November 28, 2006

marcona almonds

11/28/06

This is not going to be a terribly deep or trenchant blog today, but we took a trip to the Fairway Market in Red Hook this afternoon to see what the fuss was about. Indeed, the fuss was earned; this place puts most markets in the country to shame. Built into an ancient coffee warehouse right on the water overlooking the Statue of Liberty, it has every kind of food you've ever known. Hell, this is a partial sampling of their salmon section:

FairwayMarketSalmon(bl).jpg

They had this banana walnut oatmeal I like, "Bounty" coconut bars from England, and even the Bristot coffee pods I usually have to get on eBay. It being mid-day on a Tuesday, there was hardly anybody else there, and checkout took three minutes. If you're in Brooklyn and have a car, you owe it to yourself.

Here's the not-so-deep part: driving there, you go through some neighborhoods - if one could use that word - that look like they were hit by a daisy-cutter bomb. These streets aren't even dangerous; they're dead. If you live in the more gentrified parts of Brooklyn, you no doubt harbor hope that the Gowanus canal could become another Riverwalk in San Antonio. But if you see where the Gowanus actually goes, you lose all inspiration.

Coming back from JFK airport, you may have also traversed the long part of Atlantic Avenue. I have been to the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya, and I have to tell you that Atlantic Avenue offers less hope. We live in our cute little brownstones in Park Slope, Cobble Hill, and Prospect Heights, but we are surrounded on all sides by despair. Venture five minutes out of your comfort zone, and you are presented with the American Dream gone devastatingly sour. You begin to ask big, stupid questions, like "is this the best humans can do?"

How unbelievably blessed most of us are. I know it's a boring sentiment that inspires defensive posturing, even in me, but to drive through the ass-end of Red Hook's decay and blight en route to a 12-dollar brick of cheddar cheese just put it in sharp relief.

Posted by Ian Williams at November 28, 2006 10:13 PM
Comments
Posted by: ken at November 29, 2006 1:58 AM

Chicago has a lot of that same contrast. Before they tore down the high rises in Cabrini Green only a block or two separated Cabrini from eight-figure mansions. Ditto the west side which is adjacent to tony Oak Park, just blocks separate crack houses from Million-dollar Frank Lloyd Wright homes. The squallor of Maywood runs right up to opulent River Forest where houses *start* at half a million. Hyde Park houses the Univ. of Chicago and Wright's Robie House as well as endless blocks of jaw-dropping poverty. I could go on....

Posted by: Beth at November 29, 2006 3:50 AM

I loooove Fairway. If it's a nice day, don't forget to take some time before you shop to visit the eatery at the back and enjoy a meal on the deck, beside the trolley cars and the water taxis and overlooking the Statue of Liberty.

The thing I don't understand about the opulence alongside the decay is that the developers keep on building luxury apartments. They're cropping up everywhere. How many filthy-rich people can there be, really? And with the median income in NYC at $50,000, how can anyone else afford to live here?

Posted by: Alan at November 29, 2006 4:26 AM

As an FYI, we have Bounty bars in Canada. We also have Ganong's coconut "Mounds" bars which could be a better variation on the theme from the New Brunswick based inventors of the chocolate bar.

Posted by: Cl at November 29, 2006 5:45 AM

I prefer Flake bars. mmmmmm.

Posted by: jason savage at November 29, 2006 6:02 AM

yeah, I live in boerum hill, in a picturesque brownstone, not one block from a rumored crack corner. we sometimes hear drunks screaming at night and it almost, but never quite, interrupts whatever show we have TiVod and are catching up on as we finish our tasty dinner and wine.

it's a painful juxtaposition, and you can only wonder how you ended up on the luckier side.

Posted by: tregen at November 29, 2006 6:48 AM

I often wonder how many of the crazed anti-immigrant crowd have actually been to Mexico. Once you have seen the poverty and conditions it is easy to understand that no amount of security will stop Mexicans from coming, not when right across that imaginary line lies Eden. While we are in no position to dictate to another country, invade another country or meddle in another countries business, I often wonder what would happen if we invested one quarter of what we have thrown down the drain in Iraq into modernizing Mexico or our own run down cities and infrastructure.

