Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Autobiographical writing.  Just finished Margaret Drabble's The Pattern in the Carpet, & now I've started Mantel's Giving Up the Ghost. It was wise to take a break from Mantel for a bit - you need a good deal of emotional fortitude to enter her territory.  But it's good stuff. 
The other day, I heard a recording of the contralto Kathleen Ferrier on the radio.  Ferrier died in the 1940s, but was still very popular when I was growing up.  This is definitely a voice of my childhood. I especially like her folk song recordings. In the late sixties and seventies we were still singing these kinds of songs in music class.  We were familiar with ballads, folk songs & any number of sea shanties, & we belted them out with gusto: The Keel Row, Hearts of Oak, Men of Harlech, Loch Lomond, Dashing Away with the Smoothing Iron, Barbara Allen, Will Ye No' Come Back Again?  Are schoolgirls today familiar with any of these?  Our music teacher, Mrs. Pennington, was very popular with the students.  A big, brassy, chainsmoking blonde, who liked to put on an American accent for laughs, she was a nice antidote to the general stuffiness of the teaching staff.  The headmistress despised her, for all the reasons we found her fun. At some point a drinking habit began to get the better of her, & intruded on the school day. Her voice began to grow slurred, her piano playing became wilder, and one day she broke down in tears in front of the class.  Pretty soon after that she was gone.

Even More Unlikely Than A Brooklyn Kitchen Drawer?

Dead Dog Sparks Yorkshire Raccoon Hunt (Guardian)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Saturday, August 28, 2010


A good, old school block party.  Nothing fancy.  The fire hydrant open.  Kids on bikes, kids on scooters, kids playing ball.  Some food, some dancing, the music cranked up nice & loud.  Despite the changes in the neighborhood, on 12th Street between Sixth & Seventh - unlike surrounding blocks- there's a real, neighborly, hanging out crowd, & a real cultural mix.  Walking this way on a late summer day, with a kind, mellow heat & a deep blue sky, it's a just about perfect New York.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Chipotle Grill?

Yesterday Brownstoner indicated the likelihood of a Chipotle Mexican Grill opening on Seventh & Third (the old Miracle Grill spot).  More yawns on the avenue?

The Seasons Turn

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Followed a Serious Eats lunch suggestion, & went to Vandaag, a Dutch/Danish (?) restaurant on Second Avenue. It's a big space, &, at late, late lunchtime, was entirely devoid of other customers...just staff & a few people involved w. the place. It's only been open a month, so I hope the emptiness was just a consequence of newness/odd timing.  A sleek, stylish looking spot to relax in  ... spacious, with low black leather seating  & cool, pale blue & white walls.  Bit pricey for dinner, especially by the time you throw in drinks, but the makings of a great lunch spot.  I was a Serious Eats sheep ... had the Hete Bliksem (bacon, apple, potatoes, syrup) & a glass of Nopaloma (grapefruit/lime/agave). You might feel like you're asking for an IKEA sofa as you give your order, but never fear, the food that arrives is very good indeed. ... no Swedish cafeteria meatballs here. Perhaps the Bliksem was more autumn than summer, but who cares?  What looks good about this menu is some thoughtful seasoning & balancing touches to a pretty heavy (but delicious!) roster of dishes... And the drinks look fun too. 

Fourth Avenue Station Window


All About Fifth reports that Puppets, the unfortunately named jazz bar on Fifth, has hit hard times.  Good luck to them - I hope they hang in there.  That name though...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Byatt on God, the novel, & Facebook. (The Guardian)


Yikes. 50,000 square feet of culinary decadence, courtesy of Batali, Bastianich et al.  Gothamist reports.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Toilets & Condos

"Book Stigma"

The Grumbler's take on a NYT piece about the social stigma of reading books in public...


Time to update the grilling equipment.  This should cut down on asparagus spears, tomatoes & the like rolling down into the flames.  I will also cook fish!  These items came from Whisk, the kitchen store on Bedford Avenue, & were pretty cheap.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mantel, Woof

OK ... The Giant, O'Brien was too much to take.  Much as I love Mantel's work, and her attraction to dark subjects, this one was too grisly & doomed a tale to enjoy.  Set in the late eighteenth century, it is loosely based on the life of a Scottish surgeon, John Hudson, and an Irish giant, Charles O'Brien, and chronicles the events that lead to their meeting in London, where the giant has come to make his fortune through public display.  As you guess from the start that O'Brien's plans will come to nothing, and as the feverish pitch of Hudson's anatomical experimentation heightens, there's no room for hope here...it's just a case of waiting for the giant to fall into Hudson's hands.  The trajectory of the novel is sickening & relentless!
Perhaps I need a break from Mantel.  My next choice is The Whole Wide Beauty, by Emma Woof, and concerns the work and family relationships of one David Freeman, esteemed head of a poetry foundation in the north of England.  As the novelist's father, Robert Woof, was a well known literary scholar & head of the Wordsworth Trust, I imagine that there will be plenty of autobiographical details at play here.  A big part of the reason I want to read this book is that Robert Woof was my tutor during my second year at university.  I was a fairly callow student at that point, somewhat intimidated in his presence,  & I didn't gain as much from his tutorials as I might.  He was a charismatic figure around the department -very much the local star - but his performance readings of Wordsworth (period Cumbrian accent & all) evoked, I'm ashamed to admit,  immature sniggers from more than a few students.
Hitting the beach in formal wear ...
Improv Everywhere at Coney Island (Gothamist)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bored on Seventh

