Sometimes the things we planned for are the same things we had no plans for.
March 22, 2020
This past march marked my 3rd annual 27 day writing challenge. The month of March marks a personal turning point, a shift, a place of transition from what was before to what is after, a very introspective, somewhat lonely winter season. March has also become a reminder of a dark time, an anniversary that we never thought we would be reflecting on. Last March, we entered into a contract we thought we would quickly come out of. The authorities said three weeks tops; then a lockdown, a pause in New York, that brought the city to a halt. I spent my 42nd birthday quarantined with my flatmate in Brooklyn. 14 days into a global shut down New York was the most quiet it had EVER been. It was post apocalyptic how silence and New York just don’t mix. My world became the 4 block radius around my apartment. My anual 27 day writing and post challenge was for lack of a better word, challenged. My love of writing however never wavered, I made countless notes, wrote small poems, and elaborated on thoughts. Ideas cropped up in my writing journals, my pen however had better days. I am feeling the urge to share my viewpoint a year on, as I’m entering into my 43rd circle around the sun.
In those early days of the lockdown like pretty much everyone around me, I felt panic and fear that for the first time there was no plausible way out of. There was no explaining or theorizing a way out of it. Patience, writing, meditation, more patience, rinse and repeat. I’ve since blurred the memories from the seismic shifts, big or small and now post aftershocks upon aftershocks, there are times when I’m still in shock. I blink my eyes everyday in gratitude to be alive. March of 2021 seems like a decade and a split second has gone by. The collective and personal thunderstorms that uprooted our lives, have somewhat passed and now we collect what is dear to us and reconnect in ways that we may have never explored before this past year.
This year the challenge continues, beyond the constraints of the 27 days of March. Writing, commentary, poems, thoughts, and discussions are refreshed in a way that goes beyond the limits and constraints of a formula. The bar has risen, the lines have been blurred, and the content will explore the ever changing and shifting world that reveals itself to each and every one of us. I choose to write because it’s a way of making something unique out of something mundane. I choose to share because we’re not alone.
Thanks to all who’ve supported, read, commented so far.
On November 27th 2012, after two grueling years into the Greek financial crisis that showed no end in sight, I made the decision many of my closest friends made and left Athens, for the second time. This time I was part of a new diaspora; the latest chapter of Greeks leaving for something better, but under very different circumstances than the immigrants before us. This exodus was full of already talented, often highly educated people leaving a collapsing economy after what seemed like a lifetime of stability and security that was literally torn from under our feet. There was no external war to escape or massive poverty to quell, yet ultimately Athens was being systematically broken. Her spirit was broken and so was mine, or so I thought. Life in the early 2000’s was really good in Athens and I loved living there. In her heyday during the height of the 2004 Olympic Games, Athens was a really cool place to be. This gamble with our lives and our money, ultimately put a massive financial burden on my generation. The early noughts were some of the best years of my life, until December 2008.
In order to truly know a place, you have to live it
The tsunami of the financial/housing crisis having left the shores of America, came crashing down on Athens in early 2010 and what was America’s problem quickly became ours. People were losing livelihoods, markets were crashing, banks were foreclosing and people were in massive debt. What I had built over 13 years; my home, my career & my relatively comfortable life, was coming to a slow and painful stop. I came to the realization that If I didn’t leave, I would become stuck, and the one place I knew would get me unstuck, was New York. I recall now confiding in an old friend about the feeling of urgency I felt to leave. Being a lover of all things that grow, The roots that once were our anchor to our motherland, now rotting in a place that was being suffocated by bad financial management, crooked politicians, xenophobia, racism and massive uncertainty. Packed along with my books and clothing were many doubts, fears and anger. I wasn’t ready for her then. New York knew more about me than I knew about myself. She kicked my ass and slapped me around, she exposed me, and left me there to fend for myself, and for that I am now grateful to her. It was the beginning of a very arduous and difficult journey. I still had a lot to learn about myself as a person, a woman, a Greek, an American and ultimately a citizen of the world. In New York my project- Aμerikana was born. She came through for me just like The city did.
