Image © Reed Young
Most of the reported stories out of NYC’s “inner city” (code for ‘hoods) are tragic ones. We hear about stabbings and shootings and neglected children struggling to survive. We hear of turf wars and rampant addiction and people generally unable to take care of themselves. And it is from these dispatches that certain neighborhoods become notorious, their reputations inflated by our fearful imaginations and general unfamiliarity along with a harsh reality that cannot be denied. To the uninformed, these are dangerous places, war zones, to be avoided at all costs, at least, until the sheriff of gentrification rides into town to dispense safety through the pacifying panacea of increased rents and artisanal pickles.
I like fancy pickles, though the idea of people being forced from their homes is troubling. But this is not a rant against gentrification; it’s a shout out to the “inner city” neighborhoods that may someday get gentrified. More specifically, it’s about the good folks that populate those neighborhoods who manage to hold down the ‘hood and live their lives with dignity in the face of tremendous obstacles.
Andrew shares his experience as a teacher in the hood
Last Saturday, I walked out of a Fire Island Pines liquor store just as a friend was walking in. “Hello, handsome,” I said without pause.
My friend was less decorous.
“What the f*%k are you doing here?!?” He asked, his face flushed with wonder.
It was a legitimate question since The Pines is famously gay, and I’m neither famous nor gay; but, considering my summer so far, me in the company of gay men no longer seems wonder inducing to me.
Andrew’s revelations this way
Having just returned to New York City from another extended stay in Italy, I’m often asked about how I ate during my trip. I’m happy to accommodate such requests since I’m what Italians call a “Buona Forchetta” or “Good Fork” — someone who loves and knows food. Talking about food is one of my favorite things to do; it’s up there with eating food. And my passionate and detailed conversations about the food I’ve recently eaten often segues into curious inquiries about my somewhat surprising physique.
Read more of Andrew’s story here
One of the things that eventually becomes obvious to an American urban dweller residing in a European city is the lack of diversity. As a New Yorker in Rome, it’s particularly obvious. Rome is full of Romans, and Romans are, essentially, of similar stripe. There are inhabitants of this city from foreign lands and of different hues, but they are not Romans. They are Bangladeshi, Senegalese, Romanian, Albanian, and more. Anything but Roman. And that will never change. While the myriad of ethnic and racial backgrounds that comprise New York’s population might be a hyphenated-American something-or-other, we are all, for the most part, fellow New Yorkers. It’s a beautiful thing, a fact many residents proudly proclaim when they speak of what makes New York so special. Diversity informs nearly every aspect of New York’s identity, and it is not exclusive. But as I look from abroad at New York’s diversity, it clearly spreads far and wide, but how deep does it go? I don’t need to look any farther than myself for a quick study.
Andrew reflects on New York’s diversity
I didn’t come to Rome looking for love. I got plenty of the good stuff back at home in New York City. There is where most of my closest friends and family reside, along with my beloved wife, daughter and son. It also happens to be the city that is the love of my residential life. So, love in Rome was not on the itinerary. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Forum and beyond.
We might still be in the infatuation stage, but I got the big love for Roma right now, and that might not ever change, primarily because of the love it’s inspired in me.
Read more of Andrew’s story here
Like the author Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat. Pray. Love. fame, I’ve embarked on an international excursion that includes an extended stay in Rome. Unlike Ms. Gilbert, I’m not on a three continent journey in search of pleasure, enlightenment and emotional connections, nor will I be visiting any other lands beyond the peninsular confines of Italy. I’m here for five weeks to teach a creative writing class at John Cabot University, but I share a sense of her aspirations, if only in a somewhat adjusted manner, so I feel entitled to appropriate parts of her narrative into my CityLiving column while I’m here. This first dispatch will be about food.
Follow Andrew as he eats his way through Rome
There’s been a lot of novels set in New York City (guilty myself, two times). When done right, such work can serve as a portal to the past, when New York was a distinctly different place, one often defined by its era and often in direct contrast to the current conditions.
