Note From the Margins




Gulf War II: 10th Anniversary

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Protests in New York City

This week was the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. How quickly times flies.

I’d come down to NY that winter after a few months back in Canada. Prime Minister Chretien, the consumate politician, had hemmed and hawed then finally come out and said, no, Canada would not be a member of the Bush/Cheney ‘Coalition of the Willing’.

I was shocked by the war fever in the media and across the nation. I’d never seen anything like it. At the border, the border guards came on with dogs, angry aggression. We weren’t their friends anymore. In the US, the tabloids and most of the supposedly ‘liberal’ were baying for war. Even the NY Times, which should have known better, was behind invading Iraq. Certain Republican congressmen were calling for anyone who questioned the need for war to be charged with treason.

Yet, on a brutally cold February day, 600,000 New Yorkers came out to march against the war. I went down with my girlfriend, a NY native, and we joined the crowd on the Upper East Side, since midtown was too crowded. The wind whipped off the East River, and the police were out in force, directing the crowd this way or that, making it difficult to reach the main body of the protesters in midtown.

The cold got so bad, we ducked into an Irish bar on 3rd Ave. At the top of the hour, between ‘Money Matters’, some show about pets, both NY1 and CNN broadcast 30 second ‘by the way’ updates on the biggest protest since the ’60s.

Of course, the marches made no impact whatsoever. I can’t remember if Bush even acknowledged that they’d taken place.

A year and a half later, some half a million marched against the Republican convention held in Manhattan that year because it made for great optics. Ground Zero, 9-11, ‘America’s Mayor’ Rudolph Guiliani. In the West Village, where the marches began, the protest was so packed traveling a single block took an hour. The cops were out in force then as well, but the mood was relaxed, and some of the cops even seemed supportive. Security around the conference centre was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Choppers, riot cops with machine guns, secret service agents in aviator shades and earpieces racing off off in black SUVs with reflective windows. I’d never seen anything like it, not even in ’80s London where terrorism was a real and daily threat.

That protest too made little to no impact. But both protests did redeem my faith in New York.

10 years on, the US is finally out of Iraq. Cheney claimed that Iraq was a better place, that he had no regrets. I wonder how many Iraqis feel their country is a better place. Their infrastructure destroyed, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead. And the war goes on, except now America is no longer a part of it.

A version of this post was first published in February, 2010




End of Broken Angel House

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I didn’t hear about this until today, even though it was covered in the NY Times City Blog a few days ago.

The trailer from Dave Chappelle’s Block Party:

I lived/ stayed around the corner from Angel House for years without knowing what it was. It was just a curious, bizarre structure rising from a desolate stretch of warehouses and abandoned buildings. Later, I rode my bike from the park down Downing street, past the entrance. I hadn’t realized that a fire had taken out sections of the building, that code violations had led to the city putting a lean on it. I doubt code had been much on Arthur and Cynthia Wood’s mind when they started constructing their whimsical home in 1979. If the area was desolate in the ’00s, I can only imagine what it was like in the ’80s.

Thus ends a small chapter in local and Brooklyn history, as the neighborhood becomes ever more gentrified, seemingly by the week.

From Bed-Stuy Patch: Supporters Say Goodbye to Angel House

Wish I’d been there. A couple of faces I recognize from Zuccotti Park, glad to see they’re still around.




Fulton Street Notes


Mosque on Fulton Street, Brooklyn

I hear the prayer call from the mosque on the corner of Franklin and Bedford in the morning if I’m awake early enough, and often at dusk, a low wailing call across the rooftops of Bed-Stuy. I’ve heard it for years, but never known its source utnil I went to the top of Bedford a couple of years ago. I’d imagined and actual muezzin tower, with one of those peaked roofs like you see across the Muslim world. But the mosque is low and squat, like every other building on that section of Fulton street, hardly distinguishable but for the Arabic script on a sign over the front entrance, and a loudspeaker which broadcasts the call to prayer across the south Bed-Stuy rooftops, dawn to dusk, five times a day. Nonetheless, I still like hearing this call from the East, a reminder that in New York sometimes you can feel like you’re not quite in the West.

Very little of Fulton street is beautiful. Perhaps Fulton Mall was once, back when the overhead train lines still streamed into downtown Brooklyn, and the Dodgers played at Ebbet’s Field. But as long as I’ve known it, Fulton has been a ramshackle street,packed with cheap clothing stores, fried chicken and pizza places (often protected by bulletproof glass), pawn shops and cheap electronic stores. And that was the active areas. A decade or so ago, a walk up Fulton to the area I’m in now revealed not just empty storefronts, but gutted buildings, weeds growing out of front steps, even false front facades with rubble visible behind the empty windows.

But in recent years, the stretch of Fulton between Franklin past Nostrand has been changing. An influx of West Africans has meant a plethora of West African style deli restaurants next to the established roti and patty places, simple eateries with steam tables, African videos on video players in the corner, battered tables and chairs. The food, at least what I’ve tried, is excellent.

The mix of West Indians and Africans in the area makes me think of south London, which is lined with the same shabby streets taken over and transformed by immigrants from Africa, Asia, even South America. On Fulton too, you can find the same market stores, good, affordable produce, a butcher’s shop, a fishmongers, except here the man in the front are Chinese, the workers Latin America, and the sound of Mexican music blares from a tinny radio in the back.

Unlike South London, there are no pubs, no obvious places to hang out if you’re not part of the particular ethnic group that patronizes a particular cafe or restaurant. Here and there coffee places are springing up – A French coffee shop on Franklin a half-block from the subway, another on Nostrand, a new retreat/ bar o Fulton itself. Benches and spindly trees have been installed along the street, reflecting the city’s desire to rehabilitate the area, possibly as part of a plan to extend Atlantic Yards.