In the months and years that came and went, I made it my mission to understand this city and it’s rhythms in ways I couldn’t have done at a distance. In order to truly know a place, you have to live it, and the first place that grabbed my heart was the Lower East Side and all the surrounds it. I’m a nostalgia junky. New stuff doesn’t do it for me. I prefer and look for the old over new any day. For me the Lower part of Manhattan is that fix of nostalgia that has kept me here all these years. I love walking through history soaked neighborhoods finding people who’ve lived there all their lives; generations of New Yorkers showing me their city. I longed to speak to those who’ve seen the trends come and go, and still remain true to the streets, the parks, and the blocks that raised them. I love hearing stories of shops now long closed, art scenes now only spoken of as legends of a glorious punk rock past, and smelling the history in the buildings that still stand in the streets that have vanished over time. New York is unique in her demand of loyalty and devotion by it’s residents. She’s not easy to love, but when you do she loves you back in secret ways no tourist or visitor could ever fathom. This year, although one of the hardest and most daunting emotionally and mentally, I’m celebrating my 8th winter, and the start of the 9th year in New York.
Don’t misinterpret my love for naïveté. My relationship with this city has been far from smooth.
She is relentless, resourceful and demanding. She’s a broad, a hustler and a 5 dollar hooker, all in one. She’s a sophisticated woman who can hail a cab with a trucker’s whistle, she’s a skank and a princess at the same time. She’s a handful and she’s not easy to be with, but deep down she’s all heart and all art. I found myself, here. I found out about what I’m really made of here. I found my deepest sorrows and greatest joys here. I found my love for Greece, and Athens grew here. New York is erratic and resourceful. She’s a hustler and in order to truly “make it” here you have to be as well. It’s not romantic. She’s dirty and ugly and will tell you the fucking truth to your face. Here I found my greatest teachers and most influential mentors. There have been many moments I regretted my decision to come here, I though it was a mistake, I thought I was a fool to let go of all that was easy and familiar to come to a place where, nothing of what I had accomplished in Athens meant anything. Yet here I was and quitting wasn’t an option.
The old me peeled away to reveal someone stronger, more aware, more connected and braver than before. An old astrologer friend said something about coming here to go “back to first grade” and learn the lessons about myself, and life I had not absorbed the first go around. The teachers were many, the lessons I was forced to learn at times stifling. The mounting anger and frustration at not understanding what I needed to learn, left me with a chocking feeling. I would have to fight harder for that gulp of air to keep going. There she was, New York, my biggest teacher of all, she knew I would get it eventually.
After what felt like a lifetime, It became clear just like the light shining through the clouds. It all became clear. We are here to understand each other by making a better effort at understanding ourselves. The more I learned about myself the more I was able to understand the “otherness” about me.
Cheers NYC you tough broad. You will survive this as you have survived before. I hope those that truly love you will lift you up like you have them
On trying (and sometimes failing) to take note, observe, and notice the simple things during times of uncertainty
Let me begin this long awaited post by saying: This is not yet another quarantine survival story.
I’m not here to make anyone feel better, stronger, or more secure. It has taken over 6 months to work up the courage to write after what has been a feeling of continuous arrested development, and coping with shock, disbelief and at times crippling anxiety. I’m not here to serve up top 10 solutions on how to cope with the constant uncertainty. We’ve all read enough of those for the ages, and there are plenty of credible resources run by professionals who provide much needed assistance to communities that absolutely need it. Part confession part realization, part self obsessions. I’m not here to make it any better or worse because for now, what we have is what we’ve got. Making the most of it, is down to personal conviction and willpower. No one knows what’s next. Those who do claim to know, are wildly guessing and trying not to look panicked in the process.
Everyone is trying desperately to make sense of the invisible, the intangible and the bizarre. The invisible and visible enemies are unpredictable and divisive.
The ills of society are boiling up (again) to the surface everywhere we turn and because of a forced pause we’re called upon to actually look up from our navel, and actually pay attention to what is really going on.