The other day, whilst waiting for the bus at Union & Seventh, I thought about how little I frequented businesses between Union & Eighth street.  Most of the time, when I'm on Seventh, it's just to head south, from the subway at 9th, & there's very little inclination to go in the opposite direction, except to the venerable Video Gallery at 8th, or, on occasion, to the ever efficient Seventh Avenue Copy Shop.  The remaining stores of any practical use up to Union?  A dwindling number of laundromats, a number of newspaper stores, a barbershop, a pizzeria or two, J&R Electronics ...??  At Union, there's Blue Apron, & north of there some long-standing businesses - the taqueria, Ace Market, Leaf & Bean, Cousin John's (terrible coffee!), Santa Fe Grill , pool hall- & south of 8th a bunch of useful staples &/or interesting independents - bagels, delis, pharmacy, wine/liquor stores, hair salons, a true, old school (Donut) diner, pizza, Brookes vacuums, etc. - but the middle swath,  the land of non-essential goods, consists of little that could be missed. Oh, well, I suppose there are exceptions, a couple being  D'vine Taste & Lisa Polansky -  two old favourites hanging in there. I always have time for a hardware store too, even though Tarzian's has nothing on Fifth Avenue's Leopoldi's. I have to admit that Barnes & Noble is useful at times, mainly for reading magazines I'm too cheap to buy, but the book selection is mediocre  & I try my best to go there as little as possible.   All hail to Community Books for staying alive, & I probably should buy more books there, but I'm sad to say I'm not there that much. Most of the businesses in the central drag are small or large chainstores, real estate offices, eyeglass stores, uninspired bakery/coffee-shops or boutiques & restaurants of stunning expense & mediocrity.  It's a niche market for affluent residents in their thirties to sixties whose style & tastebuds are as unambitious as their dress sense, & perhaps that very demographic guarantees a bland retail environment, just like that of Brooklyn Heights.  As older neighborhood services vanish, and nothing of any character replaces them, the colour & vigor of the avenue drains away.  God knows, even the food is bad, surprising in these seriously foodie times.  There are plenty of places with menus, but little in the way of good dining, & a surprising dearth of fresh produce, or decent groceries of any kind, the only super/mini markets being rather sad affairs. Though it's actually at Ninth, & just a block beyond my defined walk of retail shame, I would also include Brooklyn Industries in the tally of crappy businesses.  In fact, I've been wondering for the past two or three years how this chain has stayed in business.  They clearly hopped on the bandwagon of Brooklyn Merchandise very smartly when they first opened, but with that theme rather tired by now, they don't seem to have much of a fashion focus, & their clothing is tired & unattractive.  Idly googling today, I found this story from Gothamist, hinting at troubles afoot for B.I. Can't say I'd miss them.

Store Signs, 1951 & 2010

Rain We Needed

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Local bits & pieces

Well, well, well ... I was wondering about this.  No more Smartmom FIPS has a lively response.
 Brouhaha in Windsor Terrace, as a singalong is cancelled & entitled, spirited-child raising parents express their outrage (Daily News).

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Creepy Woodside Mural

Santa Maria - Fifth Avenue

Eat, pray, cash in
The Guardian looks at well-heeled journeys of discovery.  Can't say the Roberts film is on my list of must-sees.  Oh & did you know that Julia is now embracing Hinduism?


I've always loved clerical comedies. Hilary Mantel's 1989 novel, Fludd,  embraces the tradition of Trollope & Pym, but, in true Mantel fashion, she spikes the wit with a darker vein of existential speculation.  Father Angwin, parish priest in a damp & primitive northern mill town, is under pressure from higher authority to embrace "ecumenical spirit" & a "decade of unity". This will involve the adoption of Vernacular mass, the removal of religious statues from the church, & even "record hops" to enliven the social life of the altar boys.  When a curate, Father Fludd, arrives to assist Angwin, presumably at the bishop's behest, change does come, though in a form no-one in Fetherhoughton anticipates.
Mantel shows a mastery of form here, & the urbane Fludd is a delicious presence in the book.  Take these exchanges from an early scene, where Fludd, newly arrived, is closely observed by Angwin, and Miss Dempsey, the housekeeper:

"Crossing the hall, she paused outside the sitting room door.  She heard conversation in full spate.  She could tell that Father Angwin had been drinking whiskey. The curate spoke in his light, dry voice: "In considering the life of Christ, there is something that has often made me wonder; did the man who owned the Gadarene swine get compensation?"
Miss Dempsey tiptoed away."

