Greenpoint, October, 2015

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Lost Places?

Staten Island (Oct. 2012)
I have very few photographs of parking lots. The ones I do have are taken from the outside. I try to spend as little time in them as possible.
Near Kelly Square, Worcester, MA (Nov. 2013)
Robert Adams' photographs of parking lots around Denver, CO, between 1979-82, are taken from the inside.
In the catalog to the exhibit, No Small Journeys: Across Shopping Center Parking Lots, Down City Streets, Adams writes, "If we came upon innocence, beauty, caring, joy or courage, even in the lost places, are we not obliged to acknowledge them in defiance of ironists?"

A fine question to close 2013. Or begin 2014. Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Man Cursing the Sea (Holub)

Watch Hill, R.I. (August 2013)
just climbed to the top of the cliff
and started cursing the sea:
New Dorp, Staten Island (May 2013)
Stupid water, stupid pregnant water,
slimy copy of the sky,
hesitant hoverer between the sun and the moon,
pettifogging reckoner of shells,
fluid, loud-mouthed bull,
fertilizing the rocks with his blood,
suicidal sword
splintering itself on any promontory,
hydra, fragmenting the night,
breathing salty clouds of silence,
spreading jelly-like wings
in vain, in vain,
gorgon, devouring its own body,

water, you absurd flat skull of water
Weekapaug, R.I. (Oct. 2010)

Thus for a while he cursed the sea,
which licked his footprints in the sand
like a wounded dog.

And then he came down
and stroked
the small immense stormy mirror of the sea.

There you are, water, he said,
and went his way.

-Miroslav Holub (tr. Ian Milner & George Theiner)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Biscuit City Christmas

Christmas afternoon drive from Westerly to Biscuit City (by way of Shannock Mills). The last time I wad in Biscuit City, about 15 years ago, I arrived by canoe.

35 mile or so round trip; about an hour's drive (not counting time out for sightseeing). During which, we spotted:
17 people (not counting those in cars)
2 dogs
1 magnificent pig
1 chicken (definite)
1 chicken (disputed)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Holiday Wishes

Westerly, R.I., Dec. 24, 2013
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from BTB and the everybody down in the Research Bureau.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Serious Ladies of Staten Island - Part IV

Dorothy Day on Staten Island
In her diary, just about two years before her death, Dorothy Day recorded reports of a "mini earthquake" in Brooklyn, S.I., N.J., and Westchester: Why was not Manhattan Island affected? What a thought! Unimaginable to think of those fantastic World Trade Towers swaying with a sudden jarring of what we have come to think of as solid earth beneath our feet! 

Day was writing from her room in Maryhouse, the Catholic Worker community house on East 3rd St. (overlooking the Hells Angels clubhouse), but the event recalled a time much earlier on Staten Island: ... I sat one day in a rocking chair 50 years ago, nursing my tiny daughter in front of a large mirror which hung from my wall in my beach bungalow in S.I. and suddenly saw that mirror begin to quiver as tho a train or truck, neither of which could be within miles of us, had suddenly passed the little house, making it tremble.

Dorothy Day had moved to Staten Island in 1925 with Forster Batterham. There she gave birth to their daughter, Tamar. She converted to Catholicism and was baptized Our Lady Help of Christians in Tottenville. She died at Maryhouse, in the East Village, but is buried in Cemetery of the Resurrection in Pleasant Plains. Up until her last few years, she spent summers in one of the Catholic Worker bungalows in the Spanish Camp on the west end of the island overlooking Raritan Bay.

Day's first cottage, where she lived with Batterham and then Tamar, was purchased with royalties from her first novel, was a "tin-roofed fisherman's shack" on a 25 by 50 foot lot between Huguenot and Arbutus avenues. It is still a beautiful stretch of beach, long ago given over to mini-mansions (below).

The shack was not far from the Spanish Camp, which was established in the 1920s as a summer refuge for Spanish immigrant workers. The Catholic Worker eventually bought three bungalows in the Camp. The Spanish Camp survived until 1997, when a developer bought the property to create "Central Park East": McMansions on the shore. The three CW bungalows were being considered for landmarks designation when the developer illegally razed them along with many others (Times story here). Only a few of the new houses have been completed. About a dozen bungalows remain, mostly in ruins (below), but a few still inhabited. (Taking photos of the beach, a man appeared on a back porch of one. Shirtless despite the 40-degree temperature. A survivor!)

