Wednesday, May 25, 2005
Stacey and I went out to visit my brother and sister-in-law in Bay Shore on the southern coast of Long Island yesterday. Problem was, our Honda Odyssey van is beginning to show its age - it needs a new transmission - and it's layed up in the Honda shop.
So we took the Long Island Railroad. It was an enjoyable and prompt ride from the Atlantic Avenue terminus. We took the subway one stop to the LIRR and then the train out to Babylon. Very easy, very punctual - quite civilized.
We spent the day with Lee and Alexis, had a late dinner and then caught the 11:05 train back to Flatbush. To our great surprise, and pleasure, it was an express train carrying us back to Brooklyn with only 2 stops instead of the usual dozen or so. Not bad.
But life is never that simple. We de-trained at Atlantic Avenue and made our way to the Q line subway platform. And there we waited. And waited. And waited. The platform became more and more crowded. So crowded that it was becoming frightening. Finally, after 40 minutes of waiting ... and fuming, we left and walked up several flights of stairs and through corridors to the other subway line that's in the same complex: the IRT number 2 train. It would take us near our house as well but a bit further from it than where the Q train would have let us off.
People on the platform were quiet but the tension and the anger was palpable. I had to stop myself from mounting the soapbox to rail against the Republican mayor and governor. Both of them want to use hundreds of millions of our tax dollars to build unneeded stadiums in Manhattan and Brooklyn. At the same time, the schools are in a state of serious decay with overcrowded classes that make real education difficult if not impossible. And the subways, whose fares are on a never-ending incline, are descending into chaos, as they did in the 70's and 80's, for lack of financing.
The delay we experienced was not an isolated incident. The newspapers have been filled in recent months with stories of fires (from ancient wiring that needs urgent replacement), track problems and endless delays.
The New York City subway system was the marvel of the modern world when it was first built in 1904 and then expanded in the decades that followed. It still is - with its hundreds of miles of track that can take you quickly most anywhere you want to go underneath the streets of Manhattan or to many of the far reaches of the outer boroughs. But it's also a system that has not grown any further over the last 50 years. Yet expansion is what is desperately needed to serve parts of the city still untouched by the subway and to alleviate overcrowding on older parts (the long awaited Second Avenue subway line, for example). Not to mention that a system as big and complex as this needs constant and loving maintenance and upgrading to fulfill the promise of its potential: low cost, efficient mass transit for the working people of New York.
A billionaire Republican Mayor and a conservative Governor don't really care about the transit needs of working New Yorkers. Nothing changes when it comes to the aristocracy. The Republicans are modern versions of Marie Antoinnette who said of the starving French masses: "Let them eat cake." Pataki and Bloomberg say, "Let them wait." They are, apparently, more concerned with taking care of their wealthy friends and real estate developers who are remaking our great city into a playground for the super rich. The rest of us be damned.
Bloomberg, campaigning for reelection this November, is using his millions on massive amounts of TV advertising. The aim? To convince us that we'll be so much better off under his tutelage for another four years. Last night I got a taste of what another four years of his Mayoralty will mean for the rest of us New Yorkers who are not among his favored few.
Bloomberg, presents himself as a "moderate" Republican who's in tune with the needs of New Yorkers. I'm not buying that and New Yorkers mustn't either. Beneath the moderate facade is a mayor who is very much part and parcel of the Bush agenda. Keeping a Republican mayor in Democatic New York is a critical and integral part of the Bush plan to run our country on behalf of the largest corporations and the wealthy oligarchy. Bloomberg has been a loyal servant to that scheme.
Memo to the Billionaire Mayor -- I know where my vote will go in November and it won't be for you. And I promise you - I will work as hard as I can to convince others to vote against you as well.
12:50 am on the Atlantic Avenue Q Train Station ... waiting, waiting.
Where's the train? Forty minutes and it never came.
Under Bloomberg - more and more problems in New York's subways.
He can find all kind of money for stadiums but nary a cent for the subways and schools.
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Riding up Lafayette Street, I stopped at Astor Place. There you can see from one Starbucks to the next - they're less than a block apart. Also there,the venerable Cooper Union, school of art and design and New York's beloved Public Theater founded by Joseph Papp. Adjacent and north of the theater and just west across the street from that historic old school, where Lincoln gave a famous campaign speech before the Civil War, used to be a parking lot -- now a very busy construction sight.
