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?

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'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)

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."

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.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


McGovern Weir

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.

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.

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.