Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Brooklyn Sojourn

Monica and I have both been under-employed and money, as they say, has been tight.  But life has to be lived and so last Friday we headed into New York on the train.  Nico mostly idled the trip away on a little game player, Monica dozed and thumbed through National Geographic.  I read through Scientific American and stared out the window as autumnal, coastal Connecticut clicked and rattled by.

At 6 on a Friday evening Grand Central Station was an anthill that'd been poked with a stick, and the subway was over-heated and dense with commuters.  Nico wilted and went pale.

But in Brooklyn old friends waited, and our Poet, Denver, was preparing dinner -- soft red beans and noodles upon kale. And the Actress, Rhonda who's been swallowed by the PTA, together with the Girl, who's eight, set the table while we chatted, and made room for fresh bread torn into chunks and a platter of tomatoes, herbs and fresh mozzarella.  When the beans were ready we gathered at the table, made the Girl and Nico put down their books, and we ate.  And when it was down to crumbs and we refilled our wine and ale and water we told jokes and riddles and funny stories - on and on. Nico was on a roll,

from the idiotic . . .
Knock, knock
Who's th-
Mooo!  Interrupting Cow! 
to the cruel . . .
Where do you find a dog with no legs?
Right where you left it.
to the obscure . . . 
What does the 'B' in Benoit B. Mandlebrot stand for?
Benoit B. Mandlebrot.
It's one of the things people did before the entertainment industry colonized the home, and it felt good to laugh and strain our brains.  But eventually we'd exhausted our collective supply of jokes and riddles and so the Girl and Nico returned to their books.   (Occasionally, I would hear them quietly harmonizing some pop song together, each of them with their nose in their book.)  The rest of us talked into the night of family and politics and art and people and ideas.  And I switched from ale to water and eventually to sleep.

I woke early, but Denver had woken even earlier and fetched bread.  There was steel-cut oatmeal on the stove and smooth, black coffee.  After breakfast, he and Monica and I walked the two miles from Carroll Gardens to Prospect Park - along the streets of brownstones, and across the opalescent green scar of the Gowanus Canal by the South Brooklyn Casket factory.  The Park Slope brownstones were decorated for Halloween and little children in helmets rode on zippy three-wheeled scooters.  At the farmer's market he talked with his favorite farmers and bought duck eggs, obscure radishes, greens and apples.  We carried chocolate croissants home.

Later, I was in the park with Nico and the Girl.  A troop of brown-skinned boys ranging from about 8 to 13 were doing parkour on a boulder and the remains of a fallen tree - standing back flips, runs and twisting jumps.  They were free-range (no parents), charismatic and two were richly foul-mouthed.  The Girl and Nico sat rapt, partly in admiration of the skill and partly in fear that they were going to see someone die or break a bone.

More of our visit below the fold . . . .

In the afternoon the clouds had lowered and a light, damp breeze was moving.  Denver had some work to do, since poetry doesn't pay the bills.  The rest of us strolled along the long waterfront.  10 years ago Brooklyn ended abruptly on the hillside above, cut off from the East River first by the Bronx-Queens Expressway, one of Robert Moses' concrete nooses, and second by the deserted piers and industrial wasteland of the wharves.  But the piers have been cleared and converted to parks, playgrounds, soccer fields, volleyball courts, bike lanes and picnic tables.  And paths climb over and under the BQE to bring families down to the water's edge.  Tourists from every country jostle in smiling pictures with Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge behind them.  A Russian wedding party on a suspension footbridge was posing for a camera man.  Bicyclists bike, joggers jog, and parents push their babies in strollers.

Denver re-joined us and we climbed the hill back into Brooklyn to the Restaurant, a little Italian place we never resist going to.  It is one of those places without a sign, that won't take reservations, with food so good that there is not a table available 20 minutes after opening.  Monica and I had pufferfish from Long Island sound, and pappardelle with duck and mushroom.  We all divvied up a long plate of grilled bass.  The Girl got her hugs from the waitstaff, who dote on her.  Monica named this a birthday evening (though it was a few days premature), so the staff stuck a candle in some tiramisu and the restaurant sang her Happy Birthday.  I was beyond sated, and took only the tiniest forkful from a few of the deserts that decorated the table.

Denver loves the place, not just for the food, but because it is a nexus of much more.  It's the old Italian owner with his own journeys through foods and cultures and countries - and the gruff men he's met who bring fish from the sound and food from the farms - and the staff with their arts and stories and friendships - and the community of other people who value all of that and can be met with there.  And the food is very, very good.

But we had to drain our wine glasses and rush out to catch the subway to the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  A friend of ours, the Dancer, David, was performing with his company at the Harvey theater.  We found our way there just in time and took our seats in the second row.

The show was an hour long, though it felt much longer, because it was dense and rich.  There were five main dancers, plus the Dancer's wife and Son (Nico's friend and classmate) who each had a part as well.  There was the 7 member Band pushing out the music, and two singers.  There was spoken word from the dancers and video that cropped up on various surfaces, which came and went.

The Dancer is 57, and the show was about aging and mortality and loss and joy and family.  It was a very personal performance.  There was nothing subtle about the contrast of his body, his movements with the bodies and the movements of his dancers, who danced in their primes - and the image of his own muscular form that flickered sometimes in black and white video from 30 years past.  The performance of his own decline, resistance and renewal might have been self-indulgent, except that the theater was full of people who appreciated him, his decades-long body of work, the arc of his career, the careers of others he'd moved forward.  The standing ovation at the end was enthusiastic and affectionate.

I feel like I'm normally inundated with youth-oriented pop culture or shallow commercial consumerism with its endless streams of nonsense and bad advice.  This was none of that.  To watch all these artists wrench so valiantly and gracefully at themes that speak to me as a man in mid-life who's also enmeshed in family and aging and mortality and loss and joy - I felt was a true privilege.

The Dancer had invited us to go out for drinks after with them, but it was obvious by the crowds that they were in high demand, so we just gave them hugs and made quick arrangements to pick up the Son on our way back to Grand Central early the next morning - so that the boys could pass the train ride together.

We left the still bustling theater.  A light shower had passed through, and the night breeze was warm as we made our way to the subway with our weary children.


  1. Our family's favorite obscure riddle growing up - my mom said it was her father's favorite - goes like this:
    What's the difference between a duck?
    One of its legs is both the same.

  2. What a cozy little blog post! And I'm hungry now.