Model home for Central Park East
In 1950, at Day's urging, the Catholic Worker purchased a small, disused farm on Bloomingdale Road, a mile or so from the Spanish Camp (and just under a mile away was the farm where Jane and Paul Bowles lived a decade earlier). They named it the Peter Maurin Farm for Day's cofounder of the Catholic Worker. In a CW article a few years later, Day wrote: When we came to Peter Maurin farm three years ago this coming St. Augustine's Day, August 28, the place had not been farmed for fifteen years. The fields were full of witchgrass, and saplings. Trees and grape vines had not been pruned for years and the soil had not felt the touch of spade or plough. 

Day describes the surrounding area: Next door to us Mr. Prasse has a fine goat farm, a registered herd, and a milk route, and he has several heavy fields of alfalfa. All around us there are examples of how the little farms of Staten Island were once worked and can still be made to work for man and beast. (Perhaps it was Mr. Prasse's goats that Dawn Powell encountered on her rambles with Joe.)
Peter Maurin Farm, Staten Island
Today, the site is populated by tidy suburban homes (like the one below). Here is Day's description, in her diary from September 1950, of the first days on Peter Maurin Farm: Deborah, Eileen and I moved into the Peter Maurin Farm (on S.I.) August 30. The place was purchased on the feast of St. Augustine... Visited neighbors with bread and got vegetables next door. Fish man comes Tues and Friday to door. We got a 5-lb codfish for a dollar which we are baking. We are begging and he said he would bring us cutting from filets for chowder. We are all happy and comfortable after a first night of great misery. Eileen is a great help, cleaning, baking.

The farm lasted until 1960, when the CW sold it and purchased property in Tivoli, on the Hudson just above Rhinebeck. But it was always the beach that drew Day to Staten Island. In her diary entries, like this one from October, 1973, one hears echoes of another convert, Gerard Manley Hopkins: It is 7:30 and I have been up since 5:30. So beautiful down here. I am trying to persuade F. to get a little house down here near us. I am sitting up on a cupboard so I can look out the high windows at the Bay and tide going out and hundreds of gulls, wheeling and circling, almost dancing in the air, settling on the rocky seaweed-covered rocks, finding a delicious breakfast evidently. We cam after dark last night so I must enjoy today, going in tonight. There looks like a harbor seal on the big rock!

And from September, 1977: A beautiful sunrise. Gulls on the big rock offshore. Low tide. Sometimes one wakes depressed in September. Problems on every side. One cannot help but share them. The human condition. St. Paul wrote, "Rejoice! Again I say rejoice." Clean a room, a desk, clean oneself up!

Day's faith was, in very physical ways, forged on Staten Island's South Shore. From a statement titled "The Beach Experience," which Day wrote in 1925 and used on a number of occasions:

I was 'born by the word of the Spirit,' contemplating the beauty of the sea and the shore, wind and waves, the tides. The mighty and minute, the stores and peace, wave and the wavelets of receding tides, sea gulls, and seaweed and shells, all gave testimony of a Creator, a Father almighty, made known to us through His Son. Jesus always seemed to have preferred following the seashore or the banks of some stream... When in a strange land... [the apostles] had to procure their food somehow and... [they] undoubtedly supplied their wants from the produce of their fishing. 

For Dorothy Day and her compatriots, the "produce of their fishing" was a 5-pound codfish purchased for a dollar or scraps from filets to be used for chowder.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Pile Up

(Courtesy Daily News)
Tuesday's early morning "black ice pile-up" (thirteen cars; four minor injuries) on the Gowanus Expressway was occasion for some great news photos.

(Courtesy NBCNews)
Missing from the stories is any analysis of the normal traffic pattern on that part of the eastbound expressway. Coming out of Bay Ridge a single HOV lane (for morning commutes) splits off to the left and rises above both the remaining eastbound lanes (to the right) and the westbound lanes (to the left). No breakdown lanes. No room to squeeze an emergency vehicle by to reach an accident or stalled car. Something I think about each time I take it. But I take it.

