Wednesday, July 11, 2007

NY Trip: My Introduction to Queens.

It's been a long day of driving, most of it very intense. Route 80 is a good enough road- not much different than the turnpike, except that it is perhaps in better shape. The downside is that it's not nearly as scenic as I thought it would be. Plus the rest stops are very basic. There are bathrooms and vending machines, but no Starbucks or chain restaurants. You have to get off at an exit if you need gas or food. Anyway, we rolled along smoothly until we got into Northern New Jersey, and then we poked along the rest of the way to the Forest Hills section of Queens. There are some pleasant residential streets in this area that don't necessarily fit my expectations of NYC. But Queens is the most sprawling of the boroughs, and there are many types of neighborhoods within it.

I've read a lot about Queens being the only part of NYC that resembles the old-time traditional image of the City. Supposedly there are still alot of working class folks living here. The ethnic diversity is obvious. Despite the fact that I've only explored a small portion of this town (and much of that in the dark), I've already noticed influences from Eastern Europe, Latin America, and several regions of Asia. There are hispanics, jews, white people, blacks, etc. It's certainly not entirely gentrified yet. But to hear JM talk, a large portion of it has already changed during the relatively short time he's been away. I was impressed to find an actual grocery store, albeit one with compacted shelves. I didn't know such things existed anymore in the "Big Apple". I bought drinkable yogurt!

We decided to take a drive into Williamsburg (Brooklyn) this evening. Right away we spotted a "community museum". It had a charming collection of souvenirs and artifacts. We got pulled in to watching a documentary about the Giglio (giglio means "lily" in Italian) in the backroom. I found it useful background information for something we intend to see tomorrow. The Giglio Feast is meant to honor St. Paolino, a baron in the ancient Italian city of Nola. It is said that he sacrificed himself by working in the fields and providing offerings for a North African Sultan. He did this so the autocratic ruler would spare the lives of the youth in his city. People have been celebrating this deed since it occurred in 409AD. In Brooklyn, the feast is held by Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church. They emulate their ancestors by building a five-story tower, weighing several tons and embroidered with saintly imagery by traditional artisans. Then a team of 120 men carry the thing, with a 12-piece brass band perched atop its base, through the streets. The bearers of this object are called Paranzas and they are led by a cadre of Lieutenants and overseen by the Capo. Of course there's lots of hot sausage and dancing, too.

So that's the plan for Sunday. We'll try to find parking and see the "first lift" in the afternoon. And I'll strain to get close enough to take some pictures. Anyway... we watched the film (which was made for PBS and featured John Turturro as narrator) and then it was back to the streets once again. As we checked out the scene in Williamsburg, JM was increasingly dismayed by the scenesters who have apparently robbed the place of any authenticity it once had. The people didn't bother me, but that may be because I never saw the way it used to be- when artists first moved into the neighborhood. I won't lament the loss of any viable environment for a struggling artist in NYC. There are always other places to move.

We ate a late dinner at a Taqueria in Astoria. I got a chicken chimichanga- a delicious meal served up by a waitress that could barely speak English. It was some of the best Mexican food I have ever had. I'm exhausted, but I'm suffering for my art by staying up an extra hour- just so I can share my account of my day with you.

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