Sunday, August 31, 2008

Under the BQE: Literally

En route to Red Shed, to compost fruit and vegetable scraps (incidentally, the McCarren Park Compost Project is now do-it-yourself (as is Red Shed), but only from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays, whereas Red Shed is open all weekend), I snapped some photos from Under the BQE. Before the photos, though, I wanted to share this bit of good green news, from Green Brooklyn:

"On June 24th, Assembly Bill 11226 was passed allowing building owners in New York City who install green roofs on at least 50 percent of available rooftop space to get tax credit for it. Property owners will be able to apply for a one-year property tax credit of $100,000. The credit is equal to $4.50 per square-foot area that is planted vegetation. This is essentially 25 percent of the typical cost associated with materials, labor, design, and maintenance. The Storm Water Infrastructure Matters (S.W.I.M.) spear-headed the initiative with the help of Assembly Member Ruben Diaz. The law goes into effect on January 1st 2009 and will expire in 2013."

I hope Williamsburg/Brooklyn developers take heed (although many of their properties have green "floor space" right now, since development seems to be severely and blessedly stalled).

And now the photos:

(A square of trees in the Badame Sessa Triangle, at the intersection of Meeker, Withers, and Leonard.)

(1907 office of the Brooklyn Fireproof Sash and Door Co., near Manhattan and Meeker.)

(Closed Islamic poulterer at Meeker and Manhattan.)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Waking Up America in Under Six Minutes

Dennis Kucinich was to 2008 what Barack Obama was to 2004 (unpronounceable name and all), in my opinion if not the country's. Then again, note during his speech how fired up the Convention hall becomes (three, count 'em, three ovations), and note the tambourine that joins in around minute four:

Incredulity runs across people's faces, perhaps as it always does when someone is just flinging himself out there, mad gestures, enthusiasm, and all (earnestness tends to make people nervous). Kucinich, perhaps best known as a vegan, UFO-spotter, and husband to a lovely woman 31-years his junior, has long supported sensible policies that, in our backward (political) world, further contribute to his craziness. But in the words of Chess:

Molokov: The man is utterly mad...a lunatic.
The Russian: That's the problem. He's a brilliant lunatic and you can't tell which way he'll jump - like his game he's impossible to can't dissect him, predict him. Which of course means he's not a lunatic at all.

The cadences of Kucinich's speech made me think of another lunatic. In 1982, Kucinich reported $38 on his tax returns. "America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17, 1956." Kucinich advocates creating a Cabinet-level Department of Peace. "America when will we end the human war?" Kucinich calls on the U.S. to lead global nuclear disarmament. "Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb." Kucinich sees UFOs. "I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations." Kucinich would withdraw the U.S. from the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement, largely to protect American jobs. "Everybody was angelic and sentimental about the workers it was all so sincere." Kucinich is a Roman Catholic (though he became publicly pro-choice in 2003). "My ambition is to be President despite the fact that I'm a Catholic." Kucinich believes that "all life on our Earth {is} sacred." "Scott Nearing was a grand old man a real mensch." Kucinich is true to what he believes in, popularity be damned. "I refuse to give up my obsession."

"It occurs to me that I am America. I am talking to myself again."

America - Allen Ginsberg

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Change We Can Believe In (or, Earnest Interlude)

My grandpa and I swapped stories about our recent travels tonight, me to India and him to California, taking a trip that he never would have agreed to a year or two ago. As I watch Barack Obama accept his historic nomination as the Democratic candidate for the presidency, I'm thinking about "change we can believe in" and the stories we keep hearing about the heartland, the people who work hard and practice self-reliance and self-deprivation in order to make life better for their children and grandchildren. When I think of the heartland, it's not an abstraction, and it's not all's struggling and human and sometimes boring and sometimes ugly, full of empty sky and big-box stores, and people who look at strangers to say hello, though they mistrust fancy foods and large vocabularies - and I believe everyone on the coasts should travel there before going abroad because how can we know ourselves without looking inward, and how can we convey the U.S. to others without knowing the U.S? I am so proud to be a New Yorker, but my love for this city stems from my journey to get here. I think of my own family, my mom who cleaned rich people's homes to pay the bills, my dad who worked all shifts as dispatcher at a trucking company, uncomplainingly. My grandma, a nurse. My grandpa, a tool & dye man at John Deere, who served in the Pacific Theater for three years, a kid heading to war straight from an Illinois farm, with a Bible given him by his mom, a keen eye for detail, and a soon-to-be developed habit of trading ration cigarettes for others' chocolate. That's my grandpa - and it is thanks to him and my grandma that I'm here in Brooklyn tonight. Ottumwa, Iowa; Oklahoma City; Brainard, Minnesota; Gettysburg: they took me with them in their motor home across the U.S. And it's with them, when I was 11-years-old, that I first set foot on Manhattan. So here I am, and there Barack Obama is, radiating hope. My grandpa called earlier to tell me that he was going to be watching Obama's speech. A lifelong Republican, from when being Republican meant other, better things, my grandpa is tonight the change I can believe in, whole-heartedly Democrat in his 87th year, himself radiating hope and love to New York City from the heartland - and receiving my heart, in these thoughts.

