Street Art Sunday: Puebla Edition

Having just arrived in Puebla on Friday, I can’t claim to know much about the city (other than the fact that El Carmen on Calle 16 de Septiembre makes incredible cemitas), and there’s certainly beautiful, funny and provocative art to be seen driving into the main bus station, or walking around the Centro Histórico. But if there’s a more extensive – and stunning – display than the one found in Ciudad Mural in the Barrio de Xanenetla…well, I’d be surprised.

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Taco Tuesday: Mexico City

Salsas awaiting their tacos

Eric and I arrived in Mexico City yesterday afternoon. In our first 24 hours in the city, we consumed tacos al pastor; de arrachera; de costillas con nopales…not to mention tostadas topped with a startling variety of sea creatures.

All in the interest of research, of course.

Here, then, are some taco highlights.

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Taco Tuesday, Tucson edition (with burros)

Definitely a burro, not a burrito

Burros – along with their diminutive (at least in name) cousins, burritos – have always struck me as problematic. They’re invariably overstuffed, often grotesquely so. When they’re not dry, they’re drowning in goopy sauce and (horrors) cheese. Worst of all is the dreaded burrito fold, confronting the eater with double or triple or quadruple layers of gummy flour tortilla.

But Eric and I are in Tucson this week, and Tucson is the land of flour tortillas, where chimichangas were born and burros reign supreme. As the saying goes: when in Rome, do as the Sonorenses do.

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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. You can see it across Jamaica Bay in Queens. And if you pick the right vantage point and maybe crane your neck a bit, you can see it from 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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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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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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Industry City

50 Favorite Places #23
Industry City: it’s complicated. Is this still one of my favorite places, or is it a nightmare of hyper-gentrification? If I write about it here, am I encouraging its transformation into the kind of “destination” I despise? Should I move on to something less complicated, like parks and bakeries?

But Brooklyn is all about complications, and so is this blog. In the end I decided to include it for what it has to say about the past, the present, and possible – contested – futures.

Besides, Industry City is already part of every post I write: this blog’s banner features a detail of one of its buildings, circa 2010 or so. Even before I moved here for good, the complex and its surrounding blocks were one of my favorite destinations for easy runs. I love old industrial architecture – it’s the Detroiter in me, I suppose – and the Sunset Park waterfront is a treasure trove for anyone with an interest in factories and warehouses. It’s lined with hulking, yet oddly graceful, multi-story factory lofts, interspersed with lower-rise warehouses and knit together by abandoned railroad tracks. Some buildings are, if not abandoned outright, underused. Others hum with activity, from the production of customized t-shirts to building supplies to beer. Smaller businesses sell live poultry, rebuild cars, and machine the components that go in those rebuilt cars. Truck traffic bumps along the uneven, block-paved streets.

Against this backdrop, the Industry City complex rises between 32nd and 37th streets like something conjured by a wizard or a movie director . . . or a developer. Oh, it’s real enough: the buildings date from the 1890s, when Irving T. Bush was pioneering the integration of transportation, manufacturing and distribution (you can read more about Bush and his legacy here). But today, they stand apart from the rest of the waterfront neighborhood. They’re in it, but not of it.

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Mazzola Bakery

Fifty Favorite Places #22
In 1928, when Nicolo Mazzola opened a bakery at the corner of Henry and Union streets in what was then called South Brooklyn, the neighborhood was well into its transition from Irish to Italian. Both groups were driven by hunger – the potato famine, the almost feudal poverty of the Mezzogiorno – and drawn by the lure of jobs along Brooklyn’s developing waterfront. Today, the area has been re-dubbed Carroll Gardens, and it’s pretty thoroughly gentrified. Judging by what one sees and hears on the street, intimidatingly stylish and attractive young families from France are now the biggest immigrant group. But traces of older waves remain. There are the fig trees brought as seedlings from Sicily or Campania, replanted in Brooklyn gardens, wrapped and coddled through half a century of harsh winters, and still bearing fruit today. There are old school barber shops and funeral homes with unmistakably Italian names. There’s the Cittadini Molesi social club, the last of its kind. There’s the church where Al Capone was married. There are front yards like the one pictured below.

A Carroll Gardens classic

And there’s Mazzola Bakery – still in its original location and still family-owned, though since 1980 that family has not been the Mazzolas but the Caravellos.

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