Exuberance. That’s all you can say about the painted trucks of Loisaida. I love them.
Last weekend we had the first sunny and warm days of spring. I visited community gardens with my friend Katy and our phone cameras. We stopped by 6BC Botanical Garden first. This garden began in 1981 and is a lovingly cared for and peaceful place. In the book Community Gardens of the East Village, gardener Cary York says, “One thing they did design wise that was so important was that someone wanted to build the raised boxes, and Diana said “Don’t do it, don’t do it. Well, if you’re going to do it, do them on a diagonal.” So suddenly, the garden had this whole diagonal thing which is so nice because it’s against the grid. Little by little people started lifting up the boxes and letting the soil be in the soil.”
Our next stop was the Sixth & B Garden. So many gardeners were out clearing the debris of winter and turning the warmed soil. I remember the group of mothers I used to hang out with when we brought our children to play in that garden. I ran into two of them that day. Even though we only socialized in the gardens, there is an intimacy to knowing someone that long and seeing their children now grown. I was interviewed by one of those children, a 20 year old named John, who I remember as a shirtless tow-headed toddler in baggy shorts, playing in the garden. He was doing a school project about community gardens. I was happy to see that the playhouse was still there.
I enjoyed my February read “I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp” by Richard Hell, an engrossing memoir set in New York city in the 70’s and 80’s. Its a history of downtown New York culture of the time when young people were free to live without the tethers of responsibility and moved through the streets with the freedom and loping grace of wild animals in a natural habitat. One of my favorite passages was the last one in the book, “My life is not different for having written this book – my life only comes into being by having been written here. What I have been given and what I have been and what I have and what I and what – all are only to the extent they all are only to the extent all are only to the all are only to all are only all are all. We know that we are constructed of time, not of sequence, and it is impossible to write time “not of sequence,” except maybe in poetic flashes. I didn’t want to write about a person through time, but about time through a person.”
For my March book, I decided to visit the new bookstore in the neighborhood. Bonnie Slotnick’s Cookbooks was priced out of its West Village home and the happy ending to the all too familiar New York story is that some book lovers offered to rent her space in the basement of their family townhouse in the East Village. And so, another bookstore has survived in New York City. On a very snowy Sunday afternoon, red-cheeked and with snow encrusted eyebrows, my friend Katy and I entered the warm and homey store. Bonnie Slotnick welcomed us by pointing out where the radiators were so that we could warm up first. What a charming and inviting bookstore. I felt like I was in someone’s home, albeit a person with a lot of bookshelves. Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks specializes in Out-of-Print and Antiquarian Cookbooks.
I picked out a 20 year old cookbook from the Florida Keys with lots of recipes for fish and rum cocktails. Standing there in my wet snow boots reading tropical recipes ringed with illustrations of palm trees felt good. I searched for a proper book for my March read and found “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” by Michael Pollan. I’ll let you know how it goes.
I hope that the neighborhood will never be so sanitized that we will not have street art. It is heartening to see that people feel the need to embellish the streets.
I admire the work of Tatyana Fazlalizdeh and especially her street art project “Stop Telling Women to Smile”. Why are we still fighting for women’s rights and civil rights? IIt should be something we read about in history books. It was good to see her mural in the neighborhood.
Alas, I did not enjoy my first Year in Books read, I am one of those people who likes tidy plots and I just kept wondering what the hell was up with Miles. I fought the urge to skip ahead until I finally just put the book down. Nevertheless, I did enjoy getting back to the practice of reading in bed. As it’s been snowy in New York and the roads are icy, I’ve been off my bike and have been riding the bus and subways which gives me another good block of time to immerse myself in a book.
I’m following Laura’s (of The Circle of Pine Trees blog) lead of only purchasing books from independent bookstores, thrift stores or borrowing from the library. This month I sought my book at the Saint Mark’s Bookshop, a neighborhood institution. The relentless gentrification and “mallification” of my neighborhood almost claimed our bookstore on at least two occasions. Each time, the community rose up and closed ranks around the beloved bookstore, circulating petitions, fundraising and volunteering labor and services. Read here and here for news stories about the battle for the bookstore. Saint Mark’s was eventually chased out by rising rents, but reopened in the neighborhood this summer. It is much smaller than the old store, but I think it is far more beautiful. The design by Clouds Architecture Office was a donation. The existence of St. Mark’s Bookshop is a testament to the power of community.
In my neighborhood bookshop, I picked up a book by a neighborhood author. This month’s read is “I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp”, an autobiography by Richard Hell. A cultural history of the punk rock era in New York in the 70’s and 80’s, in which Richard left an indelible mark as a musician and a writer.
It was supposed to be the storm of the century and we only got a few inches so this morning’s headlines read “New York dodges a bullet”.
My friend Katy described it in this way: “I’m looking at this now like its a flash mob, only in reverse. The Mayor has sent all the New Yorkers scampering to their lairs and now the city is quieter than it has been in a century or two… world’s biggest flash mob inversion.”
Nonetheless, we got a snow day.
It is a new year and it feels good. Fresh starts and a rubbing of the eyes – a time for shaking off the sort of cobwebs that don’t do us any good. From where I write (Northern US), every single day going forward, the sun will set later and later. We are on the other side of the light now. It will get sunnier. At the start of this new year, here are some words that my friend Katy Lyle wrote that I wanted to share with you. I found this passage to be all the things she said she wanted it to be.
I want to post something encouraging, heartening, beautiful… Something to help us all lean into the wind if need be – or go with it if not – ever bolstered by hope and the presence of each other… May these days be good ones for you. May you be understood. May you be met halfway. May financial worries ease, and frictions too. May pains lessen and loss be felt less keenly. May friendships surprise you often and love undo you completely, friends – I wish you well!
Katy Lyle, New York City, December 2014