Tag Archives: culture

Petanque in the Park

Pa – wha? Is usually the response I get. So it’s okay if that was yours too. Just say pay then tank with a snooty French accent. That’s it!

Okay, now what is it? Let’s start from the beginning.

When man climbed out of the primordial soup, or pretty near there to, it’s been well documented that he liked to throw things at other things.  Invented in France around the time of Arch Duke Ferdinand’s assassination, petanque is just a sophisticated version of that eternal pass time: throwing stuff.


So, instead of throwing a rock at, say, a mastodon, you try to get your boule (or ball, see above) as close to the cochonnet (literally means little piglet) as you can. How do you do that? Good question.


Like this, mainly. Note the under hand throw, very important.

Let’s say you get a really good point. Hurray for you! Meet The Shooter.

Ze "Shooter"

Basically, he throws the ball, the ball hits your ball, you go bye-bye.  Superior. For every boule your team has closer at the end of a round, you get 1 point. First to 13 wins. Ready, set, go!

How did I come upon this odd and incredibly addictive game? About 3 years ago I was procrastinating on some research I had to do at the New York Public Library. Bryant Park, directly behind the library, is an oh-so-nice place to procrastinate and while getting my coffee from the Witchcraft stand (better than you think it would be) I saw a group of people throwing stuff. About ten thousand games later, I’m still hooked.



I’m pretty sure I hit that one. Maybe.

Until next time. I’m thinking the Yankees. The Staten Island Yankees that is.

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Filed under Manhattan

Knish me on the Cyclone

After reliving a few childhood memories on the monkey bars of Grady Playground, and looking rather ridiculous in the process, I thought, Hey. Let’s go home. Yes, I sometimes, in my head, refer to myself as the collective we. What’s good enough for the Queen of England is good enough for us, after all.

But, as so often happens on my walks, I got hungry and so headed down to Brighton Beach Boulevard for a knish and seltzer.  When in Rome, you know.  Paper bag in hand, I found a spot on the beach to picnic. Well not really on the beach, but on a bench on a cement platform that overlooked the beach. What a view!


As I was enjoying my delicious pocket of potato and pillowy dough, a city employee asked me how my day was going while sweeping up cigarette butts from the sand. “Pretty good,” I said, and feeling in a sharing mood, “but I wanted to go to that amusement park,” and pointed  yonder towards the rides.  “Oh Lunatic Park?” he asked. Now, it’s actually called Luna Park, but obviously, his being the far superior name for it, I didn’t interject. “Yeah,” opens tomorrow,” he continued, “but the Cyclone’s going.”

“Wha?!” I stuffed the rest of the knish in my mouth and wished him good-bye.

Proof of intelligent life on Earth

Hastily walking down the board walk, I soon heard the rumble of climbing roller coaster cars, then, the scream. That could have been me already!   Expecting a long line of preteens with cotton candy ahead, I almost broke into a jog. Yet, to my surprise, there was no one. I waltzed right in.

It’d been years since I’d been on a roller coaster, and perched above the drop I thought, “oh yeah, this is why,” then I screamed for awhile. The whole time really.


I look good in that one. Right?

Next time: Petanque:  the game even Napoleon outlawed.


Filed under Brooklyn

Brighton Beach, on Accident

Anyone who pays attention knew that Luna Park, the amusement park at Coney Island, didn’t open until May 29th. Generally excluded from the category of “attention payers,” I  arrived  ready to ride the rides and itching for a little artificial adrenaline, and was sorely disappointed to find on May 28th, there would be no teacups for me. Nevertheless,  I tried to ferret my way into the private party they were having for local dignitaries and their children (I’m from Walking New York, I said. Press pass? asked the security guard) without success. An F train of my despair rattled above.

But wait! This is New York City after all. There had to be something interesting within ten blocks or less.  So I headed onwards and north up the boardwalk towards Brighton Beach.

A quick note about this sleepy little beach community, first of all, it’s not sleepy, second of all it’s known for its Russian population, and third, they have a weird way of naming their streets. Just look at this conundrum:

Ahhh, where am I again?