As the weeks and months creep by, we’ve all been hit with a bout of nostalgia for a life we thought we missed, yet don’t really; and while the chaos is unfolding, the promises, the reassurances, the convictions that life will return to normal, are starting to wear thin.
What the hell is normal anyway? (and do we really long for it ?)
Did it really work for us the way we thought? Or are we called upon to let go of a life that was ill fitting anyway. This quasi reality is forcing some to reevaluate, for others to get lost, and for even more to get found. This is the new normal. It keeps morphing, and mutating everything we have come in contact with. Just like a (this) virus. Our perceptions of what normality is, are becoming challenged not only by it’s reversal, but by our ability to adapt despite the odds.
I don’t know what comes next.
I’m working on being okay with that, despite the panic and crippling fear of the unknown that we’re faced with, I’ve learned to understand that what I can’t change, I have no control over, what I can change I’m working to understand better. What will change, has to. Like many I’ve spoken with and listened to during this shift of consciousness, the common consensus is that something is desperately needed. Self reflection and mental and physical self care are at the forefront of this pandemic. Underneath all this the most important “anchors” being used to combat these moments of doubt and fear are knowledge and observation.
The answers to the questions keep shifting. What was real a few days ago seems like fiction now and vice versa. This ebbing and flowing of daily reality, is what we must adapt to in order to survive and thrive.
And adapt we have.
For the first 9 weeks, during the initial “pause”, I was compelled; driven even, to tap into moments of inner calm and inner focus, more than any other time in my life. It was never needed as much as it is now. Truth be told I lost my shit. Let’s be honest. Panic, fear, uncertainty, and crippling doubt, all came to the party. So I looked for the tools that I already had in my arsenal to find some equilibrium We all have the ability to tap into our inner anchors. Only then can we truly stabilize in the face of an outer (shit) storm.
Every week, every month every season has been different. Once equilibrium was reached, another wave of information, panic, doubt, fear and uncertainty has rocked our proverbial boats and a new tactic had to be implemented. I’m not a good sailor, these constant tacks, direction and course changes have left me dizzy, but after every change, like everyone in New York, whose lives have been changed . I had to become a better sailor by listening, being quiet and not letting the myriad of voices confuse my course.
Now as I write, in the early weeks of October, as the fall colors take over the streets of New York; its very clear that yet another shift has taken place. Many months into what seemed like a crazy experiment in human behavior, I turn to the things that stabilize me while turning away from things that no longer serve the current status quo. Now doubt and fear and anxiety have been replaced with a larger dose of conviction, determination and focus. The anchors dig deeper into the sand, in anticipation of another shift. they have become more staple in their purpose…
Now we must focus on the greater good. Not just personal gain.
Now we must focus on eradicating hate and division
Now we must focus on the next step forward.
Now after all this change, unrest, division and fear, the anchors are here to bring us home.
Join me on the socials 🙂
Drop by, keep in touch send a note and keep connecting.
Quarantine Culinary Connections Through Cultural Expressions
Easter is a thing. In Greece it’s a big thing. I can’t describe it in any other way; but as the most important religious holiday of the year. Christmas has nothing on Easter. Christmas is an American construct, Greek Easter is a religious and pagan ritual. Most Greeks just stick to the copious food and wine of the obligatory break to the 40 day long lent, that follows the days of distance from meat (aka Apokries) between February and April. Easter is a time of celebration and rejoicing following a time of renewal, rest, and (νηστεία- lent) that certainly dates back to the ancient Hellenic rituals cleaning before the coming of spring. It is a culmination of a journey from one pagan/christian holiday to another.
Easter is a huge thing in the Greek community of any major American City. Among Greeks Easter or Pascha is a unifier. We all celebrate it in small and big ways. I’ve never intentionally set foot in a church, I’m not religious and I’m largely a vegetarian and hardly drink but like so many others absolutely love Easter. Greek Easter is defined by three things meat wine and red eggs; plus a dash of spirit (yes the holy one). During this time of quarantine and self isolation, I wanted to find a way to bring the tradition of Easter Sunday lunch which turns into dinner, story telling, music playing and drinking into this time of quarantine and isolation. This year has been incredibly different, difficult and eye opening.
