loisaida doorways I

You can walk down a street in New York for years and be familiar with every bump in the sidewalk, when all of the sudden, you will glance up and spot an elaborate cornice on a building that you pass by every day. A little piece of something that you’ve never ever seen before and you will be enchanted by its beauty.

I’ve been taking photos with my phone of doorways in Loisaida and this will be the first post of an ongoing series because the doorways change. Graffiti comes and graffiti goes. People are big on the embelishment of doorways in this neighborhood. Like the storefront gate murals, many doorways are a canvas.

Doorway on Loisaida Avenue (Avenue C)

dark canvas

East 6th Street

Nublu on Loisaida Avenue

Bullet Space

East 6th Street








One week and one day after Hurricane Sandy, I opened the door to my neighborhood health food store. The smell of tea, herbal things and good salt hits my nose like a balmy punch. As I look over the newly delivered vegetables, a small elfin woman next to me looks up with her eyes bright and exclaims “Isn’t it exciting? FOOD!”

My pantry was pretty bare after the storm. I was not affected compared to the suffering endured by fellow New Yorkers. But a few days of darkness and silence in Manhattan has an effect nonetheless. One of them was the necessity of throwing out everything that was left in the fridge and freezer that had not been consumed. The now fermented unfrozen berries for smoothies that could not be made during the blackout and the packages of overlooked baby peas. We had foraged deep into the freezer and the pantry since food was scarce in our part of town. I used the rapidly defrosting bags of mushy and watery pearl onions from Trader Joes as seasoning. Now, when I see a pearl onion, from the pickled pearl onions for martinis in my bar cupboard to the fresh pearl onions at the Greenmarket, I feel a little bit of revulsion.

The cleaning fervor hit me the minute the lights, heat and hot water came back. First, the fridge and freezer got attacked. I moved on to the cupboard and threw out a slew of dried up and flavorless crap. The only survivors from the purge were the condiment jars whose contents had spoiled. These got soaked to remove the labels. Holiday entertaining would require a well-stocked pantry. My little notebook in hand, I made myself a list.

Then I rode my bike over to Kalustyans Spices and Sweets. I’d never been there before despite it being a famous place in New York visited by tourists and natives alike. When you walk in, the first grouping of provisions you see are for cocktails and my first thought was “Holy shit, they have dirty martini brine”.  I had never seen that outside of an olive farmer’s stand at the Santa Monica farmer’s market. They have everything from everywhere. It was hard to keep to my shopping list.

I’m now all set for the start of holiday cooking. My freezer and fridge are pristine, having been scrubbed with detergent and baking soda. Ancient bottles of green goddess dressing and cocktail sauce have been jettisoned and I will not set eyes on a pearl onion for a long time.

Here is my list for a well-stocked spice cabinet for holiday cooking:

– Cinammon sticks & ground
– Vanilla bean – slice down the middle and put in a dark glass bottle filled with vodka. cure for a month for vanilla extract. Keep adding vodka to replenish
– Peppermint extract
– Cream of Tartar
– Baking Soda & Powder (without aluminum)
– Ground clove
– Nutmeg
– Allspice
– Cumin
– Coriander
– Thyme
– Tarragon
– Cilantro
– Savory
– Sage
– Basil
– Oregano (Mexican or Dominican)
– Curry
– Black Peppercorns
– Crushed Red Pepper
– Cayenne Pepper
– Ancho Chile Powder
– Dirty Martini brine

marlis momber – is ours

I have known Marlis since I started working on the homestead. Her building which is across the street from ours, was the first homestead building to be completed and occupied on our block. They were all moved in when we were just getting started pulling out the burnt beams. Their building was the proof that it could be done and it shone like a beacon for us. They gave us electricity and smiles of encouragement. I watched Marlis’s son grow up and she saw my daughters born and raised. It is unusual in New York to be so rooted to a place, to a particular block and also to be surrounded by people who are just as rooted. Long-time neighbors. Most New Yorkers move around. It is as though we are living the small village life even though we are in the middle of a giant metropolis – the so-called concrete jungle.

