back, Hearty Roots might have been in an occasional story in our local paper or a food related magazine. These days, we have literally been inundated with requests from filmmakers, TV and radio producers, and editors of books, newspapers, and magazines. In fact, this week in Brooklyn we will have a crew from Japanese Public Television (NHK) filming distribution of the vegetables; this past weekend Stoneledge Farm, which is in a neighboring county to ours, had a film crew from ABC News documenting their Garlic Harvest for a national TV feature; and last week, I was invited to speak on the radio about the economics of small farming, on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show.

In the past few months alone, the New York Times has featured stories on young urbanites becoming farmers; corporate executives switching to the farm lifestyle; CSA in general; and people hiring gardeners to create their own organic CSA's in their back yards.

Is this just a fad, or is there something going on to merit all this attention? Judging by our experience at Hearty Roots, this is more than just media hype - we're in the midst of a local food and farming movement whose growth is momentous. Hearty Roots has seen unprecedented demand for our CSA shares this season, selling out far earlier than we ever have before. We are seeing new farms pop up and hearing from many people who are excited about learning to farm. We've been forced to turn down many neighborhoods, restaurants, and specialty stores interested in getting our produce, since even though we have grown our farm by nearly 100 percent each season, we are still unable to keep up with demand.

So what's next? In order for this local food movement to keep up with the media attention, and demand from a locavore-savvy public, we need more farmers! Even in our area, which faces development pressure due to its proximity to NYC, there is lots of land that is currently growing low value crops like hay - land that could be used to grow higher value crops to meet NYC's demand for fresh, local produce. It will be no easy task to achieve this: we need changes in local, state and federal policy; we need young people who are working for farmers now to have the tools they need to launch their own farms; we need to protect our existing farmland from development; and we need existing commodity farmers to diversify into direct-marketing. It won't happen overnight, but now is the time to build our capacity for a strong, local, sustainable agricultural sector in the future."

"You don't need to be wearing a cummerbund."

A shout-out to the recently interviewed, soon-to-be-featured in Spin, Chris Owyoung, who takes amazing photographs (many of them at the Pool), throws a mean roundhouse kick, turns tea to poetry, digs up delicious things in Chinatown, and does NOT club baby seals.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Hipster Cake!

The photographer calls it Redneck Cake, but it's a short stroll from Pascagoula to Conselyea.

A few ways to create non-hipster spin-offs:
*O'Doul's cans
*boxes decorated with social justice messages
*white AND black candles
*expensive beer
*real cake

p.s. I didn't take the photo.

Better than Borrowing a Cup of Sugar

So it turns out that Williamsburg is Dead, still quite alive, is largely penned by my lovely neighbors, Corrina and Brian. The funniest part is that when I requested a link exchange with the site, I had no idea that much of it originates just 20 feet away (or - thanks Malenches! - one foot away door-to-door). I would say that both 1L and 1R are living proof that "anyone can do any amount of work provided it isn't the work he's supposed to be doing at the moment" (ah, Benchley) - except that my catsitting extraordinaire neighbors are in high demand to do just this kind of writing work...perhaps because, unlike me, they're hilarious and stay on topic. Props!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Traveling Again

"I think it started with driving: more speed, more deals, more
sky, more wheels,
More things to leave behind, now it's all in a day for the
modern mind.
And I am traveling again,
Calling this a ghost town, and where is the heartland?
And I'm afraid, oh, was there any good reason, that I had to go
When all I know is I can never come back." Dar Williams

Traveling Again (Traveling I) - Dar Williams

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

This Is Where We Are

Before the rain came we went out walking in this borough of summer life, winding up near a stretch of the BQE I didn't know, near Newtown Creek, near more defunct factories, all permeated by an intense river smell that I now realize is the Greenpoint Sewage Plant.

Finding a new stretch of the dear expressway made me want to pay it a little more homage, so I dug up this BQE history site, which contains a lot of interesting information. I especially like the depiction of BQE as underdog: "The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway was plagued with design flaws. Sharp curves, lack of shoulders, short acceleration and deceleration ramps, and confusing left-exit configurations were characteristics of the pre-Interstate era expressway."

