Companion to my journey to Hasidic Williamsburg.
Tag Archives: Williamsburg
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
Never season another man’s collard greens. It’s bad manners and a bit emasculating. When a bowl of collards comes smothered in hot sauce—as it does at Pies ‘n’ Thighs, a boho Brooklyn salon serving fried chicken and stroller moms—it insults the vegetable and the diner. I, for one, know how I like my greens: cooked to a soft knot, smoky and haunted with bitterness, a sweet tingle, sour bushes scrabbling through sand and clay. The taste of good potlikker, born from that struggle, resonates in my stomach like a sympathetic vibration; it boils up my esophagus and lodges somewhere near my heart, a rumbling stroke of thunder without rain. That is not to say collards should come unsalted, unpeppered, or bland—again, as they do at Pies ‘n’ Thighs. I just don’t want my vegetables dressed like Buffalo wings. I see’est thou poised with thine sauce, but restrain thy hand. Be not so presumptuous. Continue reading