It’s starting . . .

yelling trumpOkay, okay – it isn’t just starting; it’s been going on for a while. A hijab-wearing woman kicked and called “trash” in Bay Ridge. A homeless Latino man beaten up in Boston. Black students ejected from a rally in Valdosta, Georgia. But before last Friday, I hadn’t personally witnessed it.* (Because, when you’re a self-absorbed blogger, nothing is real unless it happens to you, right?)

The other thing that’s different, of course, is that Donald Trump is now the presumptive Republican candidate for president of the United States. Continue reading

Race report – Gaza 5K

gaza 5k

See how happy I am to be running “for the children”! (Photo credit: Monica Jorge)

I don’t normally do “cause” races – not that there’s anything wrong with them, they’re just not my thing. This particular cause, though, is close to my heart. The race benefited UNRWA community mental health programs for the children of Gaza, who’ve witnessed far too much death and destruction in their short lifetimes. Continue reading

Walls of wisdom

IMG_3869I’m taking a break from birds and writing about birds (and also, on this not-so-Super Tuesday, from batshit crazy politics) to share a photo gallery of posters from walls around Brooklyn. I’m not sure who the artist/philosopher is, but as you can see, they’re quite prolific.

Here’s a further sampling:

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A week in New Hampshire

New Hampshire in early February is cold. It snows a lot (twice in the week I was there, with more on its way as we left). And every four years it teems with presidential candidates, campaign staff and media.  It’s not just easy to meet candidates in New Hampshire; it’s impossible to avoid them. Imagine sitting with friends in your hotel lobby, chatting companionably, only to look up and see Ted Cruz posing for a photo with the hotel manager.

Now that I’ve thoroughly traumatized you, let me add: New Hampshire in early February in a presidential election year is something everyone should experience at least once. Continue reading

200 Bird Thursday – Week 6 (New Hampshire primary edition)

No new birds to report this week. That’s not surprising, as I spent most of it in New Hampshire doing political work. (I packed my binoculars just in case, but was too busy to take them out of my bag. Birdwatching opportunities were limited to roadside red-tailed hawks and whatever happened to be visiting the feeders of Democratic primary voters, which did not, alas, include boreal chickadees, evening grosbeaks or crossbills.)

Birding posts will resume next week. Between now and then, look for an account of my New Hampshire adventures. Unfortunately, my working title – “The special hell of a Ted Cruz rally” – has already been claimed by another blogger.

There goes the neighborhood

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Really rich people make really bad neighbors.

The process of gentrification is pretty far along in Park Slope, but the above-pictured sign on 1st street between 4th and 5th avenues still stopped me in my tracks. The block is divided between commercial spaces and condos at the 4th avenue end, and nice (but modest) brownstones closer to 5th avenue. It’s not, in other words, the kind of block you’d normally associate with house-hunting oligarchs.

And therein lies a tale. Continue reading

Lutheran Halal

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This is my Brooklyn.

Go ahead and try to wrap your mind around the concept of Lutheran halal. (Spoiler: it’s not really cuisine prepared according to the dictates of both Lutheran and Muslim dietary laws, but the name of a coffee shop by Lutheran Medical Center.)  It’s as Brooklyn as . . . well, as a large extended family, all dressed up, the women wearing hijabs, smiling for a group photograph in front of Junior’s before their traditional ‘Eid al-Adha feast of pastrami and cheesecake. Continue reading

The people we pass

11220859_10207499265028701_1802981245041717710_nHis name is Santiago López. On Labor Day morning, he was playing the accordion and singing in front of a shuttered storefront on an otherwise quiet block of 4th Avenue in Sunset Park; I was halfway through an easy 6 mile training run along the NYC marathon course.

Accordion music is a weakness of mine. After passing him (his improvised lyrics referred to “una mujer bonita”), I jogged to the next street, hesitated there, and turned around (“regresa la mujer bonita”).

“I love accordions,” I burbled, fumbling for a dollar in my hardly-sweaty-at-all plastic bag. A dollar, a photograph, a thank you, and an attempted riff of my own, in bad Spanish, about the next time I return, I’ll be running the marathon.

El maratón! He told me how that was him, in 1992, no, 1991. How he went to the United Nations. (We were speaking half in English, half in Spanish, and I was having a hard time following. I guessed he was referring to the pre-marathon event for international runners, which starts with a ceremony at the UN.) Here, he had a picture to show me.

He fumbled around and produced, out of somewhere, a cheap plastic portfolio – the kind that ties shut. He undid the tie, opened it up, and showed me his newspaper clippings.

Except they weren’t about the marathon. There was the front page of El Diario, dated October 22, 1991, with the screaming red headline, “Un charro armado en la ONU” and a picture of a much younger man wearing a cowboy hat and shiny black glasses. Continue reading

Presidential apartments

The Woodrow Wilson

The Woodrow Wilson

Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway is notable for a number of reasons. It is the world’s first “parkway” (the word was coined to describe it), designed by the prolific Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux and constructed in the 1870s as part of a grand vision – never achieved – to link Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and other green spaces together via a network of tree-lined, Parisian-style boulevards.  From its source at the magnificent (if terrifying for pedestrians) Grand Army Plaza, the parkway flows past the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum before it takes a dog-leg and turns into a much more workaday artery (less like Paris, more like Buffalo) at Ralph Avenue.

Come Labor Day weekend, the parkway will be transformed into an ear-splitting, bejeweled, befeathered and beflagged West Indian carnival. (Summertime in Brooklyn is bracketed by two festive excuses for public semi-nudity, June’s Mermaid Parade in Coney Island being the other one.)

Eastern Parkway is a fun street to run because the two malls that parallel the main traffic lanes, originally intended for horses and carriages, are now given over to pedestrians and cyclists (who seem less crazy here than in many other parts of the borough).  You can run long, uninterrupted, relatively uncongested blocks between avenues while taking in the view. Continue reading

The banks were made of marble

Greater NY Savings BankFinance may be ascendant in NYC, but plenty of once-grand bank buildings are now repurposed as retail stores, fitness centers and (of course) luxury condos.  Here’s a small sample gathered from some recent Brooklyn runs, along with whatever information I was able to dig up about the history of each institution and location.

I like to think that the stories of these buildings, combined, help tell a bigger story about financial consolidation. The plot of that bigger story careens from one financial crisis to the next, with a hot redlining subplot, all set against a backdrop of Brooklyn’s decline as a manufacturing center and growth as a lifestyle brand.

I don’t pretend to do justice to that story here, just to hint at it.

(One acknowledgement that absolutely must go up front: as I was working on this post, I quickly discovered  that Kevin Walsh’s “Forgotten New York” blog has visited most, if not all, of these same sites – and many others as well. If you aren’t already familiar with FNY, and you have even a smidgen of interest in the social, economic and architectural history of Brooklyn and New York City, then you owe it to yourself to check it out.) Continue reading