Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Salt Lot

There's something monumental in a pile of salt.  The DSNY shares this Second Avenue site with the Gowanus Canal Conservancy.  The area was once rich in salt marshes, tidal creeks & freshwater streams, & the Conservancy maintains a sliver of native salt marsh.  Salt & salt go well together.

In Specimen Days (1882) Walt Whitman describes a visit to the Jersey shore.  It probably reminds him of Long Island's Great South Bay, but Gowanus in its earlier, pre-industrial days, must have had a similarly sedgy balm:

One bright December mid-day lately I spent down on the New Jersey sea-shore, reaching it by a little more than an hour’s railroad trip over the old Camden and Atlantic. I had started betimes, fortified by nice strong coffee and a good breakfast (cook’d by the hands I love, my dear sister Lou’s—how much better it makes the victuals taste, and then assimilate, strengthen you, perhaps make the whole day comfortable afterwards.) Five or six miles at the last, our track enter’d a broad region of salt grass meadows, intersected by lagoons, and cut up everywhere by watery runs. The sedgy perfume, delightful to my nostrils, reminded me of “the mash” and south bay of my native island...

There's another DSNY salt reserve down at the bottom of 52nd Street - more old Gowanus coastline.  Even a Google image captures a bleached beauty.

I'm tempted to check out the locations of the all the Sanitation salt reserves.  I think it's a plan!  The most recent shed, at West & Spring in Lower Manhattan, was completed in 2015.  It's stunning.   

Saturday, April 21, 2018


Worth the wait at Broadway-Lafayette.  I must have been there close to two hours, & some of the people were buying not just the set of five different metrocards, which given the random nature of the distribution often meant buying more, but loads extra, presumably to sell at a tidy profit.  Luckily I was just behind a couple of nice people; we traded cards to help each other out.  I only wanted one anyway, to round out a forty-five year span of mementos.  I swapped Aladdin Sane for the Thin White Duke - the classiest looking of the five, I think, even though it represented a dark period, both musically & personally.  I'd hoped there'd be a Berlin card, but this was good enough.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018


Remembering David Buckel, the Pioneering Lawyer Who Championed L.G.B.T. Rights (New Yorker)
Wolfson recounted the conversation to me over the phone on Sunday, the day after Buckel died after apparently setting himself on fire in Prospect Park, in Brooklyn. It was Wolfson who had been reading Buckel’s obituaries instead.
Minutes before Buckel killed himself, he sent an e-mail to the Times. “Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather,” the message said, according to the paper. “Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result — my early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.” Buckel was sixty years old.

Fantastic news: Legendary Documentary Filmmaker Frederick Wiseman’s Movies Are Finally Available Online (Slate)
Wiseman’s movies, which have been shot in mental institutions and on military bases, in hospitals and public parks, comprise one of the most monumental bodies of work by a single artist, but despite being awarded a lifetime-achievement Oscar in 2016, he’s remained something of a cult figure. His movies, which run as long as six hours, defy the rules of traditional theatrical distribution, and apart from a single PBS broadcast apiece, they’ve rarely been available to a mass audience.
That all changed today. As of this afternoon, a whopping 40 of Wiseman’s movies—nearly everything he’s every directed—are available via the streaming service Kanopy, which can be accessed through many public libraries, universities, and other institutions of the kind Wiseman has devoted himself to exploring in his work.

Beyond the Map: Spikescapes and Wild Strawberries (Places Journal)
The maps of human and physical geography can seem overwhelming; the forces at work have become too unpredictable to be easily or neatly summarized. That’s why we need to attend to the hidden places, like the overlooked zone of anti-pedestrian cobbles and jagged paving that forms the spikescape of the modern city. And why odd little places — like a traffic island in my home city of Newcastle, cradled in the indifferent arms of grinding roads — have come to feel so important.

In William Blake’s Lambeth (Spitalfields Life)
If you wish to visit William Blake’s Lambeth, just turn left outside Waterloo Station, walk through the market in Lower Marsh, cross Westminster Bridge Rd and follow Carlisle Lane under the railway arches. Here beneath the main line into London was once the house and garden, where William & Catherine Blake were pleased to sit naked in their apple tree.
Yet in recent years, William Blake has returned to Lambeth. Within the railway arches leading off Carlisle Lane, a large gallery of mosaics based upon his designs has been installed, evoking his fiery visions in the place where he conjured them. Ten years work by hundreds of local people have resulted in dozens of finely-wrought mosaics bringing Blake’s images into the public realm, among the warehouses and factories where they may be discovered by the passerby, just as he might have wished.

Is it the End of the Road for London's Historic India Club? (The Wire)
“The property was home to the single most important organization campaigning for India’s independence in the 1940s,” William Gould, professor of Indian History at the University of Leeds, explains: “It was a meeting place for some of the country’s leading Indian intellectuals, publicists, writers, and politicians. It is therefore of huge significance and importance to both the South Asian communities in the UK and to some of the key moments of British decolonization in the mid 20th century.”

Monday in Parliament: MP David Lammy criticizing the Tory government's abhorrent treatment of "Windrush" generation residents who have lived in Britain since they were children.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


I like to get down to the canal when there's heavy rain.  I usually wear my old Hunter boots.  They're over thirty-five years old.  The rubber is a little thinner than it used to be, but the tread is still good & they haven't sprung a leak yet.  They date back to the time before Hunter became a fashion brand; the boots were mostly worn by farmers or some of those horsey Hoorah Henry Tatler types.  I was neither, but I did spend a spell of time with a lurcher dog, and later, worked with birds of prey, so life was a bit muddy.  The boots I have now are actually my second pair.  I gave the first ones to my mother, though I'm not sure she actually wore them much.  The Hunter green back then was more of an olive colour, rather than the darker green you see in (here at least) the stores today.  Mine have faded, I think (does rubber fade?).  They're kind of an antique shade.  I don't wear them often - I'm slightly worried that they'll finally conk out - but they're just as likely to kick the bucket in a dry closet, cooped up with the out-of-season shoes & boots, the clothes I always mean to wear some day, but hardly ever do, & the Chinese delivery raincoat I got at the 99c store.  So I might as well let them have at it.

There's nothing like the gleam of the streets after the rain has stopped.

Monday, April 16, 2018


The woman was sitting, lost in thought, oblivious to a poem I'd glimpsed the first line of as I got on the train.  I didn't get the chance to read the rest of it until I got back home & Googled it.  It's a good poem to commute with.


Every morning I forget how it is.
I watch the smoke mount
In great strides above the city.
I belong to no one.

Then, I remember my shoes,
How I have to put them on,
How bending over to tie them up
I will look into the earth.

                           Charles Simic

When I think of Simic it's always "Empire of Dreams" that comes back to me.  It's not a poem for kids, but the ten or eleven-year-olds I worked with drank it right up as a model to write from - the book & the mask & the sideways logic of dreams.  Though they couldn't know the context of Simic's poem - his childhood years in war-torn Belgrade -  they knew dreams as well as any adult.  Probably better.
The first line of "Empire of Dreams" is seductive to a writer of any age.  Try using it yourself.