South Williamsburg is bundled up in wool pants and black jackets. The umami of sweat smell, like leaded gasoline, fogs the sidewalk, humid and dense. The Hasidim must suffer from New York summers—but you will never hear a complaint. The men just drip, tight-lipped behind tangled beards, and the women are speechless despite the discomfiture of bottlebrush wigs. I regularly run through the neighborhood, cross country shorts flapping high on my thighs, sweat soaking through a mesh t-shirt. We pass on the sidewalk without eye contact. There is a palpable hostility that dissolves in the air like a bitter lozenge. Then again, the hatred and fear do not only circulate between the Hasidim and intruders: smiling and casual conversation are discouraged. Men walk side-by-side, heads bent together, beards growing together, twining like vines and tree limbs forced together from lack of light, whispering, peyes bobbing like synchronized springs. Their wives keep a watchful eye on children from balconies, or push strollers and scold their babies, or conduct serious tribunals on their stoops. Surveillance is reciprocal; purity is maintained within a system of implicit discipline. Gangs of children, all toddlers and adolescents, roam untethered, but never fear, no Clockwork Orange shit here. Chaos boils inside a latex bubble, elastic and capable of absorbing violence. The occasional rupture—child molestation, a kidnapping, race riots—is incorporated back into the membrane and dampened into a silent ripple. History becomes the stuff of nightmares, never discussed or remembered during the day, but a constant threat when the ladies let their real hair down—or run their fingers through air, because many shave their skulls short. Continue reading
Monthly Archives: June 2012
My most restful nights have been by the sea.
I can sit on a vinyl recliner and let the air wash my face. The sea air is delicious and full of extra oxygen. It is especially nutritious and satisfying to breathe. The wind lifts ancient minerals off the waves. They trickle through the nasal epithelium and tickle the brain. My lips tingle. My most restful nights have been by the sea.
If you start from Coney Island and follow the sea you will eventually find Brighton Beach. Last Saturday looked Moscovian. Gray and white clouds dwarfed the sand and sucking waves. Highrise apartments were flat prints on the skyline. The subway lurches across metal stilts and shelters beneath its pantaloons a romantic avenue of liquor stores, groceries and restaurants and fruit markets, Soviet electronics, cell phones, CDs and VHS tapes, souvenirs, dance halls and nightclubs, cheap insurance, doctors, etc. An alternative universe has budded off the train and dangles, contained by its own surface tension—two blocks away from the umbilical bubble, you are in dark uterine trenches, suburban, overgrown and peeling like seashore homes tend to during unseasonably cool summers. Even compared to Flushing or Sunset Park, Brighton Beach is glowering and mysterious. With less friendly teenagers and more grumping octogenarians, maneuvering through the barricaded shops can be stifling. Frankly, if you are young and hanging out you considered a threat to general order and unwanted. Although we encountered welcoming and interested faces, we also met rude clerks who wanted nothing to do with a few Russian Jews strung out along a genealogical strand. When exploring this neighborhood, the intrepid cosmopolitan must prepare for the best: confusion and outright hostility. Continue reading
by Eliana Parnas, University of Iowa
When my boyfriend first suggested we see a movie called The Sound of Noise at our local, student-run movie theater, I audibly scoffed. I imagined a movie whose content was as seemingly redundant as its title. However, after showing me the trailer on his phone (whose internet capabilities far exceed those of my T-Mobile free upgrade), John had me “abso-freakin’ pumped!” for a night of musical terrorism served up Swedish style. Continue reading
Bay Ridge is an infinitely long and mysterious neighborhood, and before this weekend I never thought to visit. Or the prospect of a long ride on a slow machine diverted my route to closer destinations. Now that I live in Crown Heights, the only plausible excuse sounds something like, “With so many interesting restaurants down the street, why should I journey to other, equally alien lands?” For the sake of exploration, ethnography, and the forces of evil, of course. And after a run across the Williamsburg Bridge and back again, my brother wanted breakfast food of a more traditional bent, which is not to say that the salt fish at Trini-Gul is unpleasant, but one can only eat Caribbean food so many days in a row. We decided on Anopoli Ice Cream Parlor and Family Restaurant, two blocks from the Bay Ridge Avenue station. The street stretches South, shrinking and thinning around the edges as it