Brighton Lane 2 and Brighton Path 2? And not only that. There’s also Brighton Walk 2 and Brighton Street 2 and AND Brighton Court 2! How am I supposed to find my way around this place? Not that there was much hope of that in the first place. When in Rome, I decided and walked down one of the Walks.

A Walk to somewhere

The thing about Brighton’s Walks is that all in all, they’re really just alleyways and alleyways are something the rest of New York generally lacks. There’s not enough room between buildings most of the time to allow for these little pedestrian only ways, which is a shame since you can get into a lot of good and bad trouble on these little paths. I mean, who hasn’t stolen a kiss from a forbidden love in an alley? Okay, me. But I saw it in a movie. So there.

The other wonderful, if overly-voyeuristic, aspect of Brighton’s byways is they allow for a closer glimpse into the lives of those who live along them.

Hello! I like your house.

thanks for the heads up....

Nice Porch

No problem

While surreptitiously snapping photos of other people’s backyards, I notice a special affinity among the residents of Brighton Beach for rose bushes and chain link fences. At least half the houses have one or the other and about a third have both.

Muy romantico

Si. Gusto.

Rose bush in cement, chain link sold seperately

As the sun rose higher and the busy bees of summer starting swarming to these lovely blooms, I thought it’d be a good time to head back to  Brighton Beach Boulevard where the only hum is that of the cars and elevated train, just the way I like it.  Of course, I meandered a little ways getting there and ran into the coolest playground ever at Brighton 3 Street and 4 Road in Brighton Beach,. Stay tuned for pictures and the shakedown in a few days.


Filed under Brooklyn

Live from the People’s Garden

Frank, sitting pretty

Which people, you might ask. According to Frank, caretaker of the Lower Ease Side People’s Garden,  all people. Not bad.

For those of you just tuning in, I’m in Chinatown and while looking for a cottage-industry tannery somewhere near the Bureau Gallery, I stumbled across this gem of outdoor space in New York City.

If you’re one of those bridge and tunnel people like myself, vacant lots turned into mini tomato, zucchini, and potato patches are both totally awesome and  pretty common.

However, in addition to fruits, Frank’s garden also has:

Bon journo!

It’s really the tinfoil roll in back that makes it art. And that’s not all.

Ahhh! A skeleton....candle holder!

Herbs and a wooden boat

A lot of community gardens are just for the members, which is all well and good. But what about the rest of us who have neither the time nor the money to go digging in the dirt and want to enjoy the urban outdoors?  Sure there’s Central Park.  But who wants to take the Lexington Line? Or circumnavigate the perambulating  Met-goers in a trance from all the Greco-Roman art?

It’s also the size of the People’s Garden, or rather, lack there of, that makes it appealing. At less than a quarter acre, it gives a sense of intimacy that you can’t get in the larger, more crowded public spaces of NYC. In fact, it’s a bit like Gramercy without the locked gate and old money waving you off their lawn with canes.

But, the greatest thing about the LESPG (Lower East Side People’s Garden – I have a thing for acronyms) is the kitsch, the perfect campyness of it. And not in a bad way. There’s about a thousand and one aspiring artists in Williamsburg who would give their right eye, leg, and arm to be able to curate a space this cool.  It’s authentic, welcoming, and utterly Lower East Side.

What's he looking at?


But of course, I forgot to write down where this is, so your only choice is to wander aimlessly until you find it. Having done it myself, I can tell you it’s not a bad way to spend the day. In fact, you couldn’t do much better.

Later this week, the roller coasters of Coney Island. You must be at least this tall to ride.

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Filed under Manhattan

The City Island Conspiracy Continues

Uncovering the City Island Freemason Conspiracy (three picture deal currently in negotiation) really gave me an appetite. So, I headed back onto the main drag, known for its mediocre yet proliferous seafood joints. However, on the way to the south end of the island, where you can’t throw a cat without hitting a restaurant, I found myself waylaid by a rather uncommon sign.

Maybe the word, “Nautical,” which is such a great and underused word, drew me in. Or perhaps the excellently painted sail boat was to blame. Either way,  around the corner  I found a single room store chalk-a-block with all things maritime.

Antique Barometer

Model Santa Maria

Is he suposed to be Italian?