Posted by: xuxE at November 29, 2006 8:52 AM

i live in oakland, ca. i can barely even get words formed on this topic without frothing at the mouth.

Posted by: eric g. at November 29, 2006 9:12 AM

When I moved to San Francisco, I bought a house in Ingleside, which could charitably be called an "emerging" neighborhood at the time. The guy living across the street was a municipal bus driver by day and crack dealer by night. His customers used to come to his house at two a.m. and stand in the street and beg him to spare them a couple of gratis rocks. I am glad I didn't have children there. Now I live in Forest Park, Illinois, between Oak Park and River Forest described above. I haven't seen any crack dealers yet. I do drive through Maywood every morning, and I can attest to Ken's depiction of the blight there. Sad.

Posted by: LFMD at November 29, 2006 9:13 AM

My question is this: do you feel safe living in the gentrified portions of the city? And, if so, why?

Your post makes me appreciate living in the burbs.

Posted by: caveman at November 29, 2006 9:23 AM

(errrm, errrrm.....clears throat to prepare for an amazing Bono impression)

well, tonight thank God its them....instead of you


very timely post Ian

Posted by: CP at November 29, 2006 10:08 AM

books: the fortress of solitude by jonathan lethem. there goes the hood by lance freeman. ladies and gentlemen, the bronx is burning by jonathan mahler.

movies: quinceanera.

Posted by: Claudia at November 29, 2006 10:28 AM

It's always heart-wrenching to see the urban decay in certain neighborhoods of the city.

Having been a Brooklynite for significant portions of the 70's and 80's, I can tell you that, on the bright side, the city's come a remarkably long way. Many of today's nice residential neighborhoods where children safely play in local parks, public schools are improving, and restoration-minded people are lovingly tending to their brownstones used to be zones of blight and high crime. I'm hoping the trend reaches into the neighborhoods of which you speak in the near future, and I think it's possible that it will.

Posted by: Claudia at November 29, 2006 10:43 AM

LFMD--good question. I think I go about my life a bit more cautiously in the city than I would in the 'burbs, which is a personal tradeoff that I am willing to make at this time, and that, as a result, I actually am safer. I think that sticking to well-traveled routes and factoring the price of a cab home into my evening entertainment budget can go a long way.

Also, I worry about different safety issues than suburbanites. Perhaps I'm naive, or simply mistaken, but I think that drunk driving, and actually bad car accidents, in general, are a major problem in the suburbs, and much less of a problem in the city. I think that citydwellers are far more likely to face minor crime than suburbanites--muggings, vandalism, pickpocketings, bicycle theft, etc.--but that, due to the dense population, we MAY actually be better able to safeguard ourselves against truly awful, drawn-out crimes that could thrive in isolated areas. Plenty of bad things happen in suburban mall parking lots and quiet rural homes.

Posted by: GFWD at November 29, 2006 12:22 PM

My comments have nothing to do with this post but are, instead, directed at Caveman's comments. First of all, I love that Band Aid song and that line by Bono is my favorite. While traveling home from NC over Thanksgiving, our 9 month old started getting restless in the car seat. My wife and I started singing Christmas songs to him in quiet, soothing voices. We went from traditional tunes to some older pop songs like John Lennon's "Happy Christmas (War is Over). Finally, I started crooning, "Do They Know It's Christmas".

I started with Paul Young's mellow voice and was proceeding along smoothly imitating each singer's voice as best I could. It was working, too, because my son grew quiet and restful.

Then I got to Bono's part. It is IMPOSSIBLE to sing that part quietly. I belted it out just as loud and proud as Bono did more than 22 years ago.

It woke the baby and pissed off my wife.

To atone for my prideful sin, I had to sing about 13 rounds of the ABC song (to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, no less) to get my son back to sleep.

