Archive for the ‘Brooklyn’ Category

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.

To See Every Bird On Earth

April 7, 2009



While looking up information on the Banana book, I discovered that the author Dan Koeppel also wrote a book about his dad, a hardcore “Big Lister” birder who wanted  to see every bird on earth.  At the time this book was published, Richard Koeppel has seen 7,000 birds.  Dan Koeppel wrote this book to try and find out why his dad was so obsessed with birds.  There isn’t really answer, he just was.  Richard Koeppel gave up his dreams of becoming an ornithologist and became a physician to please his parents.  He got married, had kids, bought a house and tried to live a ‘normal’ life, but he could never stopped birding.  Birding came before his wife, his children, his career, and his health.  This book was an interesting look into the more serious side of bird watching.  I did not know there were such specific birding rules that one must follow.  I didn’t even know there were such hardcore birders out there.

My goal is not see to every bird on earth.  But in the past few weeks during my walks around the Shore Road promenade I’ve seen:

Yesterday I was walking down Fort Hamilton Parkway.  Right at the intersection of Fort Hamilton, 7th Ave and 78th Street I heard really loud unfamiliar squawking/chattering noise.  I looked up and saw a pair of monk parakeets sitting on some wires on the top of a telephone poll.  In that in the late 1960’s, a bunch of monk parakeets where shipped to New York from Argentina and escaped from their crates at JFK Airport.  The parakeets quickly adapted to city life.  There are now established colonies of monk parakeets at Brooklyn College in Flatbush, in Green-Wood Cemetery, and in parts of Sheepshead Bay, Marine Park, Coney Island, and now apparently in Bay Ridge.

Somehow, magically, I have not been sick all winter.  But today I succumbed to a lousy cold/sore throat/body achy bug.  It is finally my turn to use my sick days.  This morning while browsing my blogs I found a recipe on the Smitten Kitchen for 44-clove garlic soup. What better time to eat something with 44 cloves of garlic in it then when you’re home sick alone on a cold rainy day?  So I trudged through the driving rain to the grocery store for lots of garlic and some cream.  Let me tell you, it was worth it.  This soup is out of this world.  Hopefully all that garlic is driving out my cold.  I probably should take another sick day tomorrow just to make sure.

Winter and Revolutionary Road

January 14, 2009

I know there’s a lot of snow-haters out there, but I gotta say it, I love the snow and I love winter.  There’s only a few days of good snowy winter weather in the city, and if I don’t go outside to appreciate it, I feel like winter has passed me by.  I love the snow, love the cold winds, love glistening ice on the trees (but not the ice on the sidewalks), love the look of  bare tree branches, love dressing in layers with hats and scarves and warm jackets, love trampling through snow in my winter boots, I love when the sun is warm but the wind is cold.   I especially love coming inside and sitting down to homemade lentil soup after sending the day out in the snow.  Which is exactly what I did on Saturday . 

Saturday Manny and I wandered through Prospect Park during the snowstorm.  (Sadly, Manny doesn’t quite share my enthusiam for winter, but he came out with me anyway).  We really liked this enormous tree:


Just as it starting snowing really badly, we walked out of the park right in front of the B16 bus stop just as the bus was approaching.  Perfection!  There was hardly any traffic on roads due to the snow so we had a nice scenic ride home.  Our bus driver was particularly chatty and told us about his tricks for driving in the snow. 

Sunday I went walking through Shore Road Park.  I cannot even begin to describe how happy this park makes me, a little slice of wilderness close to home, wedged between the Belt Parkway and Shore Road.  It has walking paths through the trees, wide open fields for soccer and baseball, and a bike/running path along the water.  During my walk yesterday, I saw a red tailed hawk sitting in a tree branch close to the path, near the tennis courts and ball fields that are apparently closed for some sort of reconstruction.  Its crazy to think if I didn’t happen to look up while I walked past it, I would not see it.  Because those birds are huge.  The bird was all fluffed up to fight the cold winds.  It looked rather relaxed, not moving except for turning it head from side to side, checking things out.  I watched it for about 10 minutes.  It was still there in the same branch on my walk back home about 25 minutes later.  Of course I didn’t have my camera with me.

I have been waiting on some books for the library so in the meantime I’ve been keeping myself busy with magazines discarded on the subway, free newspapers, The Village Voice, The Onion, and the occasional Us Weekly.  Oh, and also, the movie tie in edition of Revolutionary Road.  Being a being a kid from the burbs I am intrigued by books about how the suburbs suck… plus how bad could the plot be if Kate and Leo are in the movie adaptation?  