Easter is a time of gathering. Not just to “receive the holy light”, not only to gather in a church and listen to the midnight sermon, not just to eat the thick, hot aromatic leek, liver and entrails soup (served at the stroke of midnight on Sunday, but to be together with dear friends and lovers, family and people you care about. It’s about community, conversation, deep embraces and kisses on the cheek with the slight aftertaste of wine, salt and lamb grease. Easter is about flavors, music, and a promise of a bountiful summer. This year despite that aching feeling of isolation and lack of human interaction; didn’t feel any different. These things can still be shared, despite the distance.
I woke up this past Sunday morning with a strange joy I’ve not felt in a long time, because of Easter. Yes I the atheist vegetarian needed, wanted this connection with ritual, tradition and belief, plus lamb and potatoes in the oven (aka Αρνί με πατάτες στο φούρνο). This dish is synonymous, in its many different renditions with traditional Easter Day fare. Lamb on a spit or in the oven if you live in a city, is Easter on a plate. This time of quarantine has given me a chance to explore things that I’ve needed and wanted to understand better for myself, through the lens of forced separation from my community.
Easter is about family. The one you are born into and the one that you acquire along the way. We gather and share in this tradition, with those we love and cherish the most.
Easter is inclusive. Regardless of religion or belief, people gather to be together and share food and copious wine (I must stress this) with anyone who wants to be included.
Easter is about being close, about sharing stories into the late afternoon, before you take one last swig of wine, watching the sun quickly vanish into the horizon. While savoring the last morsel of potato covered in lamb grease that you will probably heat up again next week, you lick your fingers and taste just one last rush of thyme, rosemary and garlic; you promise yourself that next year, your embraces will linger a little longer, your stories will be that much more rich and the tradition regardless of our belief is there to bring us just a little closer.
How do we learn to navigate this ever changing new reality.
We are weathering an unpredictable storm. Massive life shirts in a matter of days. Every week that passes there is a new norm we must contend with. A quiet space we never had has suddenly been created along with a new rhythm to our lives. Everything and everyone we want so deeply to connect with has been kept away from us. Our loved ones out of reach, our moments of human connection so deeply skewed, distorted and altered beyond any previous experience or recognition. Technology brings us close, when at the same time it keeps us apart. This unending conundrum of how do we stay connected when we aren’t allowed.
This time of forced quiet and self-reflection is deeply needed. If we take this time apart from our daily lives, we can discover something far more important that we have not quite acknowledged. Quiet Time. I live in a pretty noisy neighborhood. Not as noisy as some parts of New York but like any densely populated part of the city; my neighborhood can be very busy. People come and go, cars drive by with loud radios playing and now the whole neighborhood is empty. The cars that used to honk at 7.30 in the morning are no longer there. The line that used to form in front of the cafe down the street is no longer there. No one is going to brunch, no one is hanging out till 2 am in front of a bar. The city is at a standstill. A held breath, waiting to exhale.
It’s a full moon. And I’m sitting in front of my window gazing in awe at this urban sky that for once seems clearer and more serene. More than any other time in the seven years I’ve lived in New York, this city is . Yet I feel an unease that can’t be explained. I associate New York with as much noise as possible and now the silence has given me a moment to really ponder what is important and what is frivolous.
As I grapple with the waves of fear, insecurity, calm, anger, calm, reassurance and back again. The silence allows for the thoughts to dissipate and looking up at the sky that surrounds us all, I’m comforted by the fact that we’re all in this. For how long? Predictions aren’t my game; but whatever the length of this pause, I hope we learn something useful for the next chapter of our lives.
It’s day 7 of voluntary social distancing here in New York and staying at home has been a challenge and a blessing. Now we have all the time in the world to focus on the things that we could never catch up on before. Time has become a loose and fluid entity these past few days. Hence why I’ve taken a couple of days off the daily challenge to just reflect and connect with my breath and my thoughts and write something different.
