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Archive for May 2012

smoking gulf

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Ask anyone who lives here and they’ll tell you- Astoria Queens rules.

It’s one of the last places in New York City that actually still looks like New York City, and people who live here are generally idiosyncratic and gregarious types who enjoy life’s simpler pleasures wholeheartedly. The ancient village has its problems- of course, too much traffic, a disturbing amount of public inebriation, and when “it hits the fan” around here- things quickly tend to get messy.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Our streets seem to be collapsing, our sewers back up routinely, everything costs too much, and the new neighbors are noisy. The kids have no respect for the older folks, and litter in a casual manner. The deli guys let bums drink in the back yards of their storefronts, and the social contract which dictates that one should find an appropriate commode for the elimination of bodily wastes seems to have been forgotten. We still haven’t forgotten about the “Great Astoria Blackout of 2006″ or the week we spent in the dark while a proverbial “Emperor Nero” fiddled away in City Hall and claimed nothing was wrong.

City services are applied haphazardly (at best) here, except in the case of handing out fines to homeowners and businesses- something handled by the authorities in a fashion best described by the aphorism of “Russian Efficiency”.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

A background hum- caused by highways and rail yards and millions of air conditioners, automobile engines, and oscillating fan blades- colors the air. There is always some sort of yelling, invariably in some foreign tongue, within earshot. Alternatively- kids are playing and squealing with delight, old ladies shuck beans on their stoops, and old men gather in loose groups to complain about the Mets and Rangers or brag about their grandkids.

Everywhere, one might find sidewalk cafes and tavernas glistening with vibrant crowds.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Indecent development by the real estate industrial complex crowds in on the older building stock, disillusioning long time residents and inflaming the passions of preservationists, but what are you going to do about it? People have a right to do what they want with their own property, and the Astoria way is to mind your own business, unless something directly affects you. The interesting thing about Astoria, as well, is that the whole “race thing” isn’t so much of an issue here. The kids in the neighborhood don’t run in ethnic packs like they do in other parts of the city, it’s more a block by block sort of thing. Brazilian, Irish, Italian, Greek, Korean, Egyptian, whatever- they’re all just “one of the boys” from this avenue or that block or those buildings. Doesn’t matter- as they’re all spoiled rotten, don’t know how good they’ve got it, won’t amount to anything, had it too easy, and all the other things that the old ladies say while making a “tsk tsk” sound.

This is what one might see on the streets, what it’s like to actually live here, and this posting is a response to something someone said to me a couple of weeks ago while I was over in the city- the actual quotation was: “Astoria, I love it there, it’s so diverse”.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

What does that mean? Every description I’ve ever heard of Astoria starts with the “diverse” thing, which connotes that the standard for the rest of the world is rigid social segregation along racial and ethnic lines, and that Astoria is some sort of gulag for foreigners who haven’t figured out that they should shop for clothes at JC Penny at the mall on Queens Blvd. and learn to lose the accent. Additionally, on the “diversometer”, do we score higher than Flushing or Ridgewood or Greenpoint?

If one more Manhattanite asks me if I’ve ever been to a) Elias’s Corner, b) the Bohemian Hall, or c) the Museum of the Moving Image- a humble narrator might just go screaming off into the night.

Anyway, Astoria Queens rules.

You got a problem with that?

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 31, 2012 at 12:15 am

time worn

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

One hundred and twenty nine years ago- on May 30, 1883- 12 people were killed and 35 wounded upon the Brooklyn Bridge in what would best be described as constituting a personal nightmare scenario to your humble narrator. I’ve never liked crowds, and shy away from congested areas where a sudden panic might carry me toward apotheosis randomly. Surely this is born of an experience in racially polarized South Brooklyn back in the early 1980’s when I found myself swept in the surge of a small race riot while onboard a bus.

from nytimes.com

A woman fell down the wooden steps at the end of the New-York approach to the Brooklyn bridge yesterday afternoon while the pathway was crowded with thousands of men, women, and children walking and passing one another. As she lost her footing another woman screamed, and the throng behind crowded forward so rapidly that those at the top of the steps were pushed over and fell in a heap.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Weak, poorly developed physically, and given to panic- a young narrator watched with growing horror as a group of “Cugenes” (slang for Italian kids in my old hood) approached the Bushwick bound B78 bus intent on ferreting out a certain African American youth with whom they had a conflict. The Cugenes come onto the bus swinging, and as tribal affiliations ruled the day- the pushing started. I found myself a helpless and unwilling cork bobbing on a sea of witless hatred, an experience which has stayed with me to this day.

from wikipedia

The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States. Completed in 1883, it connects the New York City boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn by spanning the East River. With a main span of 1,595.5 feet (486.3 m), it was the longest suspension bridge in the world from its opening until 1903, and the first steel-wire suspension bridge.