For now Fulton remains a jumble of races, styles, cultural cross-currents. Much of Brooklyn looks like this, a fact that rarely gets reported when commentators assess how hip Brooklyn has become.




Under Renovation

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iconic photograph of ironworkers having lunch on high steel beam

As even the casual observer can tell, this site is in pretty rough shape. Most of the images and videos were dropped during a not very successful transfer, and the menu needs to be redone. You can, however, see it on ipad! Cutting-edge! Anyway, I’ve been busy, then ill, but I’ll attempt to get this back into shape soon.




What a Relief


Yeah, I know he’s not perfect. But thank God Barack Obama got re-elected President. God Bless America! Four More Years!

Maybe now he’ll start showing some leadership on Global Warming.




Sorry I’ve been absent

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Datagram Offices being flooded in downtown Manhattan

Well, I had good intentions anyway. I meant to cover the disaster that has been Hurricane Sandy in as much detail as it could, but one of the casualties of the flooding of Lower Manhattan was my hosting company, Datagram, whose New York servers are located on Whitehall st. All my sites, and a few client sites besides, were down for five days, while datagram employees fought a valiant fight to get their servers up and running again. Their struggle has been titanic – and, it seems, ongoing. They have been posting their tribulations on their site:

Datagram Sandy Outage Updates

In a sense, their struggle to get their servers has been a snapshot of the struggle of businesses in lower Manhattan generally.

On top of that, I’ve had some kind of flu, headaches, possibly exacerbated by the God knows what flying through the air from the damaged buildings, the oil and gas spills throughout the city. Our corner of Brooklyn got off easy though: we never lost power or water. Many others in this cities, especially in the outer boroughs, have gone, and are continuing to go through very serious difficulties, and tonight it will be cold, near 20 degrees. Let’s hope emergency efforts are sped up in the areas that need it most, now that power, water and transport have been restored in the city’s centre.




Waitin’ for Sandy

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It’s been a traumatic few weeks for New York. A killer nanny, a would-be cannibal cop, now the onset of Hurricane Sandy, colliding with a cold front coming down from the Great Lakes, a high pressure zone in Iceland, pushing the Hurricane right toward us.

Probably not right toward us. Probably right toward New Jersey, where trendy climate-change denier Chris Christie is in full crisis mode. As he should be. But we’ll very likely get hit. With the full moon comes high tide, and with an expected 11.7 foot surge (I’m watching Gov. Coumo speak on TV as I’m writing this) on top of that high tide, folks are a little worried. More than a little worried. “We’re talking about surges we have not seen before,” Coumo just said.

In my neighborhood, where, despite gentrification, most of my neighbors are from either the Carolinas or Trinidad, people seem more sanguine. Certainly, the stores were full yesterday, picked clean by evening. But down at my local, the bar was packed, first for the football game, then the Giants’ triumph in the World Series. People grumbled about the transit closing down. “A light breeze – and they close the subway! A light breeze!” A woman said to me as she served me my morning coffee. Despite a certain tension on the street, it didn’t feel much different from any other Sunday evening.

tree brought down by hurricane sandy in brooklyn

This morning it feels a little more real. The subway has been shut down for over twelve hours now and you can feel the emptiness in the city. At first glance, it seems like not much of a storm. I’d planned to walk around a bit this morning and get a feel for what’s going on, but within a block you could feel the wind changing, reaching ferocious strength for a few seconds before dying away. A few people are out. A man walked by. “Damn – if I’m going to get a holiday, I want to enjoy it! Can’t sit around the house ALL day . . .” A few businesses are open, but most are shut. Just one block away from our house was the first downed tree, leaning right across the front of the only house on the street with boarded up windows. Debris flies through the air, mostly leaves for now, but flying at high speeds. Most of all, it feels odd to walk out in the city and hear it so quiet. No jets overhead, little traffic on the street, the subways closed off by yellow police tape.

Store open in brooklyn awaiting hurricane sandy

Manhattan must feel even more eerie: NYC taxi drivers talks by phone to the BBC. ““I feel like I’m living in a science fiction movie . . . this city is really shut down”

Some areas, like Inwood and parts of Westchester, are already experiencing flooding.

Gallery of Images from the HuffPost




Sorry For The Bother . . .

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Some problems taking the site from one server to another. Should have everything restored in a couple of days.




The Baronness and Thelonious Monk

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Been meaning to post for . . . .ages. Will soon return to some kind of schedule, a couple of times a month at least. In the meantime . . . here’s a feature length movie about the baroness who was Thelonious Monk’s patron. A window on another New York and, artistically at least, an infinitely more vital age.


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Where Is Bed-Stuy At?


Mural of defunct businesses, Bed-Stuy

Gentrification happens so steadily in this corner of Bed-Stuy you hardly notice it day by day. Only when you look back a couple months, a year, do you realize how much the neighborhood has changed over the last couple of years.

This corner, on the Southeast edge, is under pressure from three fronts. Prospect Heights to the east, the Atlantic Yards development which is jacking up real estate prices Fort Greene into Clinton Hill, the steady march of both the Williamsburg hipster-yuppies and the Satmar Hasidim from the west. The Satmar, in particular, are moving in block by block: a grocery store on DeKalb, a school on Lafayette.

I’ve heard incredible stories about how expensive the neighborhood is becoming: a couple paying nearly three grand a month for a two bedroom in one of the new condos between Bedford and Nostrand south of Lafayette. That’s Manhattan prices for a dinky condo unit on a desolate stretch of concrete behind a Home Depot parking lot . . .

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