And the description - eerily foreshadowing today's development (yet also providing comfort that, yes, history is a cozy circle that hopefully is moving us, slowly, slowly forward) - of Robert Moses looking out over his misunderstood monster:
"During construction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, Moses rented the penthouse floor of the Marguerite Hotel - an old, sedate establishment right next to the expressway - and used it as an office. It had two advantages: only very few people knew of its existence, so he was interrupted by few telephone calls, and he could look down on the construction as he worked. And he spent a lot of time looking down at it, watching the cranes and derricks and earthmoving machines that looked like toys far below him moving about in the giant trench being cut through mile after mile of densely packed houses, a big black figure against the sunset in the late afternoon, like a giant gazing down on the giant road he was molding. 'And I'll tell you,' said one of the men who spent a lot of time at the old hotel with him, 'I never saw RM look happier than he did when he was looking down out of that window.'"

For those who want their Brooklyn looking, sounding, and smelling a little more lovely, come see Ravens & Chimes on Monday at the Bowery Ballroom.

"Do you think when he died
He was alone
There in the room with yellow walls?
When I left it was rising
Not the sun this time
The tide if I recall.
And you built there a fire
To remind us of the people,
The people that we are,
And the flames rose like spires
In the houses, yeah,
And each person there said,
'Do you think when I die,
I’ll be alone
Deep in the room with yellow walls?
Will you leave when its rising up all around you,
All around you?'
And you build me a fire
To remind you
of the person that I was,
And the flames rise like spires
In the houses
And each person there says,
'This is where we are.
This is where we are.
Don’t be frightened.'" Ravens & Chimes

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Vinho Verde and Berlin

My body cleaned of sickness, after 10 days I re-entered the world of drink, with a glass of the perfect summer wine, vinho verde, at a place with the perfect summer name, Shade. Okay, it's not Under the BQE. Nor is Berlin, whether in Germany or at Film Forum (I love it there...).

Lou Reed was so human. I think he's one of the finer examples (see: Johnny Cash) of artists whose pathos has grown huge over time and who can now, in age, evoke much with little. Having waited in vain to see Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, it was good to see his latest film and to imagine the reasons that Reed would pour out a passion in 1973 and then close up that piece of himself for 33 years (Berlin was not peformed live until 2006, at St. Ann's Warehouse in DUMBO - lest I lose my thread completely, check out this site, which fascinatingly traces the BQE through that neighborhood). It made me consider the pressures that would cause a man to bottle himself up, letting doubt and outside perceptions get in the way of himself...and then I thought about how easy it is to cling to notions of what is right while what is good and often truer (but harder) languishes or, at worst, is lost altogether. Since I'm writing again (poetry), I think these themes will pop up in something or another. For now, and on a lighter note, I'm eating crushed pineapple (crushed!) and getting ready for sleep. Good night, Brooklyn.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"Apparently the only signature the Mayor needed was my fist."

Thanks to Noah for making me laugh. This preview features some of the people and all of the writing that back in 2002 made the cult classic Firefly, a Fox-doomed series that contains some of the funniest, movingest dialogue out there. Dr. Horrible, an outside-the-box online musical from the brilliant Joss Whedon, begs two questions: 1) who'd have thought Neal Patrick Harris could make such a comeback (I mean, this and Harold and Kumar?)? and 2) Nathan Fillion, will you go out with me?

Teaser from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog on Vimeo.

Over the BQE: Corn Ethanol II (In a Corner)

I'm going back to a post from 6/23/2008, and quoting here from a Rolling Stone interview with Obama (July 10-24, 2008), by Jann Wenner:

JW: You've been a big supporter of ethanol. But studies show it doesn't do anything to reduce global warming, it's actually a less efficient way to produce energy than gasoline, and it's contributing to growing food shortages worldwide. Are you going to continue to back it?
BO: Corn-based ethanol I see as a transitional technology. We've got to invest in alternative fuels.
JW: This one is ranked as pretty bad.
BO: I understand, which is why we're going to have a transition from corn-based ethanol to cellulosic ethanol, not using food crops as the source of the energy.
JW: So you foresee this coming to an end.
BO: What I foresee is us transitioning into other ways of developing these energy sources. The fact that we had corn-based ethanol, and that industry has matured, provides us with distribution networks and infrastructure that can ultimately be used for other ethanol sources.