Originally referred to as the New York and Brooklyn Bridge and as the East River Bridge, it was dubbed the Brooklyn Bridge, a name from an earlier January 25, 1867 letter to the editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and formally so named by the city government in 1915. Since its opening, it has become an icon of New York City, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1972.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Unending nightmares of such situations guide me to this day, and one is quite phobic about being trapped within a crowd without egress or a clear pathway of escape. I think it’s part of the reason that places like Times Square fill me with nameless dread, and I prefer the concrete desolations of the sparsely populated Newtown Creek.

I’m all ‘effed up.

from chroniclingamerica.loc.gov

A terrible disaster occurred yesterday afternoon on tho East River Bridge, by which twelve persons lost their lives and a great many others were injured more or less seriously. While there were no less than 15,000 persons on the Bridge, a blockade was formed on the footpath at the head of a flight of steps nine feet high extending from the masonry above the anchorage to the first iron truss, the same place at which blockades of people have occurred heretofore. A panic followed the pushing and struggling in which men and women tried to free themselves from the crowd. In the midst of this rush, started, it is thought by a gang of roughs, either thoughtlessly or with mischievous intent, several persons were carried over the edge of the steps. They fell on the landing and at the foot of the stairs, ethers stumbled on them, and more than forty persons were trampled underfoot by the panic-stricken multitude.

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 30, 2012 at 12:15 am

momentary panic

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve got a boo-boo.

On May 12, your humble narrator conducted a walking tour of Dutch Kills and Newtown Creek which ended at the Newtown Creek Nature Walk in Brooklyn. Having concluded the day’s exertions, the pathway back to benighted Astoria followed the familiar route of crossing the Pulaski Bridge.

At mid span, I noticed a tugboat- the Franklin Reinauer- waiting for the bridge to open, and decided to take advantage of its static position to gather a few shots.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Franklin Reinauer has been featured here in prior postings, and in an attempt to capture a slightly different angle of the vessel (as I’ve taken virtually identical shots of it from this very spot in the past), I decided to climb up on the weird wooden “art thing” which is installed mid span on the bridge.

Happy with the quality of light and the positioning of the ship in my shot, I noticed that the DOT bridge crew had shown up to open the Pulaski and allow the tug access to the Newtown Creek. Desire to get shots of the tug entering the Creek from below infected me and I tucked away my gear and attempted to dismount the “wooden art thing”.

That’s when it happened.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The injury wasn’t severe enough to preclude me from flying down the stairs and getting the shots I desired, as evinced above and below, but the swelling had already started.

As I was climbing down from the “wooden art thing”, I put my left hand down to steady myself as I descended back to the deck. My left thumb then exceeded its normal course and bent approximately forty five degrees in the wrong direction. While I didn’t hear the cracking sound familiar to anyone who has broken a bone, there was a distinct and rather disturbing “pop” that travelled up my arm.

It immediately began to swell.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

By the time that the shot above was captured, an ugly and redolent bruise was spreading around the joint, and the big muscle at the heel of my hand (where the thumb joins the wrist) had swollen up and it appeared as if I had an apricot growing in the shallow part of my palm. Ibuprofen and an ice pack were applied back at HQ, and the swelling subsided after a day or two. Full range of motion, and normal gripping strength, were confirmed and no doctoring seemed to be required. Today, it is still sore, but on the mend.

This is the tale of my boo-boo.

At least I got my shots.

stately height

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, the Saint Demetrios Cathedral here in Astoria held their annual street fair, and I had an opportunity to enter the church and wave my camera around a bit. Greek, or Eastern Orthodox as adherents would prefer, churches are a particular favorite of mine to visit due to the literally byzantine artwork and lavish ornamentation.

from saintdemetriosastoria.com

Saint Demetrios was born in Thesaloniki, Greece in 270 AD. He came from a wealthy family and because he was athletic in appearance and heroic in spirit, he became a high-ranking officer in the Roman Army at a very young age. (This is why he is depicted in Byzantine icons in military dress, either standing or riding a horse.) He considered himself a soldier of Christ first, and a military soldier second. He spent most of his time as a devout missionary, preaching the Gospel at secret meetings and converting pagans to the Christian faith.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Every time that I do a posting about a church, someone invariably accuses me of being ignorant or attempting to smear an institution somehow. Seriously, this could not be further from the truth, as the last thing I want to argue with anyone about is religion. Politics yes, but religion no.

