Life is a highway

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If I am waiting until I am not scared to start my journey, my journey will never start. Courage is not the absence of fear but the willingness to move in the face of it.

-daily affirmation from The Body is not an Apology

 

 

2015 was kind of a crap year for me. At the end of 2014, I discovered some things that told me it was time to move on. Enough was enough, time for a new beginning. I thought I was poised and ready for whatever fate had in store until fate actually showed up and decided to play hardball. Long story short, I finally had my first mammogram and got THE PHONE CALL a couple of hours later. “We see something unusual in your right breast, it’s probably nothing but you need to come in to have a diagnostic mammogram to be sure.” Let me tell you, when you have to go someplace that has the words Cancer Center in the title you start to worry. Here’s another piece of advice: when they invite you to get dressed and come in to the small consult room, it’s never good news. The radiologists thought I should have a biopsy, all the while telling me that it’s probably nothing but a biopsy was the only way to find out. About a week after the biopsy I was at Findlay Market on a tour of the new shop Dirt: a modern market when my phone rang, it was the surgeon. She said, “Are you someplace where we can talk?” I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, but when it starts out with those words, they don’t really need to finish. The worst part was calling my daughters and telling them. I didn’t feel bad for myself but I felt like I had handed them the worst genetic pattern ever. They had just become young women with breast cancer genes from both sides of their family…mother, grandmother, aunt…mammograms beginning at age 40, every year with no exceptions. Stage 1 breast cancer, I thought this can’t be happening to me.

By June I had gone through a partial mastectomy and weeks of daily, massive radiation treatments. The bright spot was that I didn’t have to have chemo. My skin was burned and horribly scarred but the prognosis was very good. I couldn’t make it through the day without naps but they promised that would get better. Less that 2 weeks after I had been released from the radiation treatment there was another urgent phone call. My oldest brother was in the ER and had a massive heart attack. He wasn’t going to make it, I should get there ASAP. By early Saturday morning, he was gone. I felt blessed that his children allowed me to stay with them and sit in the vigil to give him comfort and permission to go on. It was an honor to watch him give in, stop the fight, and finally, peacefully, quietly pass on. There was a seventeen year age gap between us, we weren’t close, but man…he had always been there. He was the oldest anchor and I was the youngest. Life felt unbalanced with him gone.

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Christmas 2014

 

A few weeks later I was sitting in some kind of community meeting at work, I can’t remember what it was about, but I started to wonder why I was wasting time. I had dreamed of starting a master’s program for years but never quite had the courage to complete an application. In July of 2015 I had been out of school for 30 years. I had never taken a course on-line or written a paper since the semester before I completed my student teaching in the spring of 1985. In less than a week I had applied, ordered transcripts from the University of Louisville, and been accepted into a Master of Arts in History and Culture program. Lord-a-mercy, what had I done?

I had started my journey. A movement toward fulfilling a dream. A footstep into a new life. A willingness to move in the face of fear. Freedom.

 

 

 

I’m in a New York state of mind

Grace Sign

“You are the books you read, the films you watch, the music you listen to, the people you meet, the dreams you have, the conversation you engage in. You are what you take from these. You are the sound of the ocean, the breath of fresh air, the brightest light, and the darkest corner. You are a collective of every experience you have ever had in your life. So drown yourself in a sea of knowledge and existence. Let the words run through your veins and let the colours fill your mind until there is nothing left to do but explode. There are no wrong answers. Inspiration is everything. Sit back, relax, and take it all in.” ~Jac Vanek

I think dozens of people have probably used this quote but, wow, it’s powerful. I feel like now I can understand it’s message. I breathed in five days of New York City. A solo traveler soaking in majesty, dirt, noise, peacefulness, despair, brilliance, color, acceptance, excitement, history, and boldness. The city and her people fed my heart, my mind, and my soul.

I am forever changed.

Thank  you.

 

Stand clear of the closing doors, please, or, things I’ll never forget about my trip

I Googled the term “New York sayings” and that’s the first phrase that popped up. Immediately I heard that subway voice saying it and repeating it over and over. On one of my subway rides several of the other riders said it along with the voice: “Stand clear of the closing doors, please. Stand clear of the closing doors.” I’d love to meet the person who belongs to that voice, it would be almost as good as meeting the person who used to tell the time when you called the Time of Day phone number.

