Archive for July, 2009

Last Day In Brooklyn

July 31, 2009

On Wednesday I went the library to return a stack of books I had lying around my apartment.  One of them was How Does It Feel To Be A Problem? Being Young And Arab in America by Moustafa Bayoumi.  I originally checked it out because the cover drew me in.  Yes I judge books based on their covers:


Because of classes, work, and packing, I never got to read it.  On the subway ride to the library, I read the preface.  After reading the following passages about Brooklyn, I decided I would just have to renew this book and keep it around for another few weeks, even if it means taking the train from my mom’s house to Brooklyn solely for the purpose of returning it the library.  

Brooklyn is “chiefly no whole or recognizable animal,” writes James Agee, “but an exorbitant pulsing mass of scarcely discernible cellular jellies and tissues.”  With more than 2.5 million residents, it is the third-largest metropolitan area in the country.  Size alone does not account for its energy.  Robber barons, refugees, free blacks, and the international working class have all settled here, whether in leafy Victorian mansions or in limestone, brownstone, or Federal-style row houses, making the story of Brooklyn a short history of human escape and reinvention flattened through geography and narrated through architecture.  Walt Whitman once called it the city of “homes and churches,” and yet it is more.  A country on its own, Brooklyn continuously repopulates itself, first by boat and ferry and now by planeloads of the world’s exiles and emigres, and it brims with the rhythms and pageantry of twenty-first-century American life.

Today Brooklyn is Prospect Heights with its late-night barbershops, all fabulous hair and atomic white light at 12:00 am, or Coney Island, a seasonal experiment in radical democracy held in a riot of colors and soundtracked to amusement-park songs.  It’s the Friday-afternoon call to prayer in Bedford-Stuvyesant.  Brooklyn is a tourist-free Chinatown in Sunset Park or the dollar stores of Flatbush Avenue that spill their wares onto the noisy street and away from their weeping, scarred, and aching buildings.  It’s the dreadlocked West Indians flying kites in Prospect Park or the colony of Middle American defectors in Williamsburg, urban hipsters costumed in androgynous jeans and monotonous tattoos.  It’s the bourgeoisie of Brooklyn Heights, living in stately grace but with barely suppressed feelings of self-loathing for not owning a 212 area code.  Brooklyn is the slowly dissolving  Italian hub of Bensonhurst, the Syrian Jews of Ocean Parkway, and the Pakistanis of Coney Island Avenue.  It is the birds of Green-Wood Cemetery singing their songs to the Civil War dead, upper-crust Haitians living well in Midwood Estates, and intrepid diners visiting Bay Ridge’s transplanted Mediterranean coast, where, high on the old Nordic Third Avenue, sea air mingles with the garlic aromas floating out of the Arab, Greek, and Italian eaters that line that street.  Brooklyn is the informal urban apartheid of Eastern Parkway, the soft socialism of Park Slope, the Russian capitalism of Brighton Beach.  Its the Salt Marshes of Marine Park, the roast beef sandwiches on Nostrand Avenue, Di Fara’s Pizza, Vox Pop, and Vinegar Hill.  Brooklyn is the dangerous rush of traffic on Atlantic Avenue, where bus exhaust mixes with the smells of fresh bread and Arabic spices; it is the madness of Pacific Street, where parents seek refuge from the urban cacophony in its tiny community garden, and Dean Street, where the Chinese food is halal.  Brooklyn is the concentrated, unedited, twenty-first-century answer to who we, as Americans, are as a people. 

Today was my last day of living in Brooklyn.  Tomorrow I pack the rest of my stuff into my dad’s minivan and return my keys.  If I’m lucky, I’ll be back here in two years, with a masters degree.

On My Bookshelf

July 23, 2009
I’m packing my books and these are making the move to Michigan with me:
  • The Wretched Of The Earth – Frantz Fanon #
  • Rats – Robert Sullvian * 
  • Epidemiology for Public Health Practice – Robert H. Friis and Thomas A. Sellers ^
  • The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down  – Anne Fadiman **
  • The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science The Reveals our Genetic Ancestry – Bryan Sykes ##
  • The Fated Sky: Astrology in History – Benson Bobrick **
  • Like Water For Chocolate – Laura Esquirel ##
  • Field Guide To The Natural World Of New York City – Leslie Day * 
  • Breaking Out Of Beginner’s Spanish – Joseph J. Keenan ^
  • How To Read Your Star Signs – Sasha Fenton ^
  • The Death And Life Of Great American Cities – Jane Jacobs *
  • Life Of Pi – Yann Martel **
  • The Children Of Sanchez: Autobiography of a Mexican Family – Oscar Lewis ##
  • A Short History Of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson ^
  • Another Country – James Baldwin **
  • Bless Me, Ultima – Rudolfo Anaya #
  • Street Science: Community Knowledge and Environmental Health Justice – Jason Corburn ^
  • Subwayland: Adventures in the World Beneath New York – Randy Kennedy *
  • Writing At The Margin: Discourse Between Anthropology and Medicine – Arthur Kleinman (this was the first book Manny gave me, so it comes everywhere with me)
  • East Of Eden – John Steinbeck **
  • Eastern Birds: Peterson Field Guide – Roger Tory Peterson ^


*  = So I can read about the city when I’m feeling homesick

**  = Favorite books that come everywhere with me

#  = One of Manny’s favorite books

##  = Books I haven’t read yet but would like to

^  = Handy reference books

Calculus, physics, and summer reading

July 7, 2009

Two of my summer school classes end this Wednesday, physics and chemistry.  Calculus lasts until August 8th.  I’ve been immersed in these subjects for long I’m starting to have dreams about them.  Yesterday I worked on this one calculus problem from 2pm until 10pm, with a break to make dinner and eat.  I couldn’t get it right.  Then in my dreams last night I solved it.  Today, I sat down to work on it, and in 10 minutes I solved it.  I felt like a genius!  A genius that finds the answers in her dreams, of course.

I put so much energy into physics and calculus because I actually really like these subjects.  It boggles the mind to think of all that you can know and all you can do with physics and calculus.  Physics explains everything, and calculus explains how everything relates to everything else.  Today in physics we talked about these formulas used to find the energy of electric potential that involved some calculus concepts I had just learned, and I swear I could feel everything clicking together in my head and it all made so much sense.  

Since 99% of my brain power is used for studying, I don’t have much left for reading.  I got through the first 100 pages of Robert Sullivan’s new book The Thoreau You Didn’t Know, but it was taking too much effort to get through, so I stopped reading it.  I’m going to pick it back up after classes and work are over.  

So then I read two books that required much less brain power.   First up was Kissing Games of the World by Sandi Kahn Shelton.  This was a sweet novel with really enjoyable characters.  The plot was predictable but had some twists that made it worth reading.  Then I read My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult.  A friend thought the movie sounded interesting so she brought the book, which I then borrowed.  I haven’t seen the movie, but the book was OK.  There are some things in the book that are just completely unrealistic, which bothered me.   There was some cheesy, Lifetime TV – style writing that I could have done without.  But I will say that I liked the ending a lot and thought it made the story come together beautifully.