Funnily enough, the Greeks pretty much invented both politics and religion, as well as “arguing”.

also from saintdemetriosastoria.com

The very first organized meeting of Greeks included also the residents of Corona and took place on December 18, 1923 at the Archdiocese which was then located on 30th Drive in Astoria. Immediately following these few Greek families received permission from the then, Archbishop Rodostolou to attend services in the Archdiocesan chapel of St. Athanasios on 30th Drive. At that time, the first Greek School was established.

The people then felt a need to organize their own Church and in 1927 the ground on which St. Demetrios stands today, was purchased for $3,500. An architect was engaged and a $25,000 structure was agreed upon which could later serve as a basement for the someday completed structure of their dream.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m not entirely sure if it was ok to be taking pictures in the Cathedral, and an older Hellenic woman was watching me carefully. If you don’t know any older Hellenic women, trust me on this, you don’t want them angry at you.

It ends badly.

The lady, however, did not adjure me to cease photographing, so I kept on clicking.

from holy-ny.com

In terms of architectural style, the building itself is reminiscent of older Byzantine churches. Its high arching stained glass windows are also reflective of a distinctly American style. Greek characters adorn each wall, and flags of Greece stand tall throughout.

The church offers a variety of different services, ranging from blessing a new office or home to holding services for those about to go to war. Funeral services are also provided, as well as exorcisms.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

A lovely stained glass window dominates the cathedral, depicting the annunciation. The last time that I was in this structure, a young priest described the windows as being the work of a famous artist and that it was a great coup for this congregation to possess them, however I can supply little additional detail on the artist.

from wikipedia

In Eastern Christianity Mary is referred to as Theotokos (Θεοτόκος=”God-bearer”). The traditional Troparion (hymn for the day) of the Annunciation which goes back to Saint Athanasius of Alexandria is:

Today is the beginning of our salvation,

And the revelation of the eternal mystery!

The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin

As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.

Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:

“Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you!”

The Feast of the Annunciation is one of the twelve Great Feasts of the church year. As the action initiating the Incarnation of Christ, Annunciation has such an important place in Eastern theology that the Festal Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is always celebrated on March 25, regardless of what day it falls on—even if it falls on Pascha (Easter Sunday) itself, a coincidence which is called Kyriopascha. The only time the Divine Liturgy may be celebrated on Great and Holy Friday is if it falls on March 25. Due to this, the rubrics regarding the celebration of the feast are the most complicated of all in Eastern liturgics. The Annunciation is called Euangelismos (Evangelism) in Greek, literally meaning “spreading the Good News”.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

In 2007, the Saint Demetrios congregation was robbed of a relic of the saint himself, which was later returned. While looking around for information on the Saint- I became interested in Myrrh, a term I’ve heard all my life but have never been quite sure what it meant. A sort of tree resin, I’m told it is used extensively by both Catholic and Orthodox churches for incense and other ritual usage.

Having grown up in the Jewish culture, such usage of resinous incense wasn’t part of the program, as we had Pastrami.

from nytimes.com

Detectives in Queens have cracked the case of a stolen church reliquary, the police said.

The reliquary — a sterling silver box containing a saint’s ankle bone — was stolen from the solea, a sanctuary platform, in front of the altar of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Astoria between noon and 2 p.m. on Tuesday, the police said. Church elders discovered the theft early on Wednesday, during morning prayers, said Fr. Dionysios Anagnostopoulos, who is the church’s archimandrite, a clerical dignitary ranking below a bishop.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Informal and entirely incidental reading has suggested to me that both Myrrh and Frankincense were a standard carry for soldiers in the Roman military serving in the theaters of North Africa and the Near East. In a world without antibiotics, the two substances were used to treat wounds incurred in the field.

from wikipedia

One theory is that his veneration was transferred from Sirmium when Thessaloniki replaced it as the main military base in the area in 441/442 AD. His very large church in Thessaloniki, the Hagios Demetrios, dates from the mid-5th century, so he clearly had a large following by then. Thessaloniki remained a centre of his veneration, and he is the patron saint of the city.

After the growth of his veneration as saint, the city of Thessaloniki suffered repeated attacks and sieges from the Slavic peoples who moved into the Balkans, and Demetrius was credited with many miraculous interventions to defend the city. Hence later traditions about Demetrius regard him as a soldier in the Roman army, and he came to be regarded as an important military martyr. Unsurprisingly, he was extremely popular in the Middle Ages, and along with Saint George, was the patron of the Crusades.

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 28, 2012 at 2:24 am

ocean and firmament

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Bedeviling, the fog has occasionally opened during the last week.