One more obscene luxury condo being built here - rising curvaceously, and very out of context, above the staid old buildings on the streets below. Here, in a city with huge numbers of homeless, where "affordable housing" has become an oxymoron - here the sign on the construction project read "sculpture for living" and advised that you better have plenty of cash to live here: prices will range from $3.2 to $12 million.
I thought to myself how strange this city has become that a millionare can move into this tower, inhabit the three million dollar apartment and be considered the poor man on the block!
What ugly times we live in - the hideously ugly and cruel Era of Bush.
The new luxury condos (any other type of residences being built nowadays??) rising at Cooper Square.
It's a terrible thing to be a poor millionaire in New York, don't you think?
I didn't have time to publish some additional photos (last week) from my bike ride to Sammy's. The very next day after that ride I rode again into the "city" (as we Brooklynites refer to Manhattan). And here are some other photo-views I took.
The chain link fence on the Manhattan Bridge bike path - a feeling of incarceration.
A barge makes its way to the harbor - view from the Manhattan Bridge bike path.
View up the East River to the Williamsburg Bridge from the Manhattan Bridge bike path.
The Empire State Building and other midtown skyscrapers rise beyond lower east side apartments as seen from the Manhattan Bridge.
We went to see the show Drumstuck on Sunday and were bowled over by the artistry, talent, joy and energy of this performance at Dodger Stages on West 50th Street.
Wow! An incredible group of young drummers/dancers from South Africa inhabit the stage which is designed to resemble a village clearing. All sorts and sizes of conga drums are scattered about and it is these, obviously, which are the focal point of the evening. Oh yes, by the way, each and every member of the audience has their own drum as well.
The drumming was out of sight (out of hearing?) - fabulous, wundebar! On top of that, the audience is invited to participate. What great fun and what a great sound! Through a combination of cheerleading, mime and dance which has been finely honed, the drummers lead us in sophisticated rhythms on our own drums. And it really works: audience and performers in total harmony!
If you get a chance, this is one great evening out. And kids will love it as well as we adults (and there were plenty of children in the audience).
Monday, May 23, 2005
"Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid."
-President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1952
Eisenhower -- and, by the way, he knew something about war too.
Monday, May 16, 2005
And, of course, "W" in this case refers to Wonton soup and how much more barren life would be without this fabulous marmite. I spoke to my daughter, Dani, this morning.
"What are you doing today Daddy?" she wanted to know.
"I'm going to bike into Manhattan and have a bowl of wonton soup, Daughter" I replied.
"Oh. At Wo Hop?"
"No, at Sammy's."
And therein lies the controversy. Where, exactly, can one find the world's greatest wonton soup?
To me there's no controversy.
None. Read on.
I biked into Manhattan using the "commuter's bike path." That is to say, the Manhattan Bridge path. We in New York are now lucky to have three bike paths crossing the East River at the lower end of Manhattan. This is a recent development, as for decades only the Brooklyn Bridge gave access to pedestrians and bikers. But now both the Manhattan Bridge and its somewhat uptown sister, the Williamsburg Bridge, are available and it's a treat. The Brooklyn Bridge path, as I've written about many times, is the tourist's bike path - it attracts people visiting our fair town from all over the country and the world. Add to that, the New Yorkers who use it to get to work and you have one very crowded path.
And so, when you're in a hurry and you don't want the crowds, just steer your bike a bit upriver to the Manhattan Bridge - a practical, utilitarian and fast route that drops you off at Canal Street with quicker access to Soho and the Village.
Even though these bridges are the practical cyclists' route into the city, the views are still awesome. A Q train rumbles by ominously, interspersing itself with flickering views of the grand old Brooklyn Bridge to the south. To the north, despite the DOT's odious chain link fence, built ostensibly to keep us from jumping off the bridge but giving one, instead, the feeling of incarceration, the views of the skyscrapers, in far away midtown, are magnificent.
Biking into Manhattan, I spied this stencil painted on the Manahttan Bridge bike path.
The view from the Manhattan Bridge up busy Forsyth Street - Chrysler and Citicorp buildings visible way uptown.
But I digress, don't I?
