The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for February 2011

Project Firebox 22

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Queen’s very own Broadway, as it slouches roughly uphill from the East River at Hallets Cove, transverses Woodside on its way to the exotic and hill defined locale of Jackson Heights and beyond. Home to a variegated sampling of the human infestation, the neighborhood’s residents largely hail from the tropical courts of Asia who are comfortably vouchsafed against immolation by this solitary sentinel located at the confluent junction of 35th avenue and 63rd street.

Broadway, of course, eventually transitions into and becomes Grand Avenue at Queens Blvd. in Elmhurst, whose right of way carries the unsuspecting pedestrian toward an eventual meeting with the loathsome Newtown Creek and infinite Brooklyn.

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 27, 2011 at 10:44 am

shadowed lips

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

The fairly excellent Watercourses blog presents this post on Sunswick Creek, a waterbody which once existed here in Astoria, and still runs to the East River through manmade corridors deep below the modern streets. No, really. Watercourses has been down there and has photos! More importantly, the post also carries two maps from the 1870′s which show the early street plan of Astoria.

You’ll notice, on the 2nd one, a “Ridge St.” and a “Camelia St.”. The road running between them is Broadway, and at its intersection with Vernon Ave. the latter takes a wicked hook and becomes Sunswick Creek XXX (at this moment, it remains obfuscated to me whether this is a street or avenue or road, I think I can hear somebody at Greater Astoria Historic Society sighing right now).

This bit of geographic reckoning, of course, is simplified by saying- “Stevens Est.” = Costco, and that weird mouth of the creek is Socrates Sculpture Garden, and these photos were shot just beyond where that little dock shape is, between the “n” and second “s” in Sunswick. (I also wanted to send a shout out to Watercourses. Well Done!)

Whew!

- photo by Mitch Waxman

According to certain sources, two aboriginals named Shawestcont and Erramorhar (as witnessed by their cohorts Warchan and Kethcanaparan) sold much of what we know as Astoria (but which they called Sintsinck) to William Hallett (who was similarly accompanied by a company of witnesses and countrymen) on August 1, 1664- which is how the place got its name.

For a more complete view of highlights from Hallets Cove, and Sunswick Creek- check out this Newtown Pentacle post from February of 2010, and the “The Horrors of Hallet’s Cove“ from June of 2009.

The very fact that temperatures have risen once again to the point at which the atmosphere can sustain water in a liquid state, by the way, is a font of joy for your humble narrator- as walking the East River shoreline is once more possible for both man and duck. Which means that a winter’s worth of book research can finally be explored materially.

Whew!

I’ll be that weirdo in the dirty black raincoat you might spy scuttling along the waterfront…

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 25, 2011 at 3:32 am

these realms

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Occasion called for me to meet up with Our Lady of the Pentacle deep in the far eastern (from the perspective of Astoria, at least) neighborhood of Flushing over the last weekend. The obviate path would demand navigating and enduring the exquisite ironies visited upon the hapless weekend customer of the MTA here in western Queens, and though my patience was thin- my wallet is thinner so a cab was out of the question and… it was a really nice day.

Hence, I walked… and walked… and walked… from Astoria to Flushing.

The master, Kevin Walsh over at Forgotten-NY offered a “slice” of Roosevelt Avenue in 2008

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This isn’t one of the “deep history” or “occluded past” kind of posts by the way- it’s more a series of surface observations made on a very long walk.

Roosevelt Avenue is a very, very interesting place and not just because of the elevated subway tracks which dominate its experience. Roosevelt starts off at the East River in Brooklyn as “Greenpoint Avenue” and transforms into “Roosevelt” as it hurtles over Queens Blvd and ultimately ending at Northern Blvd. way out in Flushing.

My route out of Astoria followed Broadway southeasterly toward Jackson Heights, and then East on Roosevelt.

The inestimable and inexhaustable Mr. Walsh of Forgotten-NY presented a post detailing the Woodside to Greenpoint side of things, which be accessed here

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Aforementioned, the elevated tracks of the 7 line really do make you understand why Manhattan tore down its elevated tracks as soon as it was feasible. Loud, the structure is a shadowy and dripping mess, providing a home to what must be entire nations of pigeons. Sidewalk and crosswalk intersections resemble the mad excesses of certain Abstract Expressionist painters popular during the 20th century, and the vast structure dominates and demands an oppressive pall over the street.

The Woodside section of Roosevelt Avenue was given a short and sweet “once-over” a while back in this May of 2010 posting, at this, your Newtown Pentacle.

Additionally, the Flushing River just beyond Roosevelt Avenue was explored from the water in this November 2009 posting, and intriguing municipal machinery was observed along Roosevelt Avenue at Flushing’s Corona Yard in this posting from February of 2010.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Roosevelt Avenue, and a few of the neighborhoods it passes through are a subject of much conversation amongst area wags. The whole stretch is home to such a vast agglutination of nationalities and ethnicities, representing what seems like a statistical sampling of every variation which the planetary human infestation might take, that it’s hard to say exactly who lives here.