The purveyor of this most curious store? Trader Joe. (John really, but everyone seemed to call him by his nickname.) He lived up to his nomenclature,  in my opinion, when one customer walked in with an anchor, and Trader Joe said, “You’ve got good taste in anchors.”  Indeed.

While full of verve, Joe looked like this was not his first trip off the dock and I asked him if the island had changed much over his lifetime (almost all of which was spent here). Definitely, he replied. Once a thriving seaport, City Island now relies on the tourist industry for economic sustenance. It’s a “restaurant island” were Trader Joe’s words.  I for one would have preferred an isle full of swarthy seagoers, like the ones that must have once supplied our dear Trader with his wares. Life isn’t always fair, as they say, but you can still get popcorn shrimp. Right?

Walking south, my stomach growled, expectant of the  aforepromised battered decapods. However, my wallet demurred. Sammy’s Shrimp Box wanted $15.97 for a basket with fries. What are they trying to pull?  I wondered and stepped back outside to sample one of the many other eateries. But then I noticed something disturbing. Something perhaps even more chilling than the Freemasons. Just look!

Sammy, whoever he is, has not 1, not 2, but 3 restaurants AND a parking lot for each location. So who is behind this fishy monopoly? (Sorry about the pun. I can’t help myself sometimes.) I asked one of the waitresses in le shrimp box, who referred me to the manager, who shall remain nameless because of the following statement. Mr. Manager was having a meeting at the main branch with a man I imagined to be the assistant manager. He said, and I quoth, “You have to get your own crayons and balloons! You’re own your own now.” He then stormed out, leaving his clipboard behind, leaving me to think he would be returning soon. Not so. In the meantime, I became distracted by an acne medication info-commercial they had playing on the bar TV.

“Are you watching this?” asked the bartender.

“Not really.”

“I miss the good old days,” he said, switching it off. “Before they had TVs. People used to talk to one another.”

Now this barkeep philosopher was not some weathered old man just come in from the sea, as it were. Rather fresh faced (I’ll end my description there in case Mr. Manager should ever read this) he went on to describe how technology was tearing our social fabric apart. I concurred and neglected to mention this blog.

After this exchange, I didn’t really care who Sammy was anymore. A Grand Master Freemason no doubt. Better to leave these sorts of things alone. I just wanted my fried shrimp! And I found it at the very end of the island at Johnny’s, a cafeteria-like establishment where my order took all of two seconds.

A little rubbery, but totally passable, I took my lunch  outside to enjoy the view.

Not bad for New York City’s littlest island.


Filed under The Bronx

The 99¢ Store

Have you noticed there’s no “cents” sign on the keyboard anymore? You have to insert a symbol and even there it’s hard to find.  In the April issue of Harper’s, there’s an article by Joachim Kalka about the slow but eminent disappearance of coinage, and with it, the extinction of the rituals surrounding these metallic objects. Heads or tails? Flicking pennies at elementary school crushes. The pleasure of having exact change at the counter of your local bodega. So, it was with profound enjoyment that I visited the last and greatest defense of the coin: the 99¢ store.

Of course, as any soured skeptic will immediately point out, not everything in a 99¢ store costs 99¢. But, that, my dear nay-sayer, is not the point. The point is that some things, indeed many things, in a 99¢ store cost 99¢. If you hand the cashier a dollar, he will hand you a penny. If you give them your credit card, he will charge you tax and then it’s not 99¢ anymore. Take for instance this bag of rubber bands. 99¢! And it will last you a life time.

It is entirely possible to find your every need, if not desire, in the crammed aisles of Bushwick 99¢ stores.

From food to toys, from brooms to toilet seat covers (who doesn’t need one of those – especially in lovely pastel), they’ve got it all and cheap.

But choice! you say. I want selection. Have no fear! The name and description might be in a language other than English, and you might not know exactly what you’re buying, but your options are nearly unlimited. Just like going out to dinner in Paris. Heading off to the laundromat? Just try to choose from this epic shelf.

You’ll be lingering for hours.

What’s that? You wanted tape? Well.

With an average of 2 per block on the main drag, Knickerbocker Avenue is the absolute Mecca of 99¢ stores. For those on a budget, or just in the market for authentic kitsch, it’s well worth the subway trip. So come-on. Roll up your pennies and enjoy it while you can.


Filed under Brooklyn