Sammy's Noodle Shop on Sixth Avenue and West 11th Street in Greenwich Village is wonton heaven. In a bowl large enough to take a bath in, the most heavenly wontons - delicate and filled with a wonderful stuffing - are swimming in an intensely flavorful broth. This is topped with an entire side of the most magnificent roast pork. Scallions and greens are added to finish off this sublime concoction which is really much more than one person should healthily consume.
Sammy's stupdendous roast pork wonton soup. It's hard to gauge but that bowl is about 7 inches across!
Sammy's was established probably over 10 years ago. Prior to its existence on the west side of Sixth Avenue, the premises was occupied by a venerable (and fancy) grocery -- the Jefferson Market. The latter moved directly across Sixth and in its stead opened my favorite Chinese restaurant. Sammy's was and is Chinatown that has moved uptown. It has the ducks, chickens and roast pork hanging in the window. Peering through the hanging meats you can see an entire crew of workers doing nothing all day but hand-making wontons and dumplings. Fabulous. It's Chinatown "style" but a bit more refined and gentrified for the Village crowd.
Sammy's Noodle Shop - What would life be without it?
Virtually all the food there is great. You can't go wrong. But, as of late, I will head to Sammy's for a fix of wonton soup and their other outstanding contribution -- New York's greatest egg roll. Large and crisp, not soggy and drenched with oil, stuffed with cabbage and shrimp, it's in a class by itself.
That was my day: a delightful bike ride in and out (8 miles each way). And a delicious lunch -- wonton soup and an egg roll. Simple but very substantial and wonderfully satisfying.
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
The phone rang at 6:10 this morning. I knew, from the Caller ID, that we had lost Stacey's Aunt Margie. Steffi was on the phone with news of her mom's demise. It was expected. Margie had been sick for a long time now - in and out of the hospital on a week by week pattern of decline.
I have more than 30 years of wonderful memories of Margie's family, the Smolins - that's more than half of my life. Gathered in their house in Teaneck, New Jersey, the family shared many great and fun-filled times and, for me, Aunt Margie will always be a central part of those recollections. Passover Seders, bar and bas mitzvahs, weddings or just get-togethers, Margie's warmth, presence and personality were for me the glue that wove those reminiscences into a warm panorama of family love and togetherness.
It was, perhaps, fitting that Margie died just after Mother's Day for she was, indeed, a wonderful mother who loved her three daughters, Susan, Stephanie and Martine and welcomed their spouses into the family as if they belonged to her as well. She had a loving and durable bond with her husband and soul mate, Al, that endured over 66 years. Her love and concern for her grandchildren was evident to even a casual observer.
Her memory was sharp and unerring, even to the last days. Stacey and I saw her twice on this last weekend. We stopped at the hospital on our way to visit Dani and Erik for the Mother's Day weekend. And then again, on our way home. We knew it might be the last time to be close to her and to capture, somehow, a last fleeting memory of this woman who meant so much to us - she was one of the last connections to the past that was disappearing from the real world to that other, more nebulous world of memories.
We talked and she posed questions - to us and to herself, about God, politics, activism and the state of the world. We were astonished by this woman, her lungs struggling to take in breath, but still wanting to review issues of life that puzzled her. And I thought to myself that the loss of a loved one always saddens us. We want to hold on to them - that they should never leave us. But Margie's death also had within it a beauty that we should stop to admire and hold dear. She loved all of us with such a great love that I could see and feel in those last moments - her heart, it seemed, was breaking that she wouldn't be able to love us any longer.
As we left her bedside on Sunday evening, Stacey and I each leaned forward to kiss her lips one last time. The pain in her face was evident as she removed her oxygen mask to receive and give one last embrace from us.
Marjorie Smolin, a beautiful, kind and caring woman - Stacey's dear aunt and her mom's only sister. Another piece of the family and the older generation - gone. Certainly not forgotten.
Steffi and Margie on her birthday in April, 2004.
Al and Margie - a great love that endured, it seemed, forever.
Happy times - Margie's birthday party - April, 2004.
Margie and her niece, Stacey - great love.
Margie Smolin - beautiful, inside and out.
Friday, May 06, 2005
We probably should take on part-time jobs in our retirement -- perhaps New York city tour guides. We love showing off our city and taking visitors around and have become pretty knowledgeable.