This is Orchard Street. Orchard Street Vendor WEBI love all the suitcases and racks of clothes all over the sidewalk. I found this block on my last day when I was lost, naturally, and trying to find real bagels at Russ and Daughters.

Not only did I find bagels, but also bialys, potato knishes, and chocolate babka. I bought all of that and carried it home in my Tenement Museum shopping bag. I didn’t ask the counter lady’s name, but I loved talking to her. The guy behind her complimented my tattoos, so he’s an alright guy, too.

Russ and Daughters WEB  This is a pop-up store on the corner across from the Tenement Museum. I don’t have the slightest idea what they were selling, but I love the graphic. My fat cat Gus would never be so Rip n Dip Cat WEBrude as to give me the finger but my little kit-cat, Pharaoh, does every chance he gets.

This is Jonas who works at Arancini Brothers Sicilian Rice Balls in Essex Street Market. Jonas WEBIf you’re ever near the Lower East Side, you should go see him, he’s the one who can feed you with a smile.

On my (lost) walking adventure on Saturday afternoon I stumbled upon the John Fluevog store. Yet again, just like in San Francisco, I didn’t get the pair I wanted and am full of shoe regret.Fluevog Store WEB

I have loved Dr.Seuss books forever and couldn’t pass up taking a picture of the street sign. Mulberry StreetWEBA little further down, I finally reached my destination: Rubirosa Risotrante. A slice of supreme and an Italian 51 cocktail was a wonderful late lunch. The bartenders are good looking, too, which is a nice distraction if you are alone and don’t have a book to read.Rubirosas Pizza WEB

Here is what I bought at the Brooklyn Flea. The potatoes were cut in big chunks and fried and served with a dip of spicy sriracha ketchup and dill aioli with diced onions. They were delicious but I could only eat a few and had to throw them in the garbage. I almost cried, they would have been a great snack along about midnight. B Flea Dutch Potatoes WEB

 

Here’s my venture into Central Park. On Sunday afternoon when I got lost I found myself at Bloomingdales but was too sweaty to go Central PArk WEBinside. I checked my map and walked over to the zoo area of the park. I walked a bit inside but it was getting dark and I really didn’t want to get lost in the park so I rested on these benches a while and walked straight back out the same sidewalk.

This was my fancy dinner at the Grand Central Oyster Bar. I had a fried oyster appetizer and four raw oysters with a Grand Central Stout for dinner. I stopped by the restroom and, no kidding, they had those 1970’s chairs that look like an upturned hand and two couches that were red leather lips.Raw Oysters WEB

Here is a shot of some of my conference friends sitting on the school B Flea Steps WEBsteps at the Brooklyn Flea and another of shoppers taking a break. B Flea More Steps WEBI thought I’d be clever and send this photo to my professor and tell her that I had completed my research and was ready to answer my thesis question: Do public markets serve as place makers for communities and help to define home for residents? “Yes.” World’s shortest thesis right there.

And for my parting picture, one last shot of the public library lion…Library Lion Full WEB

And the super-giant fresh water prawns…Giant Shrimp Chelsea WEB

Oh, I love New York.

 

 

 

 

To market, to market

 

 

Union Square Beer WEB

No Farms, No Beer!

On Friday afternoon we walked a few blocks to Union Square Greenmarket. Established in 1976, Grow NYC/Greenmarket is a consortium of 52 producer markets, meaning that all goods sold are either grown or produced by the seller, no third party selling allowed. This is a traditional, bustling, outdoor market filling the park with people and selling everything from seasonal produce to fresh baked goods and beer. I’d give this one a 8/10. We didn’t have much time to look around so I saw only about half of the vendors and the ones I spoke with weren’t overly chatty. Items were clearly marked with the price. Definitely would be a great place to run through on the way to or from work and is open four days a week year around.