(W.C. Williams once commented, "What a fool ever to be tricked into seriousness," and so my next post will contain some kind of absurdity, I promise. And I will now go to sleep with a smile. )

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Poem Interlude


"But how late to be regretting all this, even
Bearing in mind that regrets are always late, too late!" John Ashbery

January is warm as Mays
that brought blossoms,
though plump cherries
here, $3.99 a pint,
may not even grow on trees.

I think they shook them
from jars, wiped them clean,
attached fresh stems, and dyed
the flesh a holier red
for market. Cheery whores.

It's a question of remove
as my teeth hit a pit
and my memory gropes
for the sweetness that once
accompanied the pain.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

In the Middle of the Pool, I Call Your Name...

Tonight was the last Pool film of the summer, part of The L Magazine's SummerScreen series. The Open Space Alliance and others have made the Pool available to North Brooklyn denizens since 2004. Beginning next year, the Pool will become a pool again, as Mayor Bloomberg has allotted $50 million for a project to restore the space by 2011 (let's practice holding our breaths now). Here's a taste of what might be, courtesy Brownstoner and an unsung photographer from 1937:

And in closer detail, here's tonight, courtesy me:

The final film was Rushmore, part of the Wes Anderson canon that is considered by some to embody the "hipster ethos." But I don't agree, because all of his movies, to this eye, contain a poignant earnestness just under the snazzy surface. The dialogue, the silences, and the great song choices all highlight the bind we're in...of caring but trying to look like we don't. Uber-earnest songs like "Oh Yoko!," complete with exclamation point, are a reminder of what it is to feel and not be afraid to say so.

And the whole thing, in every sense:

Folking Out

Fall and folk music are going to go together like peanut butter and jelly (one of the things I missed most the last two weeks). On Thursday this week, check out Matt Jones at Sidewalk Cafe (Avenue A and 6th Street). Jo Williamson will be playing there on Sunday the 31st. And take note: Jezebel's Songfair will only be at Sound Fix for two more Mondays. On September 8th, they move to Public Assembly (between Wythe and Kent). "Taking place in the back room...Songfair will be NYC’s only open stage for both bands and solo artists. Performances run from 7 p.m.-11 p.m: solo performers play two songs each (=10 minutes), 7 p.m.-9 p.m; bands play three songs each (=15 minutes), 9pm-11pm."

Wouldn't the world be a better place if we were all learning how to play harmonicas?

Triptych, Including Indian BQE

I am happy to be home, revived by culture shock and reverse culture shock, and more appreciative than ever of being able to shower and drink from the tap. Here's an early-morning (circadian evening) preview to the photograhps I took while in India, with the first being a distant homage to here.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Poem Interlude


"[The elder twin of the divine being, Krishna,] Lord Balarama's transcendental form eclipses many millions of glistening moons."

India must be as strange
for him as for me, the little boy
whose blue twin dashes across
the room as he never will. Clasped
on laps or slouched on the floor,
the boy on the snake is not the one
people see first - and
his eyes know this as they know
how to light up when something
magical seems to be dancing
in the ordinary air all around.

Songs and Sickness

First I had fever in Brooklyn, and now I have fever in Bangalore - which has proven an opportunity to test my last post's theory of hands being there to catch me in this more community-oriented place. Being sick is also a cleansing...and perhaps it should be a part of any complete vacation!