Marlis was born in the bombed out city of Berlin WWII so when she came to Loisaida in the 1970’s this was a familiar landscape. Marlis Momber’s photographs are full of soul. Yes, they have good composition and are well-crafted and her prints are exquisite. But aside from being an artful photograph, they reek of the soul. She is not a mere documentarian or onlooker – Marlis captures her subjects down to the essence. We are hers and Marlis is ours.

Below is a 10 minute clip of her 1978 film Viva Loisaida. To purchase the full DVD or prints contact her via her photography website, to see more photos go to www.vivaloisaida.org.

I have been very lucky that Marlis has photographed my family for many years.

the homestead – 1984

the homestead occupied

Marlis’s photo of my daughter Camelia with Loisaida poet Jorge Brandon, El Coco Que Habla

Here is my portrait of the artist taken this past spring at one of her exhibitions.

Marlis Momber by Ileana

after the storm – loisaida pulls together

We got our power back just a little while ago. Late this afternoon I took a walk on Loisaida Avenue (Avenue C) and this was the scene.

Recycle-a-Bicycle has been open and working by flashlight helping bikers

Folks grilling and distributing food

Aftermath of the flooding

Flood clean-up at Bobwhite Counter

Casa Adela open with generator power

The Wayland says please bring your own bowl

bike powered phone charging at MORUS (Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space)

Bike powered electricity on Loisaida Ave, photo: David Schmidlapp

hurricane sandy in loisaida

November 1 – we are still without power and so we are at a friend’s house in Brooklyn to take a hot shower, charge all our gadgets, buy food & ice and communicate with friends and family. Below is what I wrote on October 30th that I am able to post now because I’m finally connected (for the afternoon at least).

October 30

The day after Hurricane Sandy and I’m sitting at the marble dining room table writing by the light of two candles. All I’m going to do is describe the scene. This morning I heard from neighbors that we could be a week without power. A black-out in New York City is a big deal because there are so many people so close to each other and anything can happen.

Outside, I can hear sirens from different city departments, one was a fire truck and one something else. I hear no voices outside at all which is very unusual as it is only 8pm and a warm dry night. It feels very dark without the street lights on, but it’s really not. The sky is a milky grey color. Maybe the clouds are reflecting lights from parts of the city to the north and the south that have power still. Or maybe it is the full moon. In the building across the street some of the windows are illuminated with candlelight, others with the silver light of a camping lantern. Sometimes you can see the swishing of light from a flashlight as the inhabitants walk from room to room.

There are many trees down in the neighborhood. Loisaida Avenue (Avenue C) flooded last night during the storm. The water came in from the lowest point at 14th St. They said it reached 6th Street and was thigh high. This morning all along the avenue, I saw people pumping out water from their basements with generators that somehow miraculously appeared. I mean, who thinks they need a gas generator in Manhattan?

Massive weeping willow down 6B garden

Old majestic street tree down on East 7th St

Video of the flooding on Loisaida Ave the night of the hurricane uploaded by Daniel Scott

Loisaida Ave & 8th St. Photo by S.F. Bizarro

Loisaida Ave after the flood

Loisaida Ave after the flood water

One of many flooded basements on Loisaida Ave

Weeping Willow broken Jardin del Paraiso. A pair of squirrels lost their nest and spent the day running up and down the tree very confused.

fallen old poplar tree in El Jardin del Paraiso

I take out the dogs and it is a little scary because the building’s hallway emergency lights that were so reassuring last night have run out of juice now and the stairs are pitch dark and the hallway out to the street is dark and so is the view to the street which is the most unsettling of all. The sidewalks are covered in wet matted weeping willow branches. The male dog Lolo is delighted with the plethora of fallen branches to mark while the little blind dog Millie is surprised at feeling greenery under her paws instead of the concrete sidewalk that she has mapped out so well.

Communication is bad. Those of us trying to conserve our battery power while trying to get information, must listen to radio stations reporting human interest stories and broadcasting commercials. I actually heard a story about a woman in New Jersey who drove around for 2 hours looking for a gas station. Really? The city’s twitter feeds are full of back patting and political pandering and obvious information such as the fact that the schools are closed. Wake up NYC and take a lesson from the towns upstate who brought their affected people portable power for charging their phones, wifi and dry ice.