Yesterday was no exception. Visiting New York and the United States was a young man from the town of Biddu in Palestine. Stacey had met Mansour during her trip there last summer.
We picked up our visitor at an apartment in Brooklyn. But before we left on our tour, Mansour showed us a video that had been made in his town of Biddu showing, firsthand and graphically, the horrible reality of the occupation. Here, in one scene, an elderly Palestinian man, in tears and outrage, watching as the Israeli's clear his humble plot of land that fronts his modest house. They, chainsaws in hand, are cutting and uprooting some dozen or so of the old man's olive trees to make way for the construction of the infamous Apartheid wall being built by the extremist government of Ariel Sharon.
Olive trees, the very staff of subsistance for many Palestinian farmers, take some 50 years before they can produce their fruit. Many trees live for hundreds of years. To violently and arrogantly take a chainsaw to olive trees would be like Donald Trump taking a bulldozer to Central Park to build another of his Trump monstrosities in its place. The world should know what is being done in Palestine in the name of Sharon's "security." Mansour's trip here is to shine the light of world opinion on the brutal reality of the occupation.
We picked up Mansour at the apartment where he's staying.
We drove down Atlantic Avenue, showing our guest the shops in downtown Brooklyn's Arabic community. At Court Street, Stacey double-parked and Mansour and I made a quick tour of Sahadi's, the mideast grocery that we love and frequent so often for our supplies of olives, almonds and cheese - all at fabulous prices.
Sahadi's at 189 Atlantic Avenue.
Next on our tour was breakfast and, where else, but our favorite: Cafe Luluc at 214 Smith Street. Readers of this Blog are familiar, by now, with this wonderful little restaurant.
Coffe, tea and brunch at Cafe Luluc.
After brunch at Cafe Luluc - 214 Smith Street.
Mansour had to make a train at Penn Station and we had to get him there at 2:30. It was after 12 already, giving us a bit more than two hours to "show him the town." Impossible! So we opted for a walk, on this lovely spring day, across the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge walk is, in my opinion , one of New York's most magnificent attractions, blending fabulous views of Manhattan with the beauty of walking across the bridge with its magnificent, gothic, granite arches and steel cables. An archictectual masterpiece in a heavenly setting!
Stacey and Mansour on Roebling's bridge.
The Lady of the harbor through the cables of the bridge.
Mansour - he loved the bridge and the views.
Mansour said he was overwhelmed by the beauty of it all and so too were we. Despite the dozens of times we've been over this bridge by foot or bike, the effect each time is the same: a euphoric uplifting of one's senses and a feeling that, despite all the world's problems, life is pretty beautiful and that humanity can be so creative.
Running out of time, we did a quick perusal of City Hall and its recently renovated park and then a quick viewing of the empty space that once contained the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. It was a very moving and emotional experience for our guest who had difficulty, coming from a small village in the West Bank, comprehending the enormous height to which the buildings had once soared.
Stacey and Mansour at the former site of the World Trade Center.
A very moving experience at the WTC site.
It was late now - how to get back to our car on the Brooklyn side, and quickly? We opted for a Taxi which was only a few cents more than three fares on the subway and quicker. Then a quick ride back across the bridge and uptown to Penn Station where we dropped our friend off for his trip to Washington.
A self-portrait: Me - in the taxi back to the car.
Mansour, the activist that he is, confided that he enjoyed, for the moment, being a simple tourist - no meetings, speeches, cell phones to annoy him, as we walked the streets of downtown Manhattan. "It almost makes the troubles disappear," he said. "At least for the moment.
Monday, May 02, 2005
You might have noticed that a friend, Murray Head, wrote a pointed comment, at the bottom of the previous post, that he wasn't mentioned in my BLOG, even though we ran into him on the way to the park. Murray has, like me, become an avid photographer in this digital age -- and there he was snapping away. He even snapped me, but I failed to shoot him back.
If you want to see some really great photos of yesterday's peace march, taken by Murray, just click here to go to Murray's site.
Here's Murray's photo of Stacey, Rock and me on the Great Peace March.
And...we also bumped into our old friend, Ted Reich, amongst the marchers.