Obama is one of many who tout corn ethanol as a bridge to different kinds of ethanol. But while there is still promise in sugarcane ethanol, the jury is either out or has returned with a guilty verdict against corn, cellulosic, and other kinds of ethanol most fervently pushed by Americans.

Obama speaks of "distribution networks" for ethanol. Incidentally, I heard Naomi Klein talk about The Shock Doctrine last Wednesday, at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square (walking in with a Starbucks, she apologized for the "sold-out" event). One of her most important points, in my opinion, is that times of crisis are times of fear and growth; when the former wins, you get Fascism, when the latter triumphs, you get the New Deal. In terms of energy and the environment (and a dozen other issues), we are now at a crossroads not dissimilar to the early 1930s. In the U.S. then, Harold Ickes (Public Works Administration, which grew U.S. infrastructure), Harry Hopkins (Works Progress Administration, which grew the U.S. workforce), and many others spearheaded the investment of billions of dollars into building just the sort of "distribution networks" Obama mentions and Klein emphasizes are so critical to economic and environmental reclamation today.

If we play it safe and wrap ourselves in cozy blankets of rhetoric, we will be in a much worse place in 10, 50, 100 years. On the other hand, if a government can take the reins and create the infrastructure and the jobs for change, we'll be getting somewhere. In this case, what will the infrastructure and subsequent jobs look like? Maybe a large-scale mix of plants to develop hydrogen, solar, wind, and electric power...all better long-term options than ethanol.

And speaking of roads and change, I like this photo of a WPA crew removing old street car tracks on 4th Avenue in NYC. The photo was taken at 16th Street, facing south to 14th Street (the Orbach's department store was located at 48 East 14th Street from 1923 until 1954, and is now the location of the Union Square Whole Foods); note the treeless Union Square and its different statues.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Radio + Turnips = Saturday

Man, I love WNYC. (Join me Under the BQE and tune into 93.9 FM.) On Saturday and Sunday afternoons it brings especial happiness because Jonathan Schwartz comes on, one of those radio voices that speaks just to you and tastes every syllable.

Sampling from last summer:

It's a good escape. He just played "Summer in Ohio," "wasn't that just great?" he asks with a pregnant pause when the last notes fade.

"I could chew on tin foil for a spell
I could get a root canal in hell
But it wouldn't be as swell as this summer is gonna be!
'Cause the torture is just exquisite, while I'm waiting for you to visit
So hurry up, schmuck, get unstuck and get on the scene."

I love musicals.

It's brutally hot out, and Williamsburg, with its increasing dearth of buildings (can there be an increasing dearth?), feels like a big airstrip, concrete pulling light down on our heads like some hellbent avatar. (My first memory of an airstrip, incidentally, and the reason for their forever being associated with brutal summer, is of me and my grandparents at a Campvention in Ottumwa, Iowa, 1987.)

I'm caved up, sorting through today's CSA produce: turnips, beets, lettuce, savory (which I seem to have lost on the way home), tiny yellow squash, sturdy kale, and scallions that are all bulbs now, their tops shrivelled and cut as summer wears on.

Here's what I'm doing with two pounds of turnips:

1. Wash turnips, cut into matchsticks, and put into big bowl. Squeeze on some lime juice and grate out a bit of orange zest. Refrigerate until ready to use.
2. If you can bear it, once you've dropped off the compost and bought cat foot, go back out to fetch some plain yogurt and dried apricots.
3. Chop a few apricots into quarters and add to turnips.
4. Blend yogurt, soy sauce, dijon mustard, olive oil, savory (if you found it), salt and pepper, and maybe a little orange juice; dress turnips. (I snipped in some chives, too, and added a little bit of feta.)
5. Serve with some bread and beer when the sun goes down and appetites return.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dance of the Lily

It doesn't get more magical than turning onto your street one night in July to find a spinning tilt-a-whirl ride just a few doors down from your apartment, lights a-flashing, and a glimpse of a precarious spire around the corner on Havermeyer. The spire is the "giglio," or lily. For two weeks, bands strike up at odd hours, men walk about distributing loaves of bread, people line up to ride the ferris wheel and buy zeppoles, and general merriment ensues. The reason?