In Eamon Loingsigh’s powerful new novel, Light of the Diddicoy, reference is made in the very first line to the area “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.” Of course, any New Yorker worth his/her salted caramel custard from Shake Shack knows DUMBO, the Brooklyn nabe known for its pricey lofts and tony boutiques, its art galleries and swank eateries and a grassy park that sprawls along the water’s edge below the span of East River bridges. Lovely. The characters in Loingsigh’s novel aren’t so privileged, for they lived in DUMBO 100 years ago, long before any clunky acronyms, when the waterfront was a war zone, and the novel’s narrator, Liam Garrity, a displaced and desperate Irish immigrant, all of 14 years, fell in with a brutal gang as a matter of survival.
More about ‘Light of the Diddicoy’ here
My wife and I took the kids to the Barclays Center in early 2013, during the Nets’ inaugural season in Brooklyn. There had been a lot of hype, not only about the Nets but also about the new arena. And there had been a lot of flack about both the Nets and the arena, respectively, as well. But after all the back and forth, over many years, both the stadium and the Nets were part of Brooklyn, and while we had been ambivalent observers during the whole imbroglio, we were anxious to check things out once matters were settled.
The arena impressed. Spacious corridors and lots of polished surfaces. Professional and courteous service. We roamed around each level, sampling food and drinks from some of Brooklyn’s finest eateries and breweries. And, of course, a stop at the gift shop was mandatory for the kids to purchase Nets gear which had become the unofficial uniform of Brooklyn’s youth. By the time we sat down in our seats, we were definitely on board with the whole Nets/Barclays thing. The pregame production turned out to be top notch, too: dancers, acrobats, a DJ named TJ, a knight-of-some-sort who shot t-shirts into the crowd, and a super-stylish MC definitely on point, ratcheting the crowd into a pseudo-frenzy (it was only a mid-season game against Atlanta after all). And when the lights dimmed, and the music loomed, it was on for real: through the loud speakers came a familiar voice, smooth and deep, informed by a trademark flow…
“Welcome to Brooklyn, y’all…”
Oh my good-ness! That’s Jay-Z!
“Birthplace of Michael Jordan.”
Read more of Andrew’s story here
I sat under a canopy of blue sky on the elevated platform of the Sutter Avenue stop in Brownsville, Brooklyn. I like elevated subway stations because they’re, you know, elevated as opposed to that subterranean scene that transpires underground. What I wasn’t liking so much that particular day, high above the busy avenue, was the way the platform slightly vibrated with each passing vehicle below. It was somewhat unsettling. And then the ground really started to shake, so much so that I looked to the distance to see if Godzilla bore down on Brooklyn, smashing cars and pounding through buildings, breathing fire and squawking that awful squawk. But it was only the 3 Train rattling in from East New York. The platform continued to shake more and more until the train, thankfully, came to a stop. I got on board, but I wasn’t all that happy about it.
And then I started to think about my dog.
Andrew, on cue from his dog, questions the physical stability of NYC
My English composition class at a CUNY school resembles a Benetton ad minus the posing and singular fashion aesthetic. I could run the numbers, but I don’t need to make like Nate Silver to prove my class is almost entirely of immigrants or first generation Americans from a wide range of backgrounds. This makes things particularly interesting when we study the ‘American Dream’, for it’s far more relevant to my students than it is to, say, me — all snug and secure in my status as a second-generation American not living with the hope for citizenship nor the fear of deportation of myself or my loved ones.
One of the materials I use when teaching the American Dream is an article from September of 2013 in The Times about Marco Saavedra, a young man brought here illegally as a toddler in the early ‘90s by his Mexican parents who own and operate a restaurant in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx. Under the auspices of his parents’ emphasis on education, Marco was able to thrive in the public schools’ of NYC and secure full scholarships to Deerfield Academy and then Kenyon College, from where he graduated in 2011. Impressive.
But then it all went south. Literally. More of Andrew’s Story here