"From time to time, also, the curate leant forward and busied himself building up the fire.  He was a handy type with the tongs, Father Angwin could tell.  His efforts were keeping the room remarkably warm; and yet when Agnes came in, lugging a bucket of coal, she checked herself in surprise and said, "You don't need this."
Presently Father Angwin got up, and opened the window a crack. 
"It makes a change, for this house," he said, "but it's as hot as Hell."
"Though far better ventilated," said Fludd, sipping his whisky."

This book delivers its frivolous kicks, but Mantel also questions the nature & value of faith, and the possibility of transformation.  Mantel is sharp eyed, but also endowed with a spirit of benevolence.  By the end of the novel, the changes Fludd has brought about have bathed the sooty North with a new light:

"It was one of those days, rare in the north of England, when a pale sun picks out every black twig of a winter tree; when a ground-frost forms a gilded haze over the pavements; and great buildings, the temples of commerce, shimmer as if their walls were made of air and smoke.  Then the city casts off its grim, arctic character, and its denizens their sourness and thrift; the grace of affability dawns on their meagre features, as if the pale sun had warmth in it, and power to kindle hearts."

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Kostas the barber, formerly at George's shop on 11th just north of Fifth, now has a chair in the beauty shop across the avenue, next to Cafe Regular.  He also has a folding chair, on which he sits for a good deal of the day, out on the sidewalk.  This morning he was to be seen inside the shop, fixing the broken leg of a chair.  In case you weren't aware of the move, let me direct you to the three signs announcing his presence, all within a few feet of each other. Seems like a deal.


Things continue to move slowly on 12th Street.  In the ever-present police vehicle, a cop scans the Post, or drifts into summer reverie.  The construction at 314, which started back in 2007, continues in fits and starts.  With a plethora of complaints, violations & stop orders,  & an unfortunate design aesthetic, the apartment building in question is a sorry affair.  It's a weird looking building, with skimpy windows, a  much too small & misaligned entrance, and a beach house style duplex atop the main brick edifice.  They sort of tried for a little dignity with some decorative brickwork, but it didn't do the job.  It currently has a partial stop order on it, for the removal of an illegal mezzanine, but this did not deter yesterday's addition of a bizarre balcony fence on the third floor.  As there is no balcony to speak of (the projection here looks to be about six inches  a foot at best), it seems pretty redundant.   Every so often, middle aged men drive up to the site, confer, shuffle across the street, gaze at the place, smoke a cigarette or two, and leave.  Today a DOB inspector showed up & now the place is closed.  Beware of dog?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Monday, August 9, 2010

McGovern Weir

Street Life

The police are still hanging around, hanging around.  At the corner, a beat cop, or someone posted in one of those odd little traffic vehicles.  On the block, all day, in squad car or van, legs stretched out onto the sidewalk, drowsy in the heat. Just waiting, waiting, waiting.  The makeshift memorial has disappeared, as have the messages taped to the side wall of Sleepy's.  The OTB, a week closed, grows quiet.  At first, clusters of aging punters seemed drawn back to the building as if by instinct, or for the simple solace of their fellows, and stood with looks of disbelief at the closed doors.  Day by day, their numbers dwindle.

Beyond Black

"The weather affects the motorway as it affects the sea.  The traffic has its rising tides.  The road surface glistens with a pearly sheen, or heaves its black wet deeps.  They find themselves at distant service stations as dawn breaks, where yellow light spills out into an oily dimness and a line of huddled birds watch them from above.  On the M40 near High Wycombe, a kestrel glides on the updraught, swoops to pluck small squealing creatures from rough grass of the margins.  Magpies toddle among the roadkill."

"Something about a cardigan, she was saying.  A certain class of dead people was always talking about cardigans.  The button off it, the pearl button, see if it's dropped behind the dresser drawer, that little drawer, that top drawer.  I found a threepenny bit there once, back of the drawer, it gets down between the you-know, slips down the whatsit, it's wedged like - and so I took it, this threepence, and I bought me friend a cake with a walnut on top.  Yes, yes, said Al, they're lovely, those kind of cakes: but it's time to go, pet.  Lie down Kathleen.  You go and have a nice lie-down."

"Diana is the Queen of Hearts; every time the card turns up in a spread, this week and next, she will signify the princess, and the clients' grief will draw the card time and again from the depth of the pack.  Already the first sightings of her have been reported ...If you look hard you will see her face in fountains, in raindrops, in the puddles on service station forecourts.  Diana is a water sign, which means she's the psychic type.  She's just the type who lingers and drips, who waxes and wanes, breathes in and out her tides; who, by the slow accretion of tears, brings ceilings down and wears a path into stone."