In the section between Woodside and Flushing though, a LOT of people speak Spanish.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding these neighborhoods, with long time Queens residents pointing accusing fingers and offering dire prophecies for the future of the borough based on the presumed moral and legal failings of this new population. The spanish speaking community has exploded in the last decade along Roosevelt Avenue, growing by an astounding estimation of 450% since the last Census. That number, of course, is the official one. There is probably a larger number of people extant, but hazy immigration patterns and reticent newcomers leery of government officials contribute to a less than full accounting.

I can tell you from observation, however, that the economic doldrums affecting other commercial streets (like Steinway Street in Astoria, for instance) in the so called “more affluent” sections of Queens does not seem to be affecting this area.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Perhaps its because the folks who live here will do just about anything they can to make a few bucks, often working multiple shifts, starting work at a lumber yard in the morning and busing a table in a restaurant at night for instance. A buddy of mine lives around here who came to New York from Ecuador, allows himself only 4 hours of sleep a day at the dormitory like and quite illegal rooming house which serves as his address in Corona. He’s sending money back home when he can, and trying to save what he has left over to do “something” with when opportunity presents itself to him.

I’m not going to gloss over the crime and gang life that is here, it’s just that I don’t know too much about it, and thankfully haven’t had any experience with that side of these neighborhoods.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The newer buildings you see along Roosevelt Avenue are slapdash affairs, and would seem to fit the term “Queenscrap” coined by our friends over at the blog of the same name. The charming early 20th century detached 2 and 3 story homes which were familiar to multiple generations of…

What is the term for Queens natives anyway? Is it “Queensites” or “Queensipolitans” or “Queensicans” or something? If you’re from Brooklyn or Manhattan it’s “ites”, but what about Queens?

At any rate, the newer structures have one governing principle, and it’s that form follows function. The function seems to be a desire to use every square inch of the property lot and build to maximum height allowable by zoning regulations (and often beyond all law). In a lot where one or possibly two families historically declared their address, there can be as many as 10 or 12 today.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The effect that this huge surge in population has had on area institutions like schools and hospitals has been profound. The usual problems arising from urban life are compounded by the fact that these are a “working class” group of people- often the so called “working poor”, who suffer from a well known and commented upon series of cultural “Gotcha’s” as it is- many amplified by speaking a different language and differing expectations for the future than those born to the culture they’ve joined.

The largely “middle class” (and often college trained) population of surrounding neighborhoods sneer at the Roosevelt Avenue corridor as being populated by illegal immigrants, call everyone here the “Mexicans“; the males of which are all gangsters- and accusing their women as scheming to spawn “anchor babies” in order to guarantee citizenship in “El Norte” and then allowing their lawless spawn to run wild in the streets. It’s blatant, more than a little racist, and I hear it all the time- even from sources you wouldn’t expect. One neighbor recently opined that “mexicans shit in the street”.

And that’s crap, Lords and Ladies. I’m tired of hearing it, frankly, and that’s what this post is really about.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

In no uncertain terms, understand this- what the “Lower East Side” and “Five Points” were to the Irish, Italians, Germans, and Jews 125 years ago is what Roosevelt Avenue is to this “immigrant wave”. As you’re reading this, a future President of the United States is eating Churros in her baby carriage somewhere on Roosevelt Avenue around 100th street. A Supreme Court Justice is kicking a ball around with a future incarnation of Al Capone in some dusty lot near Linden Park. Roosevelt Avenue is where America is being retooled, and you can safely watch it happening from the sidewalk, while the cowboys and arabs draw down on each other in the cool dusty air of some faraway land.

For reasons I can’t really attribute, the necessity of saying this out loud and in public is important to me.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Running late, it was decided that to save a few steps and cut through Flushing Meadow Corona Park instead of continuing down Roosevelt Avenue, and I was forced to make a right turn instead of my usual left. Some interesting sights were had, which will be discussed and presented in some future (and less grandstandlingly Progressive!) posting of this- your Newtown Pentacle.

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 23, 2011 at 5:09 pm

gazing back

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Following a friend around last week, I ended up in a shop on 9th avenue in Manhattan which sold all manner of spice and grain (as well as a few interesting cheeses and a nice variety of olives). Struck by the palette of flavor and the alien smell of unknown colors, I pulled out the camera and started shooting. Just a block from the “ass end” of the Port Authority Bus Terminal, this part of the City has always struck me as a mean section, rife with danger and lurking predators which frightens one who suffers from timidity- such as myself.

As I scanned the market, the spice began to work on me in the manner of some exotic drug, and your humble narrator’s thoughts began to whirl in the manner of a dervish…

from wikipedia

The spice trade is a commercial activity of ancient origin which involves the merchandising of spices, incense, hemp, drugs and opium. Civilizations of Asia were involved in spice trade from the ancient times, and the Greco-Roman world soon followed by trading along the Incense route and the Roman-India routes. The Roman-Indian routes were dependent upon techniques developed by the maritime trading power, Kingdom of Axum (ca 5th century BC–AD 11th century) which had pioneered the Red Sea route before the 1st century. By mid-7th century the rise of Islam closed off the overland caravan routes through Egypt and the Suez, and sundered the European trade community from Axum and India.