I’ve slowed down so much from my previous rhythms, that I’ve had so much more time to reflect on what really matters here and what doesn’t. There are opportunities in this global health crisis we can’t afford to miss. We’ve been either forced to stop what we were doing before but also take stalk of what the hell we’ve been doing to our planet to each other and ultimately our own health. We’re nothing next to this enemy within.
We’ve been told to stay home, help the collective good for once instead of the personal gain. We’re going stir crazy in our forced solitude, and all of a sudden it’s become a reflection on the little things. That is all that truly is on my mind these days. The grind has stopped and sharing a cherished moment talking to a loved one has taken ultimate priority over anything else.
I ( hope) know this too shall pass but we’re at a pivotal point in our existence and the space we inhabit and no amount of analysis will change it. Here’s a few things I’ve taken from the past
In the past week, I’ve cooked a home made meal for me and my housemate every night. I’ve listen to music and read a book with so much attention I forgot to stop at 2 am. I’ve stretched and moved with my friends in Athens who are also cooped up in their homes without any clear idea of when this will end. And all that I am craving is the little things that make life worth living.
The delicate and personal, the memories and the things we share with those we most cherish. The beauty of this planet and the connections we build. The smell of a home cooked meal and the clink of a glass of wine with friends in a shared tavern table just at the foot of the Agean sea. The crisp folding of a page from a book I can’t put down and the feeling of clean air against my face. Quiet mornings sipping a cup of coffee with my family before the day unfolds. No amount of technology can replace it although taking to friends and family daily is of utmost importance. The list of little things is like a treasure trove that we nibble at when all the supplies have been depleted. And here we are cherishing all that we took for granted. Living what we thought was a given and saying all we thought was understood.
Let’s hope we share on those small joys more often.
Isn’t it ironic, that it takes tragedy, horrific global events, and forced isolation to make us understand how much closer we are and should be with each other. Day 4 of self quarantine in what is reported to be a deeply unpredictable sweeping Pandemic, and I have sought and received more contact, communication and connection with the people that are far away; more than any other time in the seven years I’ve lived in New York. Suddenly we’ve been given the gift of time.
We have no where to go but be at home. Some are alone, some with their families, forced to spend more time together in a week than we’ve spent in months and how delicate, beautiful and strange that balance is. I’ve read more than I’ve done in years, I’ve cooked more beautiful, meals than I’ve prepared in a long time, I’ve dedicated to sharing my Yoga and strength training practice more often than any other time simply because we all crave connection, reciprocity and a deep wanting to feel like we’re not alone in this.
Technology however faceless has become a useful tool to bring us together when we simply cannot. Social distancing, despite its ominous tone, has given me the chance to reflect on who I truly care to spend time with and how we all take that for granted. All of a sudden we can’t go outside and all we want is to do just that. All of a sudden we have all the time in the world to write, meditate, sit in silence, and figure out the next step without the cacophony of constant planning.
Finding connection through distance is the secret weapon we’ve been gifted in these trying times. I for one am scared much like the rest of us. These are not normal circumstances we find ourselves in. Yet ( always a yet) here we are. Connecting, through forced distance and finding the beauty in taking one day at a time. Stay safe out there and here’s a quote from my new favorite read
Andre Aciman’s new novel : Find Me
“None of us may want to claim to live life in two parallel lanes but all have many lives, one tucked beneath or right alongside the other. Some lives wait their turn because they haven’t been lived at all, while others die before they’ve lived out their time, and some are waiting to be relived because they haven’t been lived enough.”
Till tomorrow Day 17 and 18 with a twist. Drink up it’s just another day.
It’s midnight. Friday the 13th 2020. Doomsday looming in both my homes. The bombardment and monopoly of the 24hr news cycle focused on a pandemic taking over the planet. Athens is already under lockdown from the spread Coronavirus Covid- 19, and New York City is not that far behind. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that I would be experiencing something like this, my parents isolated far from New York and me wondering what the next few days will bring. Fighting hysterical posts on the one end and dismissive political figures on the other; there needs to be a mind and body triage to keep me going.