It was worth it. And Bono and Caveman would have been proud.

Posted by: Neva at November 29, 2006 6:28 PM

I think that luckily my profession allows me to see this contrast of lives almost daily in my patients. In our practice we take all insurance (Medicaid, Medicare and even folks with no insurance) but also see a lot of the affluent in the community. It is not unusual for me to see a millionaire from Governor's Club followed by a homeless man brought in by a social worker. The medical contrasts are as the stunning as the variations of the neighborhoods you describe in your drive through Brooklyn.
I actually think it would help so much if all Americans had to interact in some more intimate way with their neighbors who are "have nots". Without personal experience I think folks can live in pretty oblivious isolation in their white collar jobs, suburban neighborhoods, private schools etc. and truly not understand how desperate and difficult others lives are. This is actually the only way that I can explain the political beliefs of some people (many of my family included). I think they truly don't know just how bad it is out there for so many people or they blame those folks for their own situations as a way to assuage their guilt. Whenever bad things happen to folks I believe it is human nature to think it must be their fault - they did something wrong or bad in order to end up that way (even when we know - like in the case of cancer for instance that everyone is vulnerable). It makes us feel safer to think that way, but the truth is, in cases of poverty, mental illness, drug addictions, etc. it is often just dumb luck that you were born here and they were born there.

Posted by: Rebecca at November 29, 2006 8:41 PM

I could not agree more with Neva. Here's another story for you.

Last Friday I went with a teacher friend to a concert. (Dixie Chicks, Staples Center, Awesome) Michelle is teaching kindergarten in Tustin, the town next to mine here in SoCal. The kids are mostly hispanic. She told me that of her 31 kids after almost 3 months of school, 17 can write their name. Most of the kids cannot count to 5, the age that they are! They don't know how to use crayons, or their colors, much less the alphabet. Aparrently it is not an ingrained parental trait to want to teach your children. Isn't that unimaginable? Think of the joy you get from watching Lucy learn something new or hearing her count. How can these parents not want to have that feeling? But they don't.

Of course, the long term problem is that these Hispanic children, who are American citizens even if their parents are not, will probably not live a better life than their parents. It's not part of their culture to support education and have the desire to break free of the community where they were raised.

On the other hand, I live in an affluent area that has many Asian immigrants. Ethan has a friend down the street who goes to public school M-F, takes off Saturday, and goes to Chinese school all day on Sunday. It's just the norm in their culture.

So how can we as a society teach these Hispanic parents and children to value education? Are they happy with their place in life, or do they want more?

My friend is just so frustrated with the total lack of interest from the parents. Homework goes home, and 25% of the kids bring it back. So Michelle is already feeling pressure, because these kids are supposed to be reading by June.

Like Neva said, so many people live in "oblivious isolation." But it's hard to help people who aren't willing to help themselves.

Posted by: xuxE at November 30, 2006 9:20 AM

right on, neva.

rebecca, if your friend is seriously committed to helping those kids she needs to enroll in some absolutely serious diversity training and start having meetings with the parents. you should attend the training too.

your friend should do this before she winds up needing a mediator, because i'm sure there are seeds of discontent brewing - she is going to be in for a rude awakening if she thinks she is going to *fix* her students *despite* their parents.

she is absolutely insane from ingrained racism if she believes her kids' parents have no interest in educating their kids.

of course they do.

they also have other jobs and other problems and entire friggin lives to manage as best they can.

so she needs to get off her high horse and turn herself into those parents' strongest ally and supporter, from a perspective of real deep understanding, not as a savior sweeping in from above to help the kids of *those people*.

Posted by: tregen at December 1, 2006 12:03 PM

Rebecca,

Was that a joke? Pathetic

Posted by: what? at December 7, 2006 5:16 AM

Your internet friends are racist idiots, Ian.

It makes me really sad. Why do you not call them out? Rebecca probably doesn't even know what a huge, unthinking, part of the problem she is. You could help these people, or at least preach it a lil', instead of talking about how must things cost.

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