(Courtesy NBCNews)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bay Moon

December 18, 2013. 6:15 P.M. Looking east from Bay Street, St. George, to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Light on the Forest

The intersection of Mulberry Avenue and Travis Avenue and the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge on Staten Island. The sixth largest public park in New York City and surely the largest salt marsh within a five-minute walk to an Ann Taylor outlet.

Greenhouses peeking above the fence, across Richmond Avenue, from Barnes & Noble. A bit further down the avenue, the Staten Island Mall occupies the site of the old Farmers' Market, described by Dawn Powell as "a combination Sears Roebuck and county fair, in huge quonsets far out on Richmond Avenue... long a supply center for those who dread even the short trip to New Jersey."

There is a Sears anchor store in the mall. The last time I was there, I heard this exchange among employees:
"How you doing, brother?"
"We're still here, man."

Sunday, December 15, 2013


The USPS will be releasing a new priority mail stamp sometime in early 2014 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. (The upper deck, that is, the lower deck opened five years later.)  At $5.60, it's just about the cost of a one-way trip on the VNB.
Postmaster General: How about a 2014 stamp for the Kosciuszko Bridge? It would commemorate its 75 anniversary (and possibly the beginning construction of its replacement).

Friday, December 13, 2013

New Ark

Robert Treat wanted to call it Milford, after the town he and his Puritan buddies from the New Haven Colony had already founded.

Abraham Pierson had other ideas. This was to be the "new ark," here on the Passaic.

Who is to say it's not?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Containing Gray

From front yard of Alice Austen House, Stapleton, S.I. (above).

From von Briesen Park (left). Arthur von Briesen was a Pomeranian (Prussian) immigrant and prominent lawyer. He served as the president of the Legal Aid Society for 25 years, working tirelessly on the behalf of German and other immigrants. His support for Germany's territorial and military claims, including the invasion of Belgium, in 1914, forced his resignation from the LAS in 1916. Four years later, he died suddenly in the Staten Island ferry house in the Battery on his way to his summer estate, present day von Briesen Park. Times story here.

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge looms above a Fort Wadsworth playground (below). Seen from von Briesen Park.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Roadside Beer

Conch Umbrella Factory, Greenpoint (Dec. 2013)
Opening a bottle, pouring it out, and taking a first sip, at a cafe in Krynica or Stary Sacz, Wojtek would declare it the "good Żywiec." A Varsovian to the bone, he maintained they kept the good Żywiec for themselves, in the mountains, and sent the "bad Żywiec" to the other parts of the country, notably Warsaw. Most of the Polish-Americans in Greenpoint come from the poorer, southern part of the country, so I'm guessing we get the good Żywiec.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Serious Ladies of Staten Island - Part III

... fresh sprung from Ohio, conquering New York and knowing everything as I never have since, I was asked by a fair young man in the office next to mine if I would care to go walking Saturday on Staten Island.
      "I've always wanted to," I cried, never having heard of the place.

Staten Island seems an unlikely locale for Dawn Powell, who satirized the mid-century artistic milieu of  New York so well in A Time to be Born, The Locusts Have No King, The Golden Spur, and other novels. In fact, in a late novel, The Wicked Pavillion, Staten Island plays a small but critical role in the story of Marius, one of the three painters whose cafe society lives the book relates. (Excellent reference on DP's life here.)

Powell's first trip to Staten Island in 1920 and subsequent ones are recounted in a short piece she wrote for Esquire in 1965 called, "Staten Island I Love You!" The "fair young man..., who shall be and indeed was called Joe," became her husband. Staten Island became a favored tramping ground of theirs.

Powell is quick to recognize the eccentricities of the Island's inhabitants, for example, that "nobody can give directions because they don't know where they are themselves":

Hunting for a map-starred beach somewhere in mid-island, we asked the only person we could find on the road where the ocean was.
    "I don't know," he said, I just came out of the house.
St. George Theatre
She describes another encounter, when they asked a man coming out of a movie house whether Meurot's really was the best place to eat in St. George:

He looked around him cautiously as if he had been wrongly accused. 
     "Listen, folks, he said pleadingly, "I only been to the Black Lagoon," and away he scurried.