Turns out, Revolutionary Road, first published in 1961 was one of the first books about how the suburbs suck. We meet Frank and April Wheeler who are stuck in a failing marriage.  Frank works at a dead end corporate job in the city and April is stuck being a housewife.  They like to think they are more superior than their suburban neighbors.  They are cultured, they help start a theater group in their suburb, they have big plans to move to Europe.  But throughout the book they are forced to come to terms with the fact that they are like everyone else and their lives are nothing but ordinary.

Frank and April Wheeler are not the most likable characters, but we can all relate to their circumstances in some way.  In the same way people slow down to watch car wrecks, I kept reading the book to find out what happens to them.  You know they are in for a volatile ending, but you keep reading, partially to find out their mistakes so you make sure you don’t make them in your own life.

The book is told mostly from Frank’s point of view, but it is April Wheeler is the most intriguing character.  At first, she seems like a shallow, neurotic housewife, only because we don’t know much about her.  Only in the end does her character fully develop.  In an interview, author Richard Yates spoke about how April’s character embodies the rebellion against 1950’s America:

I think I meant it more as an indictment of American life in the 1950s. Because during the Fifties there was a general lust for conformity all over this country, by no means only in the suburbs – a kind of blind, desperate clinging to safety and security at any price, as exemplified politically in the Eisenhower administration and the Joe McCarthy witchhunts. Anyway, a great many Americans were deeply disturbed by all that – felt it to be an outright betrayal of our best and bravest revolutionary spirit – and that was the spirit I tried to embody in the character of April Wheeler.  I meant the title to suggest that the revolutionary road of 1776 had come to something very much like a dead end in the Fiftes.

I hope I get my library books come through soon.  I’ll definitely need some reading material by this weekend.  My dad now lives in Arlington, Virginia so my entire family is driving down there this weekend to crash at his place and maybe score some tickets to Obama’s inauguration.  This is should interesting.

Dreams From My Father

October 28, 2008

I told myself I wouldn’t read it until after Nov 4th, but I was waiting on some books from the library so I had nothing to read, and I saw it on sale at the bookstore during my lunch break last week and I couldn’t resist: Obama’s memoir, Dreams From My Father.  I didn’t want to read it because I knew it would make me like Obama even more, and if he lost on Nov 4th I would feel really bummed.  Oh well.  I’m almost finished with the book, and it is really really good.  So good in fact, that yesterday I missed my stop on the train coming home and didn’t realize it until the train had pulled into the last station and the conductor made the announcement for everyone to get off the train.  Lucky for me, my stop is the second to last stop anyway, so it wasn’t that serious. 

This book was published in 1995, before Obama became a national political superstar, so it is quite honest and doesn’t hold back on descriptions of Obama’s college party days, experiments with drugs, his feelings on black power, black nationalism, racism, social justice, and his struggles of finding his identity as a black man in America.  In the preface to the 2004 edition, Obama wrote that part of him regrets some of the details he put into this book that have been used against him when he started his political career.  It’s kind of surprising to read such intimate details about a popular public figure. 

I think its pretty great that we could have a president with such a unique story and world view.  A man of mixed race who obviously understands the nuances of race relations in this country.  He spent his childhood in Indonesia with his mother, his adolescence in Hawaii with his grandparents, his college years in LA and NYC, then spent 3 years organizing black churches and community leaders in Chicago, then went to Kenya to meet his African family for the first time.  I think these experiences are what make Obama such an effective politician, they allow him to understand problems and solve problems with a different perspective that most other politicians.  I don’t mean to be gushing about Obama, I’m not naive enough to think that if he’s elected then all of our problems will be solved.  I’m just saying that he is a very cool, very smart guy who gets it.  And I do really hope he gets elected.

One part in the book really struck me.  Obama was describing to his Kenyan sister about a relationship he had with a white woman.  When Obama and his girlfriend were alone, their relationship was great.  But then, the woman took Obama to her grandparent’s country house, and Obama realized that if their relationship continued, he would have to live in her world, since he already knew how to be part of the white person’s world and culture; he had been doing all his life.  But she could not live in his.  He took her to a play by a black playwright that involved a lot of anger and what he calls “typical black American humor” and his white girlfriend was not impressed.  She thought anger wasn’t a productive way of dealing with past problems, that anger was a dead end.  Her and Obama had a fight, she told him she couldn’t be black, no matter how much he wanted her to be.  They broke up.