Woke up Sunday morning to the steady tap of rain. But this can't be! It was supposed to be a beautfiul day - perfect for the great peace march that we were planning to attend. Switching on the boob-tube I learned that this was a passing shower and that all would be well by noon.
We got up, went for a coffee at Prospect Perks and met our upstairs neighbor, Rock, who was joining us for the day.
I had been postering the neighborhood the past few days. Speaking to people I was getting the feeling that this was not going to be as big a demonstration as I hoped for. A lot of people didn't even know about it - and that's not a good sign in this hip neighborhood where there is a lot of anti-war sentiment.
My handiwork - flyers urging people to attend the march and rally.
The three of us walked to the subway. Our destination was East 54th Street and First Avenue. The march would take us near the United Nations, then across 42nd Street to Sixth Avenue and we'd then march up Sixth to Central Park and a rally.
On the subway, on the way. My bike group, Transportation Alternatives has posters advertising May as Bike Month NYC.
We arrived to find 54th Street almost devoid of people. It was already close to noon, the time people were supposed to arrive for the march. This didn't look good and it was confirming my previous estimates of low turnout. There were a few people milling about but, as in previous protests, the block should have been filled to bursting from one end to the other. I made my way to the corner to look down First Avenue....there were the multitudes, lined up in the avenue, waiting to march. It seems most people had made their way to East 50th Street, not 54th.
Sign maker plying his craft.
We got into line right next to a cool bunch of peace musicians that were playing strange-sounding tunes on instruments as diverse as a seashell, a saxaphone and a drum. A bunch of singing marchers accompanied them. The overall effect was uplifting as marchers walked along, singing or clapping out the rhythm. The sun was out and that added a euphoric feeling to parade whose demand was the abolition of nuclear weapons worldwide - including those held by our own country, the only nation that has ever used them against a people.
This guy is playing a seashell and carrying a drum and symbol. A bit eerie but fabulous!
The people's marching band for peace!
We had started out marching with Brooklyn Parents For Peace, our local group but right next to us was also Camp Kinderland - the progressive, secular Jewish camp which I attended as a kid and to which both of our kids had gone for so many years.
Our local group - Brooklyn Parents For Peace.
Camp Kinderland marches for peace.
Ensconced in the parade it was hard to get a grip on how many people were marching - but it was a lot. Later, at the rally in Central Park, the organizers, United For Peace And Justice announced an estimate of 40,000. Accurate or not, it was correct to say a lot of New Yorkers had turned out to make their voices heard.
Young and old, the line stretched down First Avenue and into the distance.
A wonderful component this time around was the presence of thousands of Japanese citizens. A large contingent was in town to attend the United Nations debate on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (which Bush is seeking to abrogate). They took advantage to participate in the peace march as well. Veterans of that country's struggle against nukes, they were festooned with colorful banners and distributed origami to the other marchers. They also collected signatures from marchers and onlookers on petitions demanding abolition of all nuclear weapons. They were very friendly and very well received.
At the rally, the mayor of Hiroshima, one of only two cities in the world that had been the target of nuclear weapons, spoke to the crowd. Then a survivor of the bomb from Hiroshima described the mental and physical anguish and living hell that his life became in the decades since. These people knew full well the nigthmarish effects that nuclear war portends for humanity.
There were many people from Japan who had travelled here to participate.
We pass Grand Central Station.
Stacey and Rock - on the march.
One woman carried a portrait of our great leader.
Marching up to the park.
When we got to the park, marshalls assisted people into areas that would depict a giant peace sign when viewed from the air.
Here's a photo of the human peace sign at Central Park on Sunday, May 1st.
More Japanese marchers at the park.
It had been a long day as we walked out of the park and to a subway that would take us back to Brooklyn. We realized that there's much more to be done if we are to awaken the American people to the harm that is being done in their name by a small band that has grabbed control of our government.
On the domestic front, people are suddenly becoming aware that this is most certainly not what they voted for: they did not vote for severe cuts or elimination of Medicare, Social Security and other social services. They did not vote for despoiling the environment on behalf of the oil companies' bottom line. But now we must show them that they also did not vote for a dirty war to subjugate the people of the Iraq or to use nuclear weapons as a tool of domination against countries that want to follow a different path than that which Bush has chosen for them.
A group of good kids in Central Park. Our future.