The Meurot Club was a large restaurant and catering hall around the corner from the St. George Theatre. It was used for all varieties of social and political events. There are listings for events at the club through the early 1950s; at some point, it was torn down and replaced by a parking lot. The St. George Theatre, established in 1929, has been restored and is used for concerts and events.
(Photo: Muller Family Connections)
Powell delights in Staten Island's notoriety as an excellent place to hide. No one there pays attention to the world outside the Island; and no one outside the island pays any attention to it: 

You wouldn't, for instance, find James bond heading for a five-cent ferry to track down an international spy holed up in Sailor's Sung Harbor, even if all the clues pointed that way.

Some did take a one-way ferry ride: "Carlos Tresca, the anarchist leader held by the police, managed to slip away on the ferry to vacation with his friends on South Beach while the Manhattan detectives thrashed through less obvious territory." And, much earlier, "Garibaldi took refuge on Staten Island in Rosebank in 1851. His neighbors knew him as an amiable candlemaker; his past and future plans as a revolutionary were of no interest to them, nor would they have understood the implications." (Setting an example, perhaps, for O'Donovan-Rossa, another revolutionary who chose Staten Island for his last years.)

My greatest pleasure from the piece is picturing Powell and Joe wandering all over the island, by foot, bus, and trolley not finding the places they are looking for or even finding the ones where they've already been, like the "Four Corners beer garden with a huge stuffed bear in the yard--was it in Annandale?"

Schaffer's Tavern (Dec. 2013)
I suppose the beer garden could have been at the original Schaffer's Tavern, a German restaurant opened in 1930 at Jewett Avenue and Victory Boulevard (now site of a Burger King), just down the hill from the Four Corners (now known as Castleton Corners). A few years later, Shaffer's moved a block further on, from where, happily, it still operates (but no sign of a stuffed bear).

Powell ends the piece with a question: "Does the Verrazano-narrows Bridge know the wonderland it is opening up or will, alas, the wonders vanish at the first breeze from the real world?"

Sadly, I think her question has been answered. And yet... glimmers, traces, clues...

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Umbrella Factory Noir

On the side of the Conch Umbrella Company, the "blue building, on Meeker St. in Greenpoint, white tracing paper skeleton of a billboard.
A bottle? A Zywiec for the thirsty traveler?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Parking Patina

Side of the St. George Theater, Staten Island (Dec. 2013).

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


New York is well represented in the fine Yale University Art Gallery show: Still Life: 1970s Photorealism.

U.N. Plaza, Paul Staiger
Louisiana Superdome - Times Square, Noel Mahaffey
But the West Coast love of beautiful cars steals the show, especially in these three paintings by Robert Bechtle. (It's worth a trip to New Haven to see them big):
'68 Nova
'64 Valiant
Sacramento Montego

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Umbrella Factory

The blue cinderblock building on the Greenpoint side of the Kosciuszko Bridge finally has a designation. Worldwide headquarters of Conch Umbrellas. Makers of New York Siteseeing Umbrellas (Day and Night) and the Reflective Safety Umbrella (patent pending) with built in reflective tape around the umbrella's perimeter. Not a bad idea.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Food Famous

Who could blame them for trying? The location, after all, was ideal: midway between Preston City and Jewett City, just off Route 395, in Griswold, Connecticut. Sometime around 1976 or 77, the Stott Brothers, known for selling run-down cars on their even more run-down farm property, launched their "food famous" restaurant. The place was dirty, the cooks large, the food terrible, the ice cream edible. I'm not sure how long the business lasted. A single review from 2005 shows up on the internet, but I suspect it closed years before. That's the latest "food famous" sign above; an older one--not the original,  that, I believe, was a trailer sign with moveable black letters--stands mute in front of the boarded up homestead. The propery is for sale, if you'd care to have a go.

Chocolate or sprinkles 10¢
The Slush Puppie machine is after my time. The booths look exactly the same.

About mile down the road, my older brother totaled the family's Chevy Nova. And walked away, as we said in those days.