Saturday, May 31, 2008

Settepani Interlude

The girl - maybe 20 - pouring coffee and boxing cakes this afternoon was sweet. I had just finished a 5.3 mile run across the Pulaski Bridge into Queens, along Kent Street (where a buxom woman was having her photograph taken with various sexual paraphernalia, on a backdrop of bricks), to the river, to the little park Under the BQE on Union and Metropolitan...and it had begun to rain. The barista was lamenting the downpour, as she was "going out into the City tonight." I misheard, thought she had mentioned a specific bar or restaurant, and asked her again where she was going. "Out into the City," she repeated with excitement. Growing up in Brooklyn, the City was perhaps as intoxicating a place for her as it once was for me, nearly 1,000 miles away in Rock Island. She wanted the rain to end because she was going to wear "a skirt and boots and everything." It has stopped raining, I'm heading "out into the City" myself shortly, and I hope she is already having a wonderful time.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Withers and Union

Summer 2007

Summer 2008

A gaggle of cats once lived in this lot...but have mysteriously vanished. Brian and Corinna think they were taken away when last summer's staple - lushness - was cut and hemmed into this new season's must-have item: emptiness...with lots of sky. But I think their ghosts must still be wandering around, sniffing the air, dreaming of meatballs. Anyway, what anyone with 1988 or 2008 legwarmers knows: what's old will be new - and so it would be 500 years from now, if we all, like the Withers Street cats, suddenly disappeared: "Rising water, tides, and salt corrosion have replaced the engineered shoreline, circling New York's five boroughs with estuaries and small beaches. With no dredging, Central Park's pond's and reservoir have been reincarnated as marshes... Central Park's grass is gone. A maturing forest is in its place, radiating down former streets and invading empty foundations... Long before, the wild predators finished off the last descendants of pet dogs, but a wily population of feral house cats persists, feeding on starlings. With bridges finally down, tunnels flooded, and Manhattan truly an island again, moose and bears swim a widened Harlem River to feast on the berries that the Lenape picked." - Alan Weisman, The World Without Us

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Brooklyn-Queens, Non-Express

Jared and I headed along the BQE today then crossed over the Pulaski Bridge into Queens, riding its shoulders past Laguardia and to Flushing Meadows. Home to many geese and at least one turtle, the park reminded me of La Carolina in Quito, maybe because of the shape of the clouds...or because of the ratio of soccered dirt and grass to trees and lakes. Incidentally, the lakes are not lakes but pieces of the Flushing River. Like so many inconvenient things - hills, baseball fields, black people - the river fell victim to Robert Moses in the 1930s, though before that it had already been bitten into by Gatsby's "Valley of Ashes," a landfill operated by the Brooklyn Ash Removal Company. Now the river runs beneath the soccer fields and the Long Island Expressway, which makes ten times the ocean sounds of the little old BQE. New York's vascular system is a marvel to equal the destruction that made it possible.

Before we rode into the park, we stopped off at Willet's Point. If the the gods of grease and mechanics created a paradise, this clanking barrio would be it. With roads scarcely navigable by 4x4s, potholes that formed little lakes, and shoulder-to-shoulder autobody repair shops uniformly selling, from bright facades, engine parts ("enjin" in some cases), glass, tires, and other vehicular bric-a-brac, this frontierland was mesmerizing, like a piece of urban Mexico slapped down in northern Queens. Everyone got a kick out of us picking our way over the corrugated concrete roadway: Jared's mountain bike stood him in considerably better stead than my skinny ten-speed. Then it was off to the park, followed by a roll through leafy Forest Hills, Middle Village, and industrial Maspeth, with a stop-off at a Polish bakery on 61st Street and Grand Avenue for a bit of sugar. Three hours and the city made endless again, and a little more known.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Nine Reasons to Love Withers Street

9. If you can't get to the beach, you can listen to cars on the BQE and pretend it's the ocean.
8. If you can't get to the beach, you can watch cars on the BQE and pretend you're in them, going to the ocean.
7. If you hate the beach, you're safely surrounded by concrete, scaffolding, and pigeons.
6. The Hotel Le Jolie and its Grand Theft Auto IV banner. Viva le irony, and feel good about your rent: if you were living in the hotel, you'd be paying well over $8,000/month...for a nearly windowless room under the BQE.
5. Maria, Antoinetta, Armando, and the other aged people from the old country who sit on stoops, hang out laundry, grow tomatoes on concrete lots, and do not wear sneakers and skinny pants.
4. The Dance of the Giglio (one of just two sites in the city (the other being in East Harlem) where this happens, outside Italy). "Imagine a 12-piece brass band and 125 men carrying a five-ton, five-story, hand-sculpted tower on their shoulders, dancing it through their neighborhood in tempo to joyous Italian folk songs." The tower stands for much of July, surrounded by food stalls, a carousel, and other rides...particularly excellent for parishioners at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, who can celebrate the betrayal and violent death of Christ and then enjoy a funnel cake.
3. 37.
2. Bamonte's, one of the oldest remaining restaurants in the city (it opened in 1900), patron saint of many stray cats, and the closest thing to the Soprano's on a Saturday night this side of the Hudson.
1. The chance to quiz friends on little-known parts of farm animals.