Two things that have always comforted me in good times and bad, are books and music. Both have been companions and my shield. I love diving into a good book and music, well music has been my salvation over the years, so a virus outbreak calls for some serious tunes and reads. It seems that very soon I will have to rely heavily on both for solace in what have already been very trying times. As an homage to two of my favourite pass times; I’m invoking the ever amazing BBC radio program Dessert Island Discs to make a virus lockdown mix. Music no matter how bad things get will always soothe the weary mind and heart. So with our further delay my dear readers… Here is :
My Desert Island Disks and Books for the threat of a citywide virus outbreak lockdown.
1. Here Comes The Sun — The Beatles
Why this song : Because it’s one of the first songs I ever remember hearing as a child in our Kifissia ( northern suburb of Athens) apartment when I was probably around 4-5 years old. It played on the Techniques turn table my dad had at the time, and I remember my mum wearing her very 70s glasses at the time and looking stunning. I still remember the look of the apple turning around and around 37-38 years later. It makes me tear up every time I hear it.
2. Wish you were here — Pink Floyd
Why this song: It’s epic. Plain and simple. Pink Floyd were and are some of the most prolific musicians I’ve ever come across. My first ever concert was the Pig Tour concert in 1987 at the Olympic stadium in Arhens and I remember like it was yesterday.
3. Personal Jesus —- Depeche Mode
Why this song: My love for Depeche mode and especially this song was born during my London days in the early 2000s, and it’s so telling of the era and the tone it was recorded in. The false prophets and the lost souls in invokes and the idea of a personal savior that never was.
4. Tiny Dancer — Elton John
Why this song : It reminds me of my first and last College boyfriend and who I was at the time. I was for all intents and purposes a dancer, living, breathing that art form in all its glory and whenever I hear this song, I relive my young self in upstate New York and my long gone college days. My passion for this guy who broke my heart and how he knew how to speak through song what he could never voice in his own words.
5. Dionisis Savopoulos — O Karagiozis
Why this song : The love goes deep here with this artist and this song specifically because it describes a whole generation of Greek entertainment, the idea of the pauper fool who despite his squalor always manages to get by. The long lost art of theater of shadows that kept generations of Greeks ( mostly lower and middle class greek families) entertained. This artist who’s the Greek version of Lucio Dalla, part story teller, part folk artist, he raised me with his music more than any other Greek artist I can recall ( and there are many)
6. Koupes — Marina Sati
why this song: Marina Sati to me exemplifies all that is wonderful about the new Greek music scene. A multicultural, multiethnic strong voice. A woman who exemplifies all that I love about the newer generation of Greek musicians. This song is absolutely gorgeous, beautiful vocals, great musicians. It takes me to a place I love visiting in my mind. A sunlit beach with no care in the world.
7. Vivaldi —- The Four Seasons
There are many exceptional classical pieces of music, but for me Vivaldi although often over played and considered not as sophisticated as other classical composers, is one I go to often. Especially the four seasons. It seems apropos to our understanding of nature and how it makes us feel.
8. Faithless —- Insomnia
This is the ULTIMATE dance till your bones come loose club song of the late 90s early 2000s. I get high only from its rhythm and it’s beat. My body feels so good letting its rhythm take my mind off all that’s troubling me. It takes me back to my years studying in London and my hope at the time. I absolutely love this track.
Ok one last one which is cheating the basic premise of the 8 tracks to take to the desert island but this last track is probably my ultimate piece of music I will listen to on my desert island and brings up the most beautiful memories I have of my time in London.
With a bang
Keith Jarrett — Köln Concert Part I
My list of books for keeping sane in insane times will be up tomorrow night. Till then..
A walk through my favourite parts of Brooklyn brought with it unexpected surprises and a small detour.
