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

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The (Car-Free) Wild Side

The poor guy who was hit by a car on Kent Avenue last month spoke at the NAG town hall meeting last week. Hopefully, like the Bible gang, preservation begets preservation, and salvaged/created bike lanes will in turn generate more green spaces and (is it too much to hope?) preserved factories.

From Christian Fleming:

Experiments like Summer Streets and Williamsburg Walks are steps in the right direction.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Fancying This Life...and Tuning In

A couple of weeks ago, I realized, for the first time since seven years ago, when I lived in Marble Hill (dear little bit of the Bronx that, despite the Harlem River, sometimes fancies itself Manhattan), that I could, when the satellites are properly aligned, or the can held to the fence just so (as described in an April New Yorker article about field recording in Appalachia (which sometimes fancies itself Ireland)), tap, here in North Brooklyn, WFUV, the station that fell into my poor bright apartment on Adrian Avenue (from the fire escape of which the George Washington Bridge was strung like a necklace over the Hudson at night), and listen to things like Ceol na nGael while canning plums and daydreaming about the mountains along I-81.

Between Roanoake and Bristol, pointed toward Montgomery:

And there's something very hopeful about radio. M. Ward, who channels things like chandeliers and graves and ranch hands and tides (and perhaps fancies himself from southeastern Virginia, though he calls Oregon home) devotes an album, Transistor Radio, to lost voices in perpetual broadcast.

"One Life Away":

From driving and good night.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Poem Interlude: Draft

Under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway

"Just once I knew what life was for.
In Boston, quite suddenly, I understood..."
Anne Sexton

The BQE is really a dragon.
It's a place under which
sounds grow like mouths
into more important selves.
It's aloneness swallowing
itself. The BQE is the horn
of a ram and its perpetual
bellow. It's where rain
doesn't fall. The BQE is
brainchild of a mad planner,
and a travesty. It's the only
kind of tragedy, a long siren
from Queens to Brooklyn.
And sometimes it just wants
to be a number, and sometimes
the sum of green signs. The BQE
is a-hum. It laughs at your
impatience the way a mountain
laughs without laughing,
just a rumble somewhere
far inside and long ago. "Just
once I knew what life was for,"
she says. But it was not in Boston,
it was beneath this concrete spine.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Poem Interlude

Laying Over

Ports of air – transient ports
of despair, and, worse, minor
and constant annoyance – also
house infinite hope, the possibility
of anywhere, or nearly. I will never
have the smooth tan back
of the woman in the mustard
halter, kneeling on a chair like
an airport pet. Let her stand
in for everyone and everything
I will never be. Everyone in a hurry,
everyone waiting. The hustled
kids, perfect jet-setters,
roller bags, beeping carts,
silvery pilots, pills, souvenirs,
loungewear and desert fatigues,
comfortable heels and
sunburns, coffee, candy,
denial beers, crosswords, and
watches. Let it all take off
into a bruise-colored Atlanta sky,
leaving behind this monument
to elsewhere. Stripped of breathing
and rush, the destinations would
disappear, and the arriving.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Withers Street is Main Street, Too!

I could excerpt dozens of passages from last night's debate (now in 10 easy minutes), but let's get to some of the energy/environment talk that must, in my mind, underpin absoluteley every other decision we're making as individuals and as a country.

Ifill: "Let's talk about climate change. What is true and what is false about what we have heard, read, discussed, debated about the causes of climate change?"

Palin: "Well, as the nation's only Arctic state and being the governor of that state, Alaska feels and sees impacts of climate change more so than any other state. And we know that it's real. I'm not one to attribute every man - activity of man to the changes in the climate. There is something to be said also for man's activities, but also for the cyclical temperature changes on our planet. But there are real changes going on in our climate. And I don't want to argue about the causes. What I want to argue about is, how are we going to get there to positively affect the impacts? We have got to clean up this planet. We have got to encourage other nations also to come along with us with the impacts of climate change..."

[RB: or howsabout going along with other nations on this one and signing Kyoto. For crying out loud.]

Biden: "Well, I think it is manmade. I think it's clearly manmade. And, look, this probably explains the biggest fundamental difference between John McCain and Barack Obama and Sarah Palin and Joe Biden - Governor Palin and Joe Biden. If you don't understand what the cause is, it's virtually impossible to come up with a solution. We know what the cause is. The cause is manmade. That's the cause. That's why the polar icecap is melting. Now, let's look at the facts. We have three percent of the world's oil reserves. We consume 25 percent of the oil in the world. John McCain has voted 20 times in the last decade-and-a-half against funding alternative energy sources, clean energy sources, wind, solar, biofuels. The way in which we can stop the greenhouse gases from emitting. We believe - Barack Obama believes by investing in clean coal and safe nuclear, we can not only create jobs in wind and solar here in the United States, we can export it."

Okay. So Sarah Palin, in the words of my grandfather, is "not too bright." But I hate to say it: clean coal is also not too bright...or, more accurately, it doesn't frigging exist. But everyone has to play the game, and Biden is just doing his part. The test is going to be what happens when all the rhetoric falls away.

Earlier this week, I heard Colin Beavan, aka No Impact Man speak at the North Brooklyn Compost Party. He has his critics, too, and he doesn't to my mind address one of the core problems, which is how to make local, sustainable foods and products available to lower-income people, but at least he is walking the walk...often literally...with trustee mason jar coffee mug. He said something cool, too, at Urban Rustic. He said, when asked what other people can do to make a difference, that the best thing anyone can do is to hold onto that question all the time.

Okay, so how can I make a difference? Two choices I made this past week hopefully acted out a positive response to that question (and perhaps cancelled out my paper coffee cups and new winter coat (!))...

First, I switched to ConEdison Solutions electricity, so that all of my electric needs are now supplied by wind power. Says ConEd: "Wind power is now the fastest-growing renewable energy source in the world and is 100 percent pollution-free. The wind power used is supplied [by] Community Energy, Inc., and comes from modern wind turbines mounted on tall towers on farmland in upstate New York and Pennsylvania."

And second, I went to the Neighbors Allied for Good Growth town hall meeting last night (before the debate), where, in a break-out session, I shared my three main concerns with a small group of other Williamsburg and Greenpoint residents; these include a) promoting dialogue between long-time residents and newcomers and preserving old buildings, 2) reducing litter, and 3) preserving and creating new open/green spaces throughout the neighborhood (guerrila gardening anyone?). All told there were 100+ people at the meeting, probably 70 percent over 35, 90 percent white, and 75 percent residents of the neighborhood for more than 10 years (I was part of a 3-4 percent minority who had been here for under two years). It was as cool and empowering as, later, taking a drink every time a candidate said "folks" or Biden chuckled at the nonsense uttered by his opponent.

So, in conclusion, Withers Street is Main Street, too! And I think, given good information, even Joe Six-Pack might be counted on to make some good political and lifestyle choices. And, certainly, to eat at Bamonte's.