Union Square Green Market BreadWEB

Union Square

Saturday was an early start, touring six markets. First stop was UrbanSpace Vanderbilt, just a block from Grand Central Station. UrbanSpace is considered a food hall, everything sold is prepared food ready to eat. The vendors here rotate through on a regular basis, using the space as a springboard  to bring a proven food concept to a larger audience in preparation for the next move, possibly into a storefront. Considering my definition of a market, I don’t think this one qualifies but it’s a fabulous concept for presenting a wide variety new food ideas. I went back the next day and bought a sushi HAI Urban SpaceWEBburrito from Hai Street Kitchen; anxious for this to hit Cincinnati. I’m rating this one a 9/10. Great food, reasonably priced, nice atmosphere, and friendly vendors.

Urban Space Variety WEB

Urban Space

Oreo Sigm WEB

 

 

 

 

 

Next was the Chelsea Market which is located on the first floor of the old Nabisco factory where Oreos used to be made. The Food Network studios are upstairs. This is a high-end market and an excellent example of commercial gentrification. Developers created an upscale neighborhood, with befitting shopping available, in what used to be New York’s meat packing district. It’s adjacent to the High Line but there is no entry from one to the other, poor planning on both ends for that. It’s a beautiful building with lots of shopping options but has a mall-like feeling, not like a market at all. There’s a section with prepared foods, a grocery store, a bakery with the kitchen behind glass walls so you can watch everything being made, and the best seafood market I’ve ever seen. I had to take a picture of the 30-pound lobster and the extra jumbo fresh water prawns. Lobster WEBThere’s nothing wrong with Chelsea, it’s really great to see the transformation but it’s a sharp contrast to the Greenmarkets. I’d give this one a 4/10 for the overly-hip, too clean, pretend market feeling. I’m glad I got to visit but I  wouldn’t seek it out on another trip.

Greem Market Mushrooms WEBIt was a long trip through the city and across the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn and the Ft. Greene Park Greenmarket. It’s another of the Grow NYC Greenmarkets only on a much smaller scale. I don’t know if it was because I visited on a sunny day or if I like small markets, but fell in love with this one. The vendors were lined up along the sidewalk on the edge of the park and each stall was bursting with beautiful produce, baked goods, and flowers. The vendors were talkative and helpful, prices were clearly marked, and I wanted to take all of it home with me. I especially liked the mushroom vendor and the display of Hen-of-the-Woods. At the corner of the block the vendor tents continued down the intersecting street.  Placed around the corner space were compost bins where residents can bring food scraps to be turned into lovely soil. I’m not sure if Greenmarkets sell the compost or if they use it in their gardening programs, but what a wonderful idea. This one was a favorite and rates a 10/10.

Compost WEB

Composting!

 

Brooklyn ROw HouseWEB  The walk to Brooklyn Flea was fun. The neighborhood is block after block of brownstone row houses and mature trees, it looks so much like what I think about when I think of New York. It was interesting to see all the signs advertising “Stoop Sales!!” City living certainly limits the yards and garages available for getting rid of unwanted stuff. The flea market is located in the parking lot of Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School. Bring a cold drink and a fan because walking on the black asphalt in the sun is hot, hot, hot. This is the place to find used furniture, vintage clothing, and old B Flea Bags WEBrecord albums. There are quite a few stalls with handmade jewelry, scarves, and art but I thought it was leaning to the expensive side. Again, fun, but not a market to me. They did, however, have an amazing array of local food producers. This is one of New York’s largest markets and is open on Saturdays only. It’s obviously a community anchor with hundreds of people shopping and plenty of families sitting on the school steps and the curb of the sidewalk eating lunch. I give it a 4/10 because there was no shade, tables, or places to take a rest. It’s definitely a flea market but bargains are hard to find. Like Chelsea, I’m glad for the experience but wouldn’t make a return visit.

B Flea Food WEB

Brooklyn Flea

 

 

After a restful trip back to Manhattan in the lovely air-Essex Market Vendor WEBconditioned bus, we stopped at Essex Street Market. In the late 1930’s Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia banned the push cart markets because of unsanitary conditions. He built four indoor markets, one of them the Essex Street Market. Today, the market occupies only the center building of the original three that had been built. It’s open seven days a week and, to me, is an authentic market serving the neighborhood the way a market should. The current population in the neighborhood is primarily Asian and Latin American and Essex Street reflects that in their vendors and the items they sell. Over the years, they have adapted to the changing needs of their shoppers and that resilience has helped them keep the doors open for more than 70 years. There are plans to relocate Essex Market about a half block away to a mixed use development that is under construction. I’m sad for the move as surely, the market will lose the character of the crowded aisles and shelves, the curious twists and turns around the seller’s stalls, the old tile floor, and the spirit of tens of thousands of Lower East Side residents who have shopped there over the years.