Needless to say, I've been acquainted with bed for the past two days, mostly sleeping, but also reading and listening to music, as well as to the sounds of kids drifting up - and horns blasting up - from the street below. Mark Knopfler is good sick music. Rolling Stone recently did a feature on his continuing evolution, which is inspiration to someone who would like to be creating new things her whole little life.

Knopfler formed Dire Straits in 1977; though still very successful, they disbanded in 1995, when Knopfler felt they had become too big. I admire artists who know to move on when the art isn't feeling right, or before the wind goes out of the sails; it takes courage.

Reading the lyrics of some of his songs now, I'm set to wondering about the components of a song. Like a recipe, so much must come together (as this short post articulates) for the listener to be moved. I've always felt that songs have advantages over poetry, because they have the hook of melody, which can captivate more quickly than words. I'm always interested in knowing what people listen to first: melody/harmony/rhythm or lyrics. My dad is a melody person, and my mom is a lyrics person. I'm both, which explains why, to my mom's chagrin, I got hooked on certain unmentionable pop songs of the early '90s.

A good song, though, blends music and poem and is a romance and a story and something that grows with you over time.

Here are some lyrics from "In the Sky," one of the songs on Knopfler's latest album, Kill to Get Crimson.

"Are you home from the sea, my soul balladeer
You’ve been away roaming far away from here
weathered a storm, your heart unafraid
crossed every ocean in the boat that you made...

And the hard-bitten stranger as deaf as a post
who stands at the fire where a poet’s dreams roast
He can’t know the story, he can’t feel the pain
and all of the glory falls around him like rain...

You’re a light in the dark, a beacon of hope
and strong as a sea boat, strong as a rope
And the vagabond wind, whispers over the bay
and the songs and the laughter, are carried away."

You can put it together with the melody here.

In the home I'm staying at, Gowri's Aunt Kruppa blows a conch shell every couple of days to rid the air of bad energies and contaminants. She's a really wise person, and I'm honored to be staying under her roof. A shell produces a primordial kind of song, stirs the blood the way a good modern song ought.

Monday, August 18, 2008

On Individuality and Community (and a Top 10 List)

This blog is a manifestation of my having finally found a community that feels like home. New York City felt so, long before I moved here, but Williamsburg/Greenpoint is teaching me the sanctity of place in the local sense. The Manhattan skyline still has the power to stop the breath and quicken the heart, but Lorimer Street, the McCarren Track, the breathing is mine here.

If I began to find community in March 2007 (and perhaps the sense was launched during the two previous Januaries, when I watched cats in the apartment that is now my own), and found enough solidity in my feeling to embark on expressing it in February 2008, then it is fitting to find myself in India today, surrounded by the kind of community I knew once, in Ecuador, but which is all the more powerful now for the interceding years. Community and spirit, almost without me realizing it, like drops of color added slowly to a beaker of water, suffuse here. There's a sense that, if I fall, there are hands to catch me, which, especially for a self-reliant introvert, is a revelation (and at times, admittedly, a nuisance). This sense in no way means that everything is love and peace and bliss here - far, far from it (and my personal goal would be yoking the individual to the communal, in my own life) - but there's something tethering people, even in the Bangalore metropolis, that is largely absent in our modern lives, and that I guess I had been craving - and so have been finding - Under the BQE.