Arab traders eventually took over conveying goods via the Levant and Venetian merchants to Europe until the rise of the Ottoman Turks cut the route again by 1453. Overland routes helped the spice trade initially, but maritime trade routes led to tremendous growth in commercial activities. During the high and late medieval periods Muslim traders dominated maritime spice trading routes throughout the Indian Ocean, tapping source regions in the Far East and shipping spices from trading emporiums in India westward to the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, from which overland routes led to Europe.

The trade was transformed by the European Age of Discovery,  during which the spice trade, particularly in black pepper, became an influential activity for European traders. The route from Europe to the Indian Ocean via the Cape of Good Hope was pioneered by the Portuguese explorer navigator Vasco Da Gama in 1498, resulting in new maritime routes for trade.

This trade — driving the world economy from the end of the Middle Ages well into the modern times — ushered in an age of European domination in the East. Channels, such as the Bay of Bengal, served as bridges for cultural and commercial exchanges between diverse cultures  as nations struggled to gain control of the trade along the many spice routes. European dominance was slow to develop. The Portuguese trade routes were mainly restricted and limited by the use of ancient routes, ports, and nations that were difficult to dominate. The Dutch were later able to bypass many of these problems by pioneering a direct ocean route from the Cape of Good Hope to the Sunda Strait in Indonesia.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Lost in aromatic reverie and pedantic observations, the timeless nature and ubiquity of this sort of shop intruded rudely into my gentle musings. The presence of markets like this, with variegated imports from foreign lands presented gaily… Oh, the “historicity” of it.

After all, weren’t shops like this a large part of the original organizing principal behind cities, and the formation of what we call “civilization“?

from wikipedia

Some grains are deficient in the essential amino acid lysine. That is why a multitude of vegetarian cultures, in order to get a balanced diet, combine their diet of grains with legumes. Many legumes, on the other hand, are deficient in the essential amino acid methionine, which grains contain. Thus a combination of legumes with grains forms a well-balanced diet for vegetarians. Common examples of such combinations are dal (lentils) with rice by South Indians and Bengalis, dal with wheat in Pakistan and North India, and beans with corn tortillas, tofu with rice, and peanut butter with wheat bread (as sandwiches) in several other cultures, including Americans. The amount of crude protein found in grain is measured as Grain Crude Protein Concentration.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Versions of this place have existed in every city in every time period since the beginning of the agricultural revolution, and trade in dried foodstuffs was the original economy. The comestibles offered here represent an enormous supply chain, as well, one which perverts the “feel good” concept of “organic” marketing. These “imported lentils from France” may satisfy some desire to be close to the earth, but they were shipped to Manhattan via a petroleum powered steel ship and delivered by a diesel truck.

In a lot of ways, the “greener” product would actually be found in a commercial supermarket, where a large conglomerate’s “economy of scale” can put food on the table spending far fewer “carbon dollars” and often at a significantly lower retail price- but that doesn’t sound good at cocktail parties.

from wikipedia

A pulse (Latin “puls”, from Greek “πόλτος” – poltos, “porridge” is an annual leguminous crop yielding from one to twelve seeds of variable size, shape, and color within a pod. Pulses are used for food and animal feed. The term “pulse”, as used by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), is reserved for crops harvested solely for the dry seed. This excludes green beans and green peas, which are considered vegetable crops. Also excluded are crops that are mainly grown for oil extraction (oilseeds like soybeans and peanuts), and crops which are used exclusively for sowing (clovers, alfalfa). However, in common use these distinctions are not clearly made, and many of the varieties so classified and given below are also used as vegetables, with their beans in pods while young cooked in whole cuisines and sold for the purpose; for example black eyed beans, lima beans and Toor or pigeon peas are thus eaten as fresh green beans cooked as part of a meal. Pulses are important food crops due to their high protein and essential amino acid content. Like many leguminous crops, pulses play a key role in crop rotation due to their ability to fix nitrogen.

Just like words as “bean” and “lentil”, the word “pulse” may also refer to just the seed, rather than the entire plant.

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 21, 2011 at 1:06 pm

vapour soaked

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- photo from “The Newtown Creek industrial district of New York City By Merchants’ Association of New York. Industrial Bureau, 1921″, courtesy Google Books

My weird obsession with recreating very old photographs once again turns toward Dutch Kills, this time it’s looking to the end of the Degnon Terminal barge turning basin toward LaGuardia Community College’s building C- which was the former Sunshine Biscuits or Loose Wiles Bakery.

The shot above was captured in 1921 or thereabouts, and the ones below from 2011.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

An interesting parallell to this shot is the one presented at the end of the “Hunters Point Avenue Bridge Centennial, Dec. 11” posting from December 3rd in 2009, which presents the inverse viewpoint of today’s.

That shot was obtained from a 7th floor window of the building, on the wall with the red detailing, 3rd window from the left some four score and ten years or approximately 24,855 days later than the original and focused on the spot where these were shot.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This is the uncropped version, showing Dutch Kills just around sunset, on February 17th, 2011 from the deck of the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge.

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 20, 2011 at 12:15 am

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