I felt those spirits as I walked around and around this market, shoulders bumping, heavy baskets cradled in the crooks of elbows, and children tagging along hoping for a treat. I spoke with several of the vendors here and, for the most part, they are looking forward to the new location. There is more opportunity there, a chance for expansion and the

Arancini Bros Sign WEB

Wisdom from Jonas at Arancini Brothers Sicilian Rice Balls in Essex Street Market

addition of more vendors. Most of all, the hope is that this move will bring in more shoppers to keep the market operating another 70 years. I still find it sad. This was my overall favorite, I’m going up to eleven on this one.

 

Turning left and walking three long blocks down Essex Street to Seward Park we found Hester Street Fair. Open only on

Hester Street People WEB

Hester Street Fair

Saturdays it is a lovely art fair, small but has lots of vendors selling handmade goods. There was soap, honey, jewelry, wallets made out of comic book pages, and sunglasses. Meet the House of Correia. Sunglass Girls WEB These young women have mad sales skills. I had been searching for days for just the right thing to take home to my daughters and I paused at their stall. They had handbags with dinosaurs closures and sunglasses decorated with repurposed costume jewelry. The next thing I knew, I had swiped my card to pay for four pair of the best sunglasses ever. The good news is, if my girls don’t like them, I have four new pair of sunnys. Check them out at vendor fairs around NYC and on Etsy.

I’d give Hester Street a 7/10 for great vendors, good vibe, and plenty of seating with shade. It’s a fun stop if you’re in the neighborhood but again, for me, doesn’t meet the definition of a community centered market. I’d love to shop there for gifts but not someplace I’d go every week.

I was able to get a bonus visit to Grand Central Market which is located closest to the Grand Central MArket Sign WEBLexington Avenue entrance in between the Lexington and Graybar Passages in Grand Central Station. This market is open seven days a week and covers commuters coming home from work on weekdays, staying open until 9:00pm. It’s a small shop, just a single row with vendors on either side but offers a wide variety of fresh fish, meats, cheeses, baked goods, produce, spices, and sweets. I felt like I had come to a great playground with so many interesting things to touch and consider for purchase. Several vendors have some convenience food, too, ready to take home and finish. This is definitely a high-end market but feels more homey than Chelsea.

Spices Grand Central MArket WEB

Spices and Tease at Grand Central

It is crowded and the vendors will pitch to shoppers for the sale. It made me feel very hip, moving from stall to stall trying to choose what to buy. I wondered if people could tell I was an out-of towner or if I blended in with the local New Yorkers? I hope I blended, that would be so much better. Grand Central scores an 10/10 for being visually gorgeous, colorful, friendly, having a wide variety of items, and convenience. It was pricey, but for anyone who can afford to live in Midtown Manhattan, not outrageous.

So many markets! Stay tuned for story about people I met and places I found, mostly when I was lost and wandering the streets around Midtown and the Lower East Side.

Fish Grand Central Market WEB

Pescatore Seafood CO. at Grand Central

 

 

How to create successful public markets

OK, so this the official reason I came to New York. I am a graduate student studying history and culture with an emphasis on urban planning and how public markets create and define community. Marketplaces have been neighborhood centers in cities all over the world

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She Wolf Bakery at Fort Greene Park Greenmarket

since time began. In the city of Cincinnati, around the time of the Civil War, there were nine markets in operation. As the city grew, incline railways were installed to provide an easy way to navigate the hills surrounding the outskirts of town. With this new form of transportation, people migrated out of the inner-city to live in the “suburbs” of the time. As the population became less dense and methods of transportation became easier to navigate, there was less need for so many markets. Most residents didn’t have the need of a market place to be within walking distance of home. Refrigeration became more dependable, so food could be stored at home rather than purchased fresh every day. Luckily, my beloved Findlay Market in Over the Rhine made it through the lean years and has remained in continuous operation since it opened in 1852.