I had put the book down as soon as I read this.  Obama wrote about something that Manny tells me all the time.  Manny even uses the same words, about living in different worlds.  Manny has learned to be part of the white American world, the mainstream culture.  But as a white woman, I’ve never learned to live in his world, a Mexican world, an immigrant world.  As a white woman, I never had the need to do this.  Manny and I have talked about this a lot, we’ve come to terms with it we’ve compromised about it.  But when I read stuff like this I still get insecure, I mean, even Obama couldn’t have an inter-racial relationship!  What hope is there for the rest of us?  Dramatics aside, I need to stop these comparisons.  Manny is not Obama.  He has never made me feel like I should Mexican, and never made it seem like he wished I was.  I have never passed judgement on Mexican culture nor would say that their way of dealing with their past is a dead end. 

Its strange to write about such personal things, I’m actually a private person in real life.  Feels good to get those thoughts out there.  Last night, in my moment of insecurity, I asked Manny if he felt like he always had to be part of my world in order for us to be together.  “No,” he said. “We both live in Brooklyn now.”

Oh Brooklyn, the great equalizer.  Here is an example of Obama-inspired racial harmony that Manny and I thought was so appropriate, him being Latino, me being Irish.  We had to stop in front of this stranger’s house to take a picture:

Not About Books

August 21, 2008

I have been away in the mountains in upstate New York with the family.  My aunt and uncle built a house on the lake for themselves and now the entire family spends their vacations there.  We are a bunch of shameless free loaders.   But I love when all my extended family are together under one roof.  But this vacation I felt sad, I kept wondering how many more years we have together in this way.  Since I’ve moved out I’ve been feeling more like an adult, and this forces me to realize that my parents and my aunts and uncles are getting old.  Like, they look like old people.  And me, my siblings and cousins, we’re adults.  We are getting married and having babies and buying houses.  I had a total “oh my god I’m an adult now time is flying make it stop” moment. 

My dad is one of five boys.  When my dad and my uncles get together and talk, it’s the best thing in the world.  Between these men, they know absolutely everything.  They know how to build houses, fix plumbing, install electrical wiring, install heating and cooling systems, fix and replace boilers, how to build subways, how to drive trains and boats, how to put out fires, how to fix and rebuild cars.  They know everything about the city; can tell you the entire history of the public transportation system in Brooklyn, from trolley cars to electric buses to elevated subways.  My dad and uncles talk like no one else in the family.  Their Brooklyn accents, their language and skilled use of profanity, the way they tell stories (oh the stories, they have the best stories) and the way they laugh – I never get tired of listening to them talk.

My dad and my uncles grew up and left Brooklyn to raise their family in the suburbs to give their children what they never had, big houses with big backyards and all that, and I know they did this with the best intentions in mind.  But I wonder sometimes if they realize what was lost in moving the family away from the city.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something was lost.  Growing up in the city gives a person a sense of openness and honestly that comes through in the way they talk and interact with people.  And once my dad and my uncles are gone that city culture that I love is gone with them.  My siblings and my cousins and I, we are suburban kids.  We are careful and selective in what we say and how we act.  I know we are supposed to represent our family’s progress and success, but at the same time I realize that something was lost in the process.  One day I’m going sneak a voice recorder in the house to get my dad and my uncle’s voices on tape.  I cannot even imagine there will be a day when they won’t be around, when I won’t hear their big booming voices echoing through every room in the house.

Maybe this is why I wanted to move to Brooklyn.  I feel like I’m returning to the motherland.  My grandmother died in November, she lived in Brooklyn her entire life.  She was born in the same house that she lived in as adult and where she raised my dad and my uncles.  I miss her all the time.  She also represented what I love about the city, that openness and acceptance of all kinds of people. She was loving but she was honest and could crack jokes along with my uncles.  I love my little corner of Brooklyn.  It is not far from my dad’s old neighborhood.  It is not chic or gentrified or whatever you call those neighborhoods nowadays.  But everything I love about Brooklyn is here. 


A Short History of Nearly Everything

August 8, 2008

So I have finally finished A Short History of Nearly Everything.  It took me over a month to finish this book, not because it wasn’t good, but because a week and a half ago, I moved out of my parents house into my own apartment in Brooklyn.  I have been wanting to move out for a long time, and of course it happened when I was not even looking for apartments.  It is true what they say that once you stop looking, you find what you need.  Anyway, it was a crazy time.  A saw an apartment and 2 days later I signed a lease and now here I am, all grown up and living by myself.  Aside from going away to college, I have never moved before.  I have learned that moving is stressful and hard and I hope I don’t have to do it often.  I’ve also never lived by myself, without another person or any pets.  I am very aware that I’m the only soul in my apartment and that freaks me out sometimes.  My coworker rescued some newborn kittens outside the prison where she works part time, so she’s raising them and in a few more weeks they will be old enough to be adopted and I might just take one.  So things are crazy and there’s a lot of emotions going through me all at once, but overall I am happy, except for the fact that I miss my dog like crazy.  I think I’ll be happier when I get a kitten.  But only if it doesn’t turn out evil like all the cats I had when I was growing up.