On an unseasonably warm March Sunday morning; Brooklyn beckoned for a long walk through its tree lined streets and quaint neighborhoods. I have been feeling the effects of a sedentary winter, the crazy health scares and the political scene, like many of us; so taking a long stroll was just the medicine needed to wake up my winter body. It seems my idea was not a novel one, as there were many fellow sun worshipers taking their long awaited dose, of freedom as if they had been let out of their winter prisons.
After a hearty breakfast with a friend at her neighborhood Greek diner, ( yup every neighborhood has one); I decided to start my walk admiring the incredible victorian inspired architecture of Ditmas Park, with the final destination aimed at the neighborhood of Bay Ridge, ( the other Greek enclave outside of Astoria, Queens.
I first walked though my old neighborhood, taking a fresh look at familiar streets, eyeing suspiciously at new stores opening up where neighborhood staples had been open for years. The obligatory stop to say hello to my favorite Yemeni neighborhood bodega near my old street lead to a quick conversation and a joyful reassurance that god will look over us all. I suppose as a spiritual atheist I’ll take all the blessings I can get. I kept my pace walking up the hill between Greenwood Cemetery and Prospect Park. There lies a little secret street not many people know about well protected from real estate sharks tucked in a triangle all on its own. The architecture is a mixture of old wooden houses and pre WW II two story single family homes. Thankfully most of them well preserved and owned by old timers who desperately hold on as best as they can. Primarily an Italian American neighborhood until the late 1970s.
I know now that making time for diversions on my walks is always rewarding, because as I stood at the top of a quiet crossroads between my old neighborhood and Greenwood cemetery, I caught the eye of an older gentleman sitting on his stoop taking in the sun while reading his newspaper. I didn’t have a deadline except for making sure I was back home by sunset, which left a good 3 hours for my stroll. I greeted the older man who introduced himself with a smile. “Hello!” I say “taking in this lovely sun I see.”
Jack, is a genuine Brooklyn local, born, raised, married, had a family and lived on this block his whole adult life. Italian- American ( as are most of the old timers of this neighborhood since the early 20s) from the island of Favignara just off the western coast of Sicily.
-You’re looking well! I said which was part encouragement part truth, and he quickly replied “it’s all the extra virgin olive oil from the mother land!” To which I replied “oh I could not agree with you more, I’m from Athens and I don’t buy anything other than olive oil from my country” What unfolded was one of the loveliest conversations I’ve had the privilege of having.
Jack introduces himself with a sweet smile on his face, probably quite glad someone from the neighborhood stopped by to say hello. He is a spry 91 years young, and despite his blood thinners and according to him horribly restrictive diet, has a youthful demeanor about him. He has lived in this very neighborhood since he married his lovely wife in the early 1920s. He quickly pulled out his wallet to show me his wedding day picture which showed a handsome dark haired man with his strong gaze, standing proudly next to his elegant Italian beauty of a bride of 61 years. They moved from their cold water flat to this gem of a neighborhood, had two children, 3 grandchildren and 2 great grand children. I asked if his wife was around and a slight sadness overtook him as he explained her passing 2 years prior.
– I’m lonely now, everyone I know has passed on, my kids live outside the city, yes they visit but not often enough. He said as his eyes grew darker. Things have changed here over the years. You know what did it? That damn highway, ripped through our quiet neighborhood and changed everything since the 60’s.
-You don’t like change, Jack?
– No! He responded quickly in a distinctive Brooklyn accent now rarely heard around these neighborhoods.
– These ugly apartment buildings going up all over the park, I hate them!
– I don’t like change either, but what can you do? I’ll visit you Jack! I said and I meant it. Having lived with my amazing land lady of 95 years, I know how older people crave company.
-If I’m alive! He quickly responded.
-I just found you Jack, don’t leave me just yet! I joked and he laughed a toothy smile.
-Ok let me ask ya a personal question. He goes.
-Ask me anything, I respond ( fully knowing what would come next)
-You have someone ? he asks with a concerned look.
-Ah Jack… Not really.
-What! A lovely woman such as yourself?
-You wanna be my beau, Jack? I smiled.