HerbsWEB The Project for Public Spaces is a non-profit organization which opened in 1975 to help people who want to create more livable cities. Every summer and fall they host a conference and invite anyone to attend who is interested in preserving, growing, or building a successful market. The conference in June had attendees from California, Oregon, Texas, North Carolina, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Washington, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Mexico, Portugal, Canada, Australia, Ecuador, and Bermuda. It was an amazing two days of learning and conversation with people who have the same goal: to create and maintain a successful public market that will provide jobs, healthy food, and a community anchor in their cities. My goal was a bit different in that I was collecting information to build

Radishes WEB

Fort Greene Park Greenmarket

a base of evidence for my thesis research.

The opportunity to visit seven iconic New York City markets and speak “market-ese” for two days was a dream come true. From the first few moments together everyone was talking, sharing stories, offering advice, asking questions, showing pictures, comparing demographics…all in all just the friendliest bunch of people ever. Then again, these are market people, when have you ever met a grump at a public market?  The plus for me was that I learned so much about the structure of a successful market, how to create a good mix of vendors and how to manage the

Hester Street People WEB

Hester Street Fair

vendors and encourage them to have an attractive, selling stall. We talked about how to create welcoming public space and how to control quality growth. So many new concepts to ponder and so many confirmations that my thesis proposal is solid. My mind was in overload mode for days after the conference concluded.

Next up…pictures and mini-critiques of Market Saturday.

My uncle thought he was St. Jerome…

Library Lion WEBAh, Ghostbusters is one of my all-time favorite movies. I was walking along 5th Avenue Saturday evening, in the pouring rain on my way to dinner, when I peeked from under my umbrella and saw the iconic lions, Patience and Fortitude, who guard the entrance to the main branch of the New York Public Library. I stopped for a moment and looked at them and could hear Peter Venkman interrogating Alice, the librarian. I laughed out loud and decided to go there Sunday afternoon.

This main branch of the library opened in 1911 at a cost of 9 millions dollars. Without getting into a complicated telling of New York history, the building was funded with money from the estates of Samuel Tilden, John Jacob Astor, and James Lenox. Say what you will about these ultra-wealthy men and the way they earned their money. They understood that there was a great need for a place to create culture and community. They bequeathed money from their estates to build a grand institution whose purpose was to educate, inform, and improve the lives of the American public. For free. It has always been a place of great beauty and inspiration that costs nothing to use. Library Front Door WEBGenerations of families, scholars, and researchers have walked past those lions and through the doors into the great hall, seeking knowledge or respite or entertainment.

I walked through the hallways, peeking into rooms and staring at the architecture in awe of the beauty. Unfortunately, the Rose Main Reading Room was closed for refurbishment. But, even in looking at pictures I could feel the splendor and imagine the thrill that people must feel when they sit there, at a table, to read.NY Piblic Library Hall WEB

I went to the third floor and on display was a Gutenberg Bible. I stood in front of it and felt a great emotion wash over me, thinking how lucky I was to be there, witnessing such history, such beauty. I waited for a moment but didn’t take a picture. I felt somehow it was wrong to click away with my phone in such a reverent place.

I walked down the stairs and back into the grey of the overcast Sunday. Imagine what the people of New York must have felt the first time they walked into that building. Maybe like anything was possible.

Don’t make eye contact: Adventures on the subway

Grand Central SignWEB   My new friends who helped me with my first New York subway ride gave me a bit of advice: never make eye contact on the subway, if I do the person will either be a whack-o or ask for money. So, on the rest of trips on the 6 train and F train, I had a mighty fascination with my shoes or the advertisements overhead. I never felt unsafe or even uneasy. Mostly, people were just trying to get somewhere on time. Mornings and evenings the trains were packed and I panicked a bit that I might not be able to get to the door, but I always did. I preferred the F line because the cars all had interactive maps that very clearly said the next stop. I never got lost on that line. The number 6, though, was an entirely different story.