So through all this turmoil I’ve been chugging through Bryson’s book.  It is a really enjoyable read but I’m happy that its finally over.  Bryson is not the most thorough science writer, this book is definitely not supposed to be scholarly or academic, but its really freaking funny and it taught me a lot.  I don’t know what I’m going to read next but it is definitely going to be fiction.  I want to post some of my favorite quotes but I don’t have the internet at my apartment yet.

Speaking of things I don’t have, I don’t have cable.  This would be fine except for the fact that I will be missing my most favorite TV program in the entire world, the Olympics.  I cannot even begin to express how much I love the Olympics and all of the wonderful melodrama that comes with it.  All of those personal stories of triumph and tragedy, the world record breakers, the photo finishes, the upset victories, I am a total sucker for all of it.  But cable TV is expensive in the city, and because there’s only one cable provider in my neighborhood, they are apparently free to jack up the prices as much as they want because we consumers don’t have a choice.  Sounds fair, right?  So because I had buy furniture and food and other necessities, cable won’t be arriving at my house for a few months.  The Olympics start today I’m totally crying on the inside.

Brooklyn Adventures

February 4, 2008

Yesterday I went to Brooklyn Heights for the for first time. I knew it was a fancy neighborhood with a lot of old money, and I thought it would be like Park Slope type of place. It’s actually nothing like Park Slope at all.

We walked through downtown Brooklyn on our way to Brooklyn Heights. We walked past the Brooklyn court houses, Borough Hall, some libraries, the main branch of Brooklyn Post office, various non-descript municipal buildings, Camden Plaza, rows of Dunkin Donuts and McDonalds. Then quite suddenly, we were in Brooklyn Heights. It was like stepping through a portal. One minute you are walking through office building complexes, the next you are walking past rowhouses and mansions from the 1800’s. The neigborhood is small and feels cut off from the rest of Brooklyn. The old money in this area kept it safe from the urban decay of the 1970’s. There’s a lot of of old, turn of the centry buildings around Brooklyn, but none so beautifully preseved than those in Brooklyn Heights.

Robert Moses wanted to build the Brooklyn-Queens expressway right through the neighborhood in the 1960’s, but all the rich folks who lived here said hell no, and made him build it along the East River. Then they build a promenade on top of his expressway that now has the most amazing views of the Manhattan skyline and the Brooklyn Bridge. Everytime I look at the skyline of this city, I try and pretend I’m a tourist looking at it for the first time or I’m afraid I’ll just “get used” to seeing it. I’ll upload some pictures soon.

Speaking of Robert Moses, Robert Caro is giving a lecture at Sarah Lawrence College on Friday evening and I’m going because urban planning is sort of an obsession of mine. Caro wrote The Power Broker, the colossal 1000+ page biography of Moses and the fall of New York. It’s a must read for anyone with too much time on their hands and who wants to know why NYC is the way it is. I started reading this book, and one day I hope to finish it.

3 day weekends

January 18, 2008

I cannot do any work because I’m too excited about the possibility of moving out. Last night my potential roommate and I saw an amazing, renovated, beautiful apartment, with a dishwasher (!) in one of my favorite areas of Brooklyn. Problem was it was 3 bedrooms (with 2 bathrooms) so we have been asking everyone we know if they or their friends want to move in. Because with 3 people, the rent per person would be comfortable below our original budget.

I actually have exciting plans for my 3 day weekend and what to share them with you. Because most of the time my own plan for the weekend is sleep

  • Tonight – dinner with my friends from high school who are meeting Manny for the first time, which is a pretty big deal since they have been waiting to meet him for 5 years
  • Saturday – maybe working some overtime hours to help finance possible upcoming move, then maybe seeing some more apartments then maybe seeing my long lost friend Ada
  • Sunday – attending this panel discussion “Embracing the Radical King” hosted by NPR on MLK, Jr at the Brooklyn Museum

I’m almost finished Breaking Out of Beginner Spanish and it’s definitely one of the most interesting Spanish books I’ve ever read. Even though I’m still a beginner and do not not need to be breaking out anytime soon, still a very useful read and I’ll probably read it again once I’m ready to break out of the beginner stage. This book is actually laugh-out-loud funny. I cannot stop myself from laughing sometimes on the train, and people look over to see what book I’m book I’m reading. They always give me raised-eyebrow strange look when they see it’s just a Spanish book. More thoughts on it later.