If you like your fiction dark, and suffused with a mordant sense of humor, this book is a fine read.  Mantel depicts the lives of Al, a heavyset medium, and her sour paid assistant, Colette, as they work the circuit of spiritualist gatherings and pyschic fayres, in the theatres, hotels and civic centres that circle London - "the conurbations that clustered around the junctions of the M25, and the corridors of the M3 and M4."  Constantly on the move, Al and Colette travel through a physical landscape of grim, pockmarked mediocrity, and Al lives without relief from the noisy, leering chatter of the dead.   The country Mantel depicts here is both savage and demoralized, a place where you hear the faint echoes of Eliot's Waste Land drinkers, Amis's conscience free chavs, and Pat Barker's tough-as-nails survivors. The spirit world is a perfect reflection of the mortal one, and the characters that come over to visit are as petty & flawed in death as they were alive.  Mantel can be spot-on with dialogue, and the kinds of small narrative details that define class or setting, and the book is very, very funny.  She is also dealing with intense childhood traumas, however, and with a spiritual malaise that has infected the very earth of this modern circle of suburban hell.  This stuff is not for the faint-hearted, & even if you're not religious, the shadows that haunt this book will make you a little queasy.  I wish the novel had been shorter: it dragged towards the end & threw itself off balance, but still held my attention.  After reading this I want to try Mantel's autobiography, Giving Up the Ghost.

Dressing Up in Sunset Park

Jeremiah's Vanishing New York visits Governors Island & finds Civil War reenactors much like modern day Brooklyn hipsters, "except without the irony".


Home Industry

Time to put away some summer fruit.  Over the weekend I bought ten pounds of plum tomatoes (organic, $1.51 a pound), & made three kinds of sauces to freeze  - one a straight-ish tomato sauce, one with olives & white wine, & one with eggplant & red pepper. I also froze ten pounds of New Jersey peaches (78c a pound) using a wet-pack light syrup method.  Later today I'll pick a load of basil & make pesto.  All of these freeze really well.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Hendrix in London

An article from The Guardian, about Hendrix's London years, & an exhibition at Handel House, where both musicians lived.

North Slope Brownstone

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Inside Cup & Saucer Luncheonette

You can't go wrong here.


I'm a couple of days late, but the OTB finally shut up shop on Monday.  In the background you can see an Eyewitness News van.  Filming was going on across the street in relation to Saturday night's murder, with a tearful gathering of family & friends speaking about the incident.  Crimestopper vans have been circling the neighborhood, & TIPS posters are in evidence.  Around the whole intersection, signs of the evening's violence are clearly evident.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Monday, August 2, 2010

Kaye Webb

Letters from the archive of Kaye Webb, legendary editor of Puffin Books.  I was happy to see a letter to Robert Westall, a terrific children's/young adult novelist not that well known in the US.   He was also my brother's art teacher!


I love the shoe designs at these repair shops.  They have a very dapper look to them.  The men's shoe here is similar to the one at Bravo, posted the other day, but has a taller & more protruding heel.  The store here (off 86th Street) seems to have had a former incarnation as a video business.  Shoe repair places get neither enough custom nor respect, & this one, like its brethren, has a sad, side street, air of neglect.


Spent the morning in Bensonhurst.  Saw a lot of fig, plum & peach trees. The easily anticipated assortment of Italian social clubs, pizza joints, bakeries & the like.  A clothing store sign for "Regular, Big Men, & Portly." "Portly" - a word barely ever used these days. Among the Asian & Spanish businesses was very taken with Pig Girl 99 Cent Store. Visited the local library.  Impressed by the foreign language sections, but not so much by the Danielle Steele dominated general fiction.   Who knew there were so many different biographies of Ronald Reagan? Like every branch, customers more focused on DVDs & computers than books. Went to a nondescript deli on 18th & 82nd Street, and got a meticulously made salami & provolone sandwich. Sandwich slowly put together by an elderly man clad in deli whites. Selects & opens roll, slices  salami with great deliberation, ditto the provolone, layers these on roll, adds lettuce, shuffles over to customer side of counter to select a tomato, returns behind counter, washes & dries tomato with care, slices & adds to roll, then the holy sprinkling of salt & pepper, a judicious application of mayo, the closing of the sandwich, the slicing into two, the stately wrapping of sandwich in white paper, & the application of tape.  This might have been the most carefully & slowly made sandwich I've ever ordered.  Nothing fancy, but perfectly done.  Ate sandwich in nearby park, surrounded by elderly Chinese playing board games, & a gaggle of Italian men gambling over cards.  The streets were Monday quiet, with barely a soul under seventy out and about.