The first day I wondered around Grand Central Station a while until I finally found the escalator to the downtown trains. I knew I could take either the 4 or the 6 to the stop I needed at Lafayette Street. They both stop on the same platform but what I didn’t know was that the express trains were on the left and the local trains on the right. Yes, that’s what I did, got on the 4 line express. Luckily for me, I realized what I had done and when the train made a stop I jumped off. There was a number 6 across the platform so I was able hop on without waiting. Fine. It’s all good. I’ll get to the conference on time. No problem.  Big problem…after a few stops I saw a sign out the window that said Lafayette Street with an arrow pointing up some stairs. Gah!!! I needed Lafayette Street!!! Next stop: out the door, up the steps, across the walkway, down the steps, back on the uptown train, get off at the next stop. Thank goodness, back to Lafayette, up the steps, on the street but it doesn’t look at all like the pictures of 419 Lafayette on Google Maps. No problem. The street sign says Lafayette. It can’t be far I’ll walk. Two miles later, in the rain, I get to the Project for Public Spaces. I look across the street and there it is, the station I should have ridden to.

So the day goes on, I stop sweating, my shoes and hair are finally dry and after the wine and cheese reception I cross Lafayette to the subway station. I figured out the problem. My directions said I needed to ride to Lafayette Street but the station is called Astor Place. Great. Got it. Astor Place tomorrow. Down the stairs, on the uptown train back to Grand Central Station. Just behind me a guy gets on and starts to give the car a sermon, in a heavy Irish accent, about how we should love each other and the Lord with all our hearts. He asked us to be kind to one another and pray for peace then recited the Lord’s Prayer and promptly jumped off as the doors opened at the next stop.  He must have practiced because I have never seen anything so well timed. I glanced around at the other passengers and there was kind of a communal shrug as if to say, “Thanks?”

I kept waiting to hear the conductor announce Grand Central Station and realized along about 77th Street that I had somehow missed my stop. So, one more time, up the steps and down the street but wait…I had turned away from the subway line and walked two blocks in the wrong direction. Turn around back to where I started, cross the street in the correct direction, down the steps on the downtown train, got a spot close to the overhead map. I looked more closely at the names of the stops and realized the stop isn’t Grand Central Station, it’s 42nd Street. OK. Got it. The stop closest to my hotel, even though it cruises straight into Grand Central, is called 42nd Street.

The next morning I’m up and out early, confident I now know all the names of the stops I need and get to the Astor Place station way early.KmartWEB This downtown stop has an entrance to the biggest K-Mart I’ve ever seen so I went in to buy a Coke Zero and got lost trying to find the door to the street. I walked around the ground floor then went up some escalators to the second floor. I went through men’s department, children’s department, and housewares before I found a check out and asked how to get out of the store. Back down a second set of escalators, and finally the front door. I’m becoming an expert at getting lost.

The most interesting passengers must only travel in the afternoon. On the Saturday trip back uptown the car was very crowded. There were two guys, one sitting up and the other lying down across 4 seats with his head in his friends lap and his eyes closed. They both were fairly dirty, I don’t know if they were homeless but certain they were either drunk or high. The conversation went like this:

Sitting Guy: You know you have to transfer in a couple of stops.

Lying Guy: I want to go with you.

SG: But you have to transfer.

LG: I don’t want to leave you.

SG: You know I’ll take care of you, I love you.

LG: I know. We’re friends. I don’t want to transfer.

SG: OK, we’ll go together. I’ll take care of you, you’re my friend.

LG: I love you.

SG: Don’t go getting all gay on me.

I got off at 42nd Street, so will never know exactly how far they travelled or if they left together or if it all erupted in a major spat and they went their separate ways. I think about them a lot, though, and I suppose that’s what being a student of culture is all about. I don’t know who they are, their back story, or how they managed to get hung up on their drug of choice. I realize I, or anyone for that matter, could have been them. I happened to have made different choices that have led me to a wonderful place. I’m not better than them, not luckier, not smarter… just different.

There were so many stories from the subway: the teenagers who kept pulling each other’s Subway CarWEBhair; the sleeping people; the guy who was seat-dancing to the music from his phone; the angry man who cursed and shouted out that we were all nothing but subway bums; the lady who managed all those steps in high heels; the business man in a suit on a Saturday. I love to watch faces and stole as many glances as I could without being noticed. So many stories from the kinship of the subway.