He smiled back, and at that moment another neighbor brought by some chrysanthemum bulbs that he couldn’t use, and I lingered a little longer before I said good bye.
– I’ll see you soon Jack! Take care of yourself. I’ll bring you some spinach pie next time I come around. I won’t put too much feta in it.
– May god keep you happy and healthy always. Take care of yourself, you’re a lovely young woman. He gave me a soft embrace and I reassured him I would keep my promise to come by again.
As I walked up the hill towards the cemetery it hit me, how many times I drove by Jack’s house in the four years that I lived down the street from him and never passed by. The time was right and I do hope I get to see him again. These precious moments for him are morsels of sweetness in a life that has long changed since he moved to this quiet hill in Windsor Terrace.
– Bless you Jack! I waved as I resumed my stroll, realizing I had spent a good 45 minutes talking to my new friend.
The sun hit my face once more and I took in a deep breath. Thanks Jack, you’re a gem.
The little things matter. Saturdays are about the small morsels and the unique little corners of New York. Life here is rushed, frenetic and fast paced. The quiet moments are few, but it you take to notice; this city is just as much about the grand story as the snapshots and little secrets of our lives. Today is all about Saturday.
The crisp air of an early spring has finally arrived in New York. The usual characters are out in my neighborhood in their usual style. The light in the morning sky is just little softer, just a little kinder, yet it’s still too cold to walk out without a heavy coat. I walk to my neighborhood coffee shop, and grab my usual before heading to a client in the East Village. Today seems like the self isolation of the winter is starting to slightly loosen its grip. Kids are dragging their parents to diners in the city and young boys are racing each other down the street. Amidst the insanity of the political, social, and world health turmoils; sits a quiet life that doesn’t stop for anything.
Saturdays have a special ease for me. I let the day unfold, unrushed, and unscripted. Every other day has an early start, a schedule, a task, a job, a time line. Saturdays are open, lazy, and as the springtime comes; perfect for long walks. Taking strolls in New York are the best way to see the city, it’s a city of neighborhoods, and the people who represent them. Morning in my neighborhood is like no other in the city, and afternoon in the East Village, especially on the first sunny warm days of the season are defined by two things; Day drinking and loud conversations.
Walking through the East village is quite possibly one of my favorite things to do in New York. I love this part of the city, it’s rawness, it’s unapologetic New Yorkness, and the more I get to know it, the more I notice the little things, the secrets that this neighborhood slowly reveals. I walked into Tompkins Square Park off of 10th street just as the sun was at it’s peak warmth before giving in to the crisp early evening. The locals, the ones that have always been in the east village, before it became cool for everyone to be there have gathered in the entrance of the park, to share stories, smoke a joint and play chess. Hard faces, with a slight sadness in their eyes, share stories and lingered glances, as spanish is the official language of the square. It’s an unspoken rule, that the old guard owns the park. It’s their place of gathering, their living room, and I would not dream of interrupting them. I sat on a bench, closed my eyes and allowed the sounds to fill the air. Kids running near by, a small food market closing it’s stalls after a long day and the influx of loud young voices of the people leaving the bars near by. I steal a few more moments to listen in on the lively conversations, before I move on to Canal street Market for a quick chinese pancake. The delicate spell is quickly broken after I walk away from the park, I notice the noisiness of the city start to rise in preparation for Saturday Night. I take a few more moments in the cold sun before disappearing into the next subway towards home.
Saturdays are my date with the city days. Daily life, can get in the way of the intimacy needed to sit and savor the moments the little things, the little details that only reveal themselves when the city is allowed to exist without expectations. New York is still stretching out her wings, perched up on a rooftop somewhere observing the landscape before everyone else steals her quiet moment. There is nothing casual about New York life, except on an early saturday morning, after the previous night’s escapades have been cleaned up with the shop owners and the street sweepers prepare her for the tourists and the visitors and the ones who won’t ever see her little hidden gems. Saturday is the day when the city is just for us “locals” to enjoy.
Till tomorrow, by the skin of my teeth and on the eve of a bright Sunday morning. Goodnight and Good luck.