According to a good local flier, "Each year the Italian community of Williamsburg reenacts a fourth century pageant which commemorates the return of the Bishop of Nola, Paolino, from captivity. His release from Moorish slavery was cause for a great festival which became famous throughout southern Italy. The same celebration has occurred here in Brooklyn for the past 120 years, at the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Paolino was returned to his people by boat, a Moorish galleon with an Arab crew. On the shores of Nola, the joyous townspeople held raised lilies in their hands as a sign of homage to San Paolino."

(I wonder what happened to the Arab crew?)

The major part of the celebration consists of hundreds of men lifting both the lily and the galleon onto their shoulders and marching it through the streets. This occurred on Sunday. A nice twist this year is that I have had a brutal fever for the past three days, and my sleep on Sunday was, like some hallucinogenic Fellini scene, punctuated by oom-pa-pas and shouts, as dozens of people convened outside Bamonte's for food and fellowship.

The celebration continues through this Sunday, July 20th, so check it out.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

On Hipsters

I don't dislike "hipsters," I'm just curious. Why do I look like one but not feel like one? No good answer...but...a few signs that you might not be a hipster:
1. You get up early on Sundays.
2. Born-and-bred Williamsburgers tell you about the one and only remaining bar in which they feel comfortable.
3. You know the priest at a local church.
4. No skinny jeans.
5. Your vintage scarves were your grandmother's.
6. You moved to the city with a single suitcase.
7. You smile at people.
8. Wearing short shorts and track shoes means you're going running.
9. Earnestness!
10. You have health and dental and are grateful.
11. You've never been to a Pool Party.
12. Avoiding Bedford is the key to happiness.
13. You are uncomfortable surrounded by hipsters.
14. You sometimes feel guilty for living in Williamsburg.
15. You're not in a band.
16. When in Hana after midnight, you're usually buying carrots or catfood.
17. Your Leroy's Minnows t-shirt is from a bait-shop you used to go to in northern Minnesota.
18. You hate PBR.

There's something about #9 that is essential, and which separates non-hipsters from hipsters, those "members" of a "movement" that "journalist Christian Lorentzen says 'fetishizes the authentic' elements of all of the 'fringe movements of the post-war era - Beat, hippie, punk,...grunge, and white trash chic' and draws on the 'cultural stores of every unmelted ethnicity' and 'gay style,' and then 'regurgitates it with a winking inauthenticity' and a sense of irony." Lorentzen, who prefaces many of his articles with thoughts on hipsterdom goes on to say that hipsters, comprising a group of mostly white 18-34-year-olds, "have defanged, skinned, and consumed" all influences "into a repretoire of meaninglessness."

But do all generations do this, in different ways? And, underneath the omnipresent surface, mustn't there be some tremendous socioculturalpoliticoeconomic, heartwrenching reason for the seeming absence of heart?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Poem Interlude

I'm crossing Under the BQE tomorrow to head back to Illinois for a few days to visit the fam. A year ago today, my grandmother died, and I was about to fly home for the funeral, where I felt like a part of me was going to be buried too. I'm swimming back into my journal from those days, and I found this entry, which gives me hope now, at a time when hope and mourning and love are all tangled up again:

7/6/2007: There was something very practical about Grandma. I can hear her saying that death must happen and asking me questions about my life to distract me from tears."

The next day I wrote about my grandfather, my favorite person in the universe:

Sometimes my heart feels bigger than my whole body.

And here's a poem I wrote on 7/7/2007, the day I flew back to New York, and the date, this year, when I will fly back to New York again.

Untitled (July 7, 2007)

We make such a slight shadow, flying
over Illinois fields, roads, farms like Swiss dots, lives stretching
beyond sight into haze. Over cemeteries,
too, our wings make such a slight shadow, faint
as a white monogram on a white
handkerchief. Clouds cast bigger shadows, and,
slipping amongst them, we lose ours completely,
such as it was, barely a finger
of shadow brushing the face of the earth.