Taco Tuesday (except with quesadillas)

I’ve been to the small Sunset Park bakery called La Flor de Izucar before; I’ve even blogged about it. But when I heard they were serving birria, and that their birria was good, I had to pay them a return visit. In the interest of research, I stopped by a few weeks ago and confirmed that their birria quesadillas were both excellent and enormous. “I should come here with Eric,” I thought at the time. Today, I did.

We mounted CitiBikes and then pedaled our way south, dodging delivery trucks and double-parked cars on Fifth Avenue, sucking in lungfuls of smoke-fouled air (western wildfires continue to be felt here on the east coast), and generally risking dehydration and heat exhaustion under a relentless sun. Once my mind is set on birria, I will not be denied.

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Shirley Chisholm State Park

50 Favorite Places #28
Shirley Chisholm is a new state park, opened in the summer of 2019 and named after the pioneering Brooklynite who represented central Brooklyn in Congress from 1969 to 1983. It’s located on the far eastern edge of the borough, just off the Belt Parkway, where East New York butts up against Howard Beach.

From 1956 to 1985, the site was a pair of working landfills. As the Starrett City housing complex rose, so did the landfill piles across the Belt Parkway from it. The landfills blocked not just waterfront access, but even waterfront views, for residents of the waterfront neighborhood. Take it as a sign of the disregard the city has historically shown its 520 miles of coastline (fun fact: NYC has more coastline than Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston combined), and its scornful attitude toward residents of modest means. (You can find an excellent history of the site here.)

By the time I started birding and running Brooklyn’s coastal edge, the area’s reclamation was well underway – the formerly stinking mounds were covered with grass – but it was closed tight. Ominous signs warned away trespassers, while increasingly tattered banners promised a park was coming.

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The Verrazzano Bridge

50 Favorite Places #27
The Verrazzano Narrows Bridge – the second Z was added in 2018, about which more below – has connected Brooklyn and Staten Island since 1964. It’s a massive span. Until 1981, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world; it’s still the longest in the Americas. You can see it from much of Brooklyn and Staten Island, catching glimpses while walking or driving or riding the train. You can see it from Manhattan. And if you pick the right vantage point and maybe crane your neck a bit, you can see it from Queens and the Bronx, too. (I have not personally done this, but according to the nyfacts.com site, it’s possible.) Another fun fact from the same site: the bridge’s length required its designer to compensate for the earth’s curvature by making its two towers 1 5/8 inches farther apart at their tops than their bases. I’m sure an engineer will soon come along to say that’s not in fact unusual, but it sure sounds impressive to me.

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2020 in birds

This has become an annual post. In an ordinary year, it’s a nice way to remember where and with whom I saw which birds, and to try to explain why that particular bird, in those particular circumstances, warrants “bird of the month” honors.

Of course, 2020 was not an ordinary year. Most of my birding was done within a 5-mile radius of my Brooklyn home. Despite that constraint, or perhaps because of it, I birded even more obsessively than usual. By late November, I’d already seen more species in Brooklyn than I’d ever managed before.

This was also the year when scores, maybe hundreds, of Brooklynites took up birding for the first time. It was fun seeing them in Prospect Park (at first) and then (as we all started feeling safer traveling a bit farther afield) in places like Fort Tilden, Jamaica Bay and Plumb Beach. Their enthusiasm was a welcome reminder of just how purely, stupidly joyful the pursuit and observation of birds can be.

A year’s worth of idiosyncratically-chosen birds follows. A few were rarities, some of them lifers. Others were birds I see every year, but that took on new meaning in 2020.

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Street Art Sunday: Brooklyn’s pandemic year

Good-bye and good riddance, 2020. Starting in late March, when the streets were still mostly deserted, I snapped photos of creative responses to the pandemic. Some pieces offered encouragement and hope; others admonished us to act responsibly. Many paid tribute to the workers who cared for the sick and kept the city functioning. The most poignant memorialized the dead.

A sampling follows.

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Floyd Bennett Field

50 Favorite Places #26
It has history. It has creepy ruined buildings and empty hangars. It has miles of runways and a coastline. It has birds, from soaring raptors to twittering finches to goofy woodcocks. It has that most coveted of urban luxuries: space.

What it doesn’t have are easy transit connections. Consequently, I’d lived in Brooklyn for more than three years before I made my way to the end of the 2 subway line, found the Q35 bus stop alongside the Nostrand Junction Target store, got off by the Gateway Marina and dashed across Flatbush Avenue to what was, at one time, the main commercial airport serving New York City.

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Sometimes, you just need . . .

As regular readers will know, I’ve been sporadically documenting the bitterly cryptic comments pasted on walls around Brooklyn by an unknown street artist or artists. It’s been a long time since I found a new one – my last update was nearly a year ago, which in pandemic time equates to either 118 years or 2 days.

Then, on Thanksgiving morning, I happened upon this. Too tagged and tattered to read, it invites multiple interpretations:

Sometimes, you just need to burp the horse.

Sometimes, you just need to burn the house.

Sometimes, you just need to bury the birdseed.

Sometimes, you just need to bump the bruises.

Ditmas Park (Halloween edition)

50 Favorite Places #25
Ditmas Park, a Brooklyn neighborhood of tree-lined streets and gracious Victorian homes, is one of my favorite places any time of year – but that’s for another post. This post is about Ditmas Park at Halloween.

Several years ago, I heard someone mention that Halloween is to Ditmas Park as Christmas is to Dyker Heights. I was intrigued, but then forgot about it until after the holiday. Last year, it slipped my mind again. But in this pandemic year, with nothing but time on my hands, I made a point of reconnoitering the neighborhood on a damp late-October morning.

At first, I was disappointed. I saw the requisite pumpkins, many spider webs, and a few skeletons. An inflatable black and purple ghoul, bobbing in the breeze, struck me as more playful than terrifying. Frankly, I saw nothing that would have stood out as exceptional in any residential section of Brooklyn.

Then I came to the corner of Argyle and Albemarle roads. It was just one house, but what a house! Its wraparound porch, typical of the neighborhood, lends itself to discrete vignettes of horror. There’s one dedicated to witches, one to zombies, one to demons, and one – my favorite, shown below – to scary clowns.

If I weren’t signed up to make calls to voters tomorrow (my attempt to avert true horror), I might run by there after dark to check out the full show.

Then again, I might be too scared to.

Salt Marsh Nature Center at Marine Park

50 Favorite Places #24
My pursuit of birds has taught me a lot about my city. Before I got serious about birding Brooklyn, much of the borough south of Church Avenue was a mystery to me. Sure, there was Coney Island and Brighton Beach and DiFara Pizza and all those lettered avenues you run past during the Brooklyn Half Marathon . . . but I had at best a glancing familiarity with vast swaths of the city.

For example, I’d never heard of Marine Park. And even after I heard of it (from eBird, naturally), I had no clue where it was or how to get there without a car. But it seemed like one of those places someone attempting a local “biggish year” should go, and so, after looking it up on a map and figuring out transit connections, off I went.

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