But enough meditative essaying! Here are some concrete differences between Brooklyn and Bangalore:
1. One does not take off one's shoes at every home in Brooklyn. Brooklyn feet are likely less fit to be seen (and apartment floors less fit to be stepped on!).
2. When leaving a host's home in Brooklyn, one does not receive a coconut, some jasmine blossoms, a piece or two of fruit, and a kum kum (dot on the forehead). At best one comes away with some leftovers.
3. From Williamsburg to Rockaway, and Willets Point to Coney Island, one will not find cows on the streets of Brooklyn. The sacred cow in Brooklyn is likely to be a Kobe fillet.
4. Brooklynites shower, they do not bathe from buckets. In Bangalore, even very nice homes lack the plumbing required for the average Brooklynite's copious water waste.
5. One finds paper products in Brooklyn bathrooms. My traveling companion, Gowri, and I now declare "five star" bathrooms in India to offer such luxury. People use a water hose in Bangalore, and wash their hands before and after every meal (dining rooms are equipped with sinks).
6. Such consistently delicious food is not consumed in Brooklyn, but there is also not such a conspicuous absence in Brooklyn of leafy salads.
7. In Brooklyn, one eats with silverware. In Bangalore, one eats with the right hand - and I mean everything: roasted cauliflower, thin bean stews, pickles, rice, yogurt, chutneys, bread, sweet porridges called paysa, a broth called rassam, fried bits called vada...everything.
8. If one is lucky, cooks, drivers, and housecleaners in Brooklyn are one's roommates, friends, or neighbors. In Bangalore, many families employ these serving staff, who are part of the family but, to a visitor, ghost-like presences to be gotten used to. I hate to say it three days after Indian Independence, but there's something persistently British about this habit (ditto with afternoon tea and cucumber sandwiches, though they be served with chutney).
9. Brooklynites do not so unanimously light their homes with fluorescent bars, to my delight (pun intended).
10. Brooklynites are not so unanimously tapped into spiritual energies, and the Brooklyn air is pervaded far more by a spirit of individualism than one of common cause (which brings us neatly to where we began...and my heading off to a wedding in petticoat, sari, bangles, bindi, and gold sandals).

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tigers and Custard Apples and Shoes, Oh My

My lungs are greying themselves here more than Under the BQE, that's certain. And if I don't get to run tomorrow, I'm going to scream. But before sleep, everything is peaceful, life full, and a day's worth of crowded thoughts given way to pre-night dreams of these and these and these and...did I mention these?

I looked out over all of Bangalore tonight (from the 13th Floor of the Ivory Tower), and I was here, but maybe a little piece of me was also missing there and that place at the north of Franklin where you can look across the river into Manhattan. Incidentally, you cross India Street to get there.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

From Park to Air

Yesterday was an exploration, and lovely. Today is another. One requires distance, the other the inwardness that leads to fear, which is hope, which is inevitably vulnerable and precious. Anyway. I'm leaving the BQE for a little while but will carry the noise in my ears (and hope that others can pick up some trash while I'm gone).

Yesterday, I was reminded of how much I like certain lines of Wallace Stevens, and, today, these must suffice for everything I've run out of time to say (precisely why I'm always late...):

"After the final no there comes a yes
And on that yes the future world depends.
No was the night. Yes is this present sun.
If the rejected things, the things denied,
Slid over the western cataract, yet one,
One only, one thing that was firm, even
No greater than a cricket's horn, no more
Than a thought to be rehearsed all day, a speech
Of the self that must sustain itself on speech,
One thing remaining, infallible, would be
Enough. Ah! Sweet countrside of that thing..."

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Folk Folk

A quick huzzah, in the midst of packing for a trip far from the BQE (and one that undermines all efforts to limit my carbon footprint, read: to INDIA), to the singer-songwriters of the 8/6 Jezebel evening at Pianos.

Jo Williamson's voice did amazing things, like pulling itself hand-over-hand skyward, then melting low before turning into a whistle.

Flanagan Smith was playful and poignant and utterly himself.

And Lionel Neykov, more pop crooner than folk musician (in my opinion), performed heartfelt and lovely songs nonetheless, to especially good effect when the piano was woven in.

A couple of serendipitous things happened while, first with Arina then just with myself, I took in the room. It's exciting to have stumbled upon the kind of community I've been seeking for just about ever. Later, I was chatting with my old friend Noah about how things really do happen when you quit trying so hard and just let go.

Letting go makes me think of the peace I felt on a different trip, a year ago, back to Dublin. I went running past this Rathmines tree almost every day, part of a different community. (And I suppose there was also a different kind of stumbling there, later in the days, brought on by poetry and the cursed stout!).

Finally, last night, Jo Williamson sang The Parting Glass, which ties up this post and takes us back to the beginning. Huzzah.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea: Part 2

At first feigning a hipster stance of bemused detachment, I became, in the course of a mere 4:23, weirdly lulled by this video and its evocation of particular place and any place, its tribute to the dull and sublime. Watch: the steady rhythm of the road, the grey of the sky, the monotony of Queens' Soviet-style apartment blocks - all would be almost meditative were it not for the background keening of Celine "the world is a better place because of you" Dion on Fresh 102.7. My transfixedness transformed into a frightening flashback to playing on my boombox (that's right) tapes I made of the Quad Cities' own Power 98.9 (which apparently (proving that things can get worse) is now a Christian rock station) when I was a teenager. Anyway...let's go for a drive:

And speaking of Celine Dion and Weird, let's raise our...hairdryers? Futurism and another modern homage to the "autonomous, unreal, and alogical."