reaches the horizon, and yet the assemblage of Chinese massage parlors and pubs, Irish and German, cafés (including Aloha Grounds, a Hawaiian coffee shop and barbecue restaurant), grocery stores, bodegas, vintage clothing outlets, and bakeries upon bakeries upon each other and redundant, is still visible. Anopoli sits at the beginning, and after brunch it would be easy to experience buyer’s regret. An ambitious eater might require two years to sample the food options thoroughly. Here a Polish restaurant, Polonica, there a bagel shop, Sam’s; those with small eyes will find them bigger than the biggest stomachs. At Anopoli, we ate gyro on eggs with a stack of buttered toast. We sat in the backyard on plastic lawn furniture, sunning ourselves like black cats. Three Greeks smoked and gossiped while we ordered ice cream. The double-scoop sundae looks three or four scoops too much, hidden under a hillock of whipped cream and hot fudge. Two flavors, maple walnut and chocolate chocolate chip, were enough for me, and I staggered out to the register almost too full to speak. I managed to squeak a thanks and drop a tip. Continue reading
Zach B., Yale University
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie:
After my brother roasted our chicken upside down, resulting in crispy legs and butter-sodden breasts, I recycled the white meat in a pasta sauce. When we failed to eat the whole pot, I dreamt a lazy lunch. Five tablespoons of powdered peppers and tomato sauce switches to chili. It’s a quick-change act that relies on illusion: realer, righteous chili requires a more rigorous (though possibly less alliterative) approach. Nevertheless, a close approximation of Texas, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Washington, etc. can be achieved with a passive raffle through the spice cabinet.
We needed beans, so we walked to the corner deli. I have been buying Caribbean groceries with the mania of a bomb shelter visionary; I want to work my way through a goat carcass, sample every brand of ginger beer, and bake my own sweet rolls. Last night, I settled for a simple substitution: peas for beans. Instead of kidneys or pintos, I bought pigeon peas, more commonly found in Caribbean renditions of “rice and peas” than heartland chili recipes. Firmer and chalkier than my usual bean choices, the pigeon peas were a striking contrast to cooked tomato, shredded chicken, and soft garlic. At work, I ate the “chili” out of Tupperware and picked chicken neck bones off my tongue. None of my co-workers looked twice. Continue reading
I ate the best mozzarella of my life because I broke a lamp. Monday night, I roasted a chicken. My brother and I are living in an apartment in Crown Heights, spacious stolid and on its way to homey, stuffy with a supply of recirculated hot air; we have barely any furniture, only two folding chairs and a black vinyl card table (no really, we’re sleeping on air mattresses and keep our clothes in duffel bags). Like an awkward teenager, the apartment is alternatively big and cramped in all the wrong places: a cavernous central room opens into a tiny kitchen. The building smells funky, like incense and cooking, and I look forward to an evening ritual, smiling and stepping over neighborhood kids playing on the front stoop. New York has been gloomy and cold this June, and so we have not yet lamented our lack of AC. Tower fans stand dormant, awaiting desperate use; the nights are cold, because I did not bring a blanket, anticipating tropical temperatures. The apartment needs some minor repairs, most obviously burnt out lightbulbs in that big family room. After eating in the dark, I decided to change the lightbulb, a chore I had put off despite the ready availability of a step stool, previously invaluable for changing smoke alarm batteries and hanging blinds. Finally though, I tired of missing my face with the fork. The ceilings seem abnormally high, built for little giants, and our stool leaves me just shy of dunking on a basket strung up above the windows. I stacked a book on the stool and mounted that stupid wobbling perch, barely able to rest my hand on the glass light fixture even on my boosted tiptoes. Holding the lightbulb in my left hand, I turned the fixture with my right, spinning it to no obvious gain. Suddenly, the fixture popped out of its notch and dropped into my tensed palm, bounced, bobbled, and dropped over my shoulder to the floor. Glass fragments speckled the floor; praise be to Tom Sachs’s “How to Sweep” and a judiciously applied Swiffer pad. Unfortunately, condensation had collected on the inside of the light and water dripped along the brass mouldings. My laptop, set on the vinyl table underneath, must have taken a good two tablespoons. I wiped it dry, but this morning at work, no power!—so post-multiple Apple store visits, genius bar be damned, and a data recovery shop, I’m still minus one operational laptop. Continue reading