One such aperture provided this moment on the harbor, when an NYPD Harbor Patrol Launch came crashing across my point of view. Launch No. 36 would likely be what the boat is called by the Gendarme, and that’s the USCG Eagle anchored nearby the Statue of Liberty.

This Maritime Sunday falls on a holiday weekend, and your humble narrator finds himself in ever stranger and more dire predicaments whilst moving about the great human infestation.

All is odd.

elysian realm

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

This Saturday, for a change, we’re not going to present a “Project Firebox” posting, and will instead talk a little bit about the holiday weekend. What the British (or most of the rest of the world) might call a “bank holiday”, the truth of what the three day weekend represents is lost within the dross usage and little understood idioms of the modern tongue.

The truth of the term is met by merely sounding it out. This is a secular holiday, a “holi” “day”, or holy day.

From a representative democratic point of view and sensibility, this “holiday” is meant to be like Yom Kippur or Good Friday- serious business.

from a November 2009 posting, “Tales of Calvary 2- Veterans Day“, about the antipode of this seasonal holiday- Veteran’s Day (which discusses the monument in some detail)-

The statues here at Calvary’s Soldiers Monument seem to have been the original castings of a much reproduced statuary design. Placed here in 1866, they predate the identical statues found at Green-Wood Cemetery, and exact issuance of the mold has been confirmed in New England, North Carolina, and all over New York State. As early as 1875, fumes from a nearby Ammonia Factory at Newtown Creek were graving pitted marks into them.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The original intent of the holiday was to honor the dead of the Civil War… well, all wars, supposedly… but they were really talking about the Civil War in 1868 when Memorial Day (then Decoration Day) appeared on the American Calendar. Someday the eleventh of September will replace Labor Day, as the term “Union” will mean little to future generations, and summer will end “officially” in the second week of the ninth month rather than the last of the eighth. Some politician will have assigned it a name by then- “Never Forget Day” or something, I’d wager.

There are some wounds which will never heal, even in the fullness of time.

from wikipedia

Memorial Day is a federal holiday observed annually in the United States on the last Monday of May. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the fallen Union soldiers of the Civil War. (Southern ladies organizations and southern schoolchildren had decorated Confederate graves in Richmond and other cities during the Civil War, but each region had its own date. Most dates were in May.) By the 20th century Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died in all wars. Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. As a marker it typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The smell of BBQ will rise above Queens and Brooklyn, as always, and the Manhattan people will order take out Chinese and I really couldn’t tell you what will be happening in the Bronx and Staten Island. There will be parades of Veterans, kids will skin their knees playing ball, and many of their Moms and Dads will get way too drunk. Fatty meats and cold drinks will swell many bellies.

All the kids will get sunburns, and go to bed knowing that the freedom of summertime has finally arrived.

Somewhere far away, however, other American kids with rifles in their hands will nervously stare out into the darkness of the desert, or listen intently for movement at mountain passes, and desperately hope that this will be a quiet night. Their BBQ is back at base, and like freedom- home is infinitely far away.

from usmemorialday.org

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war). It is now celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May (passed by Congress with the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 – 363) to ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays), though several southern states have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19 in Texas, April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3 (Jefferson Davis’ birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Memorial Day holiday was created by those who would implicitly understand the situation of the latter. They suffered the same sort of dysentery, horror, and mission- and also watched friends get cut down by anonymous artillery fire in some faraway land.

By the end of the Civil War, there were no victors, only survivors. These survivors wanted us to learn from their trials, and set an annual date for us to sit and think- long and hard- about how high a price certain things are worth.

The same can be said of the veterans of every mechanized “modern conflict” fought since the advent and introduction of the war machines in the 1860’s.

from nycgo.com

Memorial Day isn’t just an excuse for springtime sales and a three-day weekend—it is, first and foremost, a time to honor those citizens who’ve served the United States in times of war. NYC honors our fallen heroes with parades all over the City. The Little Neck–Douglaston parade in Queens is reputedly the largest of its kind. You can also attend Brooklyn’s Memorial Day Parade (145 years old!), which begins at Third Avenue and 87th Street. In Manhattan, head uptown for a smaller parade in Inwood that begins at Broadway and Dyckman Street. Check the City’s events calendar for a full list of events and start times.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Given that this is also “Fleet Week”, might a humble narrator suggest that if you see a Marine or Sailor at the bar- have the bartender anonymously send over a beer on your tab.

Thanks of a grateful nation, and all that.

Op Sail

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- photos by Mitch Waxman

First shots from Op Sail

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 25, 2012 at 10:21 am

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