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Under the BQE: Literally

I've begun a new photo project - "the answer is as plain as the nose on your face" photo project - comprised of pictures taken while I'm Under the BQE. Here's the beginning, close to home:

(An old painted ad for the Greenpoint Floral Company.)

(The Strocchia Iron Works, on the corner of Leonard and Withers, has been in operation in Williamsburg since 1922.)

(Meeker and Leonard.)

First They Take Manhattan

Once upon a time, there was a Phoenecian queen of Israel named Jezebel, "who, in defiance of the customs and traditions of her day, did one thing while everyone else did another" (and was leveraged by Christians to further castigate pagan traditions...). So says Jezebel, a Williamsburg-based "online music publication for the new music fan. [Its] mission is to share intelligently written views of records, songs, standout artists, the music industry, online music culture, trends, and emerging technology."

Last week I went to the Jezebel singer-songwriter series, now called Resonance, which every Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., at Pianos (Ludlow between Stanton and Rivington), features four brave souls with their acoustic guitars and perhaps a band member or two, baring their lyrics and melodies to the room (I wish Jezebel had been there to kill the omnipresent talkers). The low-key vibe and small crowd recalled for me descriptions of John Prine being discovered by Kris Kristofferson in a little Chicago club in 1971, at the end of the night, while chairs were being put up on tables and floors swept.

Anyway, I heard Matt Jones, Drew and the Medicinal Pen (and, before I realized who he was, Drew borrowed my pen), and Jarred Farrell. The three performers had really different sounds, with Jones ("things get stranger, I get simpler") seeming to these ears more "classic" blues/folk with woody acoustic melodies and a many-layered voice, Drew ("the sky will still be there when the sun goes down") evoking more modern indy/folk with a big playful guitar, and Farrell (accompanied by a wooden box) melting into a kind of spoken word/beat cadence from time to to time, jazzy and sweet (I don't think the songs featured on his page sound the way he did on Wednesday, which I preferred).

From the ground floor of Pianos, where the main acts play, raucus and meaningless noise rose throughout the sessions, but rather than distracting from the quieter music above, it distilled the loveliness and served as a kind of defining backdrop for the battle of the simple and earnest against everything else.

Tequila, Totes, and Totally Great Neighborhood Connections

A heartening exchange at Sunac just now, where, at midnight, and true to the spirit of earnestness, I was buying cat litter (but not for want of hanging out or fun, in the form of my dear friend Daniel and potent margaritas). A guy and his girl (both in what seemed to be hand-sewn garments) were buying strawberries, and she went to grab some bottled water. He told me to go ahead in line, since I just had a couple of bananas. I said, well, I in fact also have this cat litter and lettuce (yes, a fascinating night here down Under). And he said that he was really letting me cut not because of the bananas but because I had brought my own grocery tote, a thing he was trying hard to do more often (to which I say hurrah, as four to five TRILLION plastic bags are manufactured each year, and of our share, Americans recycle only .6% of the 100 billion we use - so carry a tote bag, for crying out loud).

This exchange reminded me of a request I had earlier today, from Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, a "volunteer-based community planning and environmental justice organization that has been performing grassroots organizing, advocacy, and outreach/education to the North Brooklyn waterfront community of Williamsburg/Greenpoint since 1994." Among their many projects, NAG (an unfortunately acronym?) is ensuring that North Brooklyn zoning rules are abided by, that neighborhood artisan and manufacturing jobs are preserved where possible, that a new location is identified at which to host large-scale music events in 2009 (this is the last year of Pool Parties, as the Pool is going to once more become...a pool!), and that the North Brooklyn waterfront is protected for community use. The organization recently began a blog, Neighborhood Watch, largely authored by a board member...which reminds me: in case there are big Brooklyn donors out there reading this blog, here's what I would like to do: collect enough money to buy the defunct gas station on the corner of Withers and Meeker, and turn it into a garden Under the BQE. Donations welcome.