Monday, May 17, 2010

Sunday in New York

What would you do with it? I can’t think of a block of Manhattan left undiscovered. Yet here we are – another beautiful warm day, telling us to get up and get moving.

It’s not easy to get up from a deflated mattress – to push aside the computers, to put away anything when the only place to rest things on is a radiator cover that we carried over to serve as a shelf.


But by noon, we have a plan. Pickles. We’ll chase down the pickle place that Ed has proclaimed as the only good pickle place left in the city. Except that it’s not in Manhattan anymore. This March, it closed its doors on Orchard Street and moved to Brooklyn. We’ll find it. Inferior Brooklyn map in hand, we set out on foot. Starting in the West Village...


... with a pause for a nutritious breakfast. We’ve not paid attention to food during the daytime here. Sometimes it comes at us in large quantities (attorney lunches), sometimes in junky batches of scones and cookies, until a late dinner attempts to correct the imbalance. But on Sunday, we do it right: a simple egg and avocado sandwich on seven grain bread. There is such beauty in the ordinary!


Wanting to avoid the standard trek toward the court buildings, we cut in toward the east and pick up Mulberry Street in Little Italy. And what a surprise – the street has gone pedestrian and here it works! The sidewalks are taken over by people eating, the street belongs to the ramblers. Little Italy has turned into a lovely place for a Sunday stroll.


We cross Canal Street and, of course, everything changes. The Chinese fruit and vegetable stalls are squeezed into small spaces along the curb. I note that the exotic fruits are taken from crates that are from Vietnam.


But not only. Cherries from Florida are a steal at $4 for two pounds. And mangos – 75 cents each, most likely from Mexico or Guatemala. We buy two mangos and cover our hands with sticky mango juice as we peel the sweet fruit and eat it on the crowded street. I need a sink with running water.

On Chinatown’s Mott Street, we pass restaurants and food shops, but we’re not eating here. I can’t see us barging in with mango on our hands asking for bathroom privileges.

Ed pulls me into a building that announces itself as the Chinese Community Center. Downstairs, in a packed auditorium, two singers are performing.


We watch with clean hands, after making good use of their restrooms.

Sunday. We’re near the courthouse now and of course the area is completely shut down. The financial district of lower Manhattan on a week-end looks as if an eraser has taken out every New Yorker from the streets. But we’re also at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge and here, you see again the comfortable mix of tourists and city folk. We make our way across the bridge to Brooklyn.


So now we're in Brooklyn. Oh course, I could do a search on my iPhone and I would get some sense as to where the pickle store is. But it seems so pleasant just to walk, vaguely in the direction of the store. We continue past the Brooklyn courthouse buildings, past parks where joggers run and children kick soccer balls. But after a while, I falter.

Okay, Ed, I’m lost and I don’t know where we’re going.
You have an address?
Yes, even a subway stop, were we to take the subway. I thought we would walk. (We’d been walking for a couple of hours already, but in my mind, no walk is uninteresting or too long.

We ask a police officer to assess the distance to our final destination – 39th, around the Church Avenue stop.
You need to take a bus there. That’s really far.
No no, walking is okay. I count the subway stops. Eight. Eh, what’s eight stops on a beautiful day.
There’s a free shuttle from here to Church Street.
Free? – this from Ed.
Yes, because they’re working on the F line tracks. So we’re shuttling people between stops.

I give in. It’s already late in the afternoon and we have pickles to buy.

The bus takes us just to the edge of Borough Park: home to the highest concentration of Hasidic Jews outside Israel.


It hard for me to digest this abrupt change in neighborhoods. New York, to me, has always felt looser in its religious boundaries. Of course, there are conservative Jews and conservative Christians in every urban center of the country. But in Borough Park, there are nearly 100,000 people who appear, at least to the casual observer, to be as traditional in their lifestyle as the Amish in Wisconsin or Pennsylvania.


Indeed, I read later that they maintain the highest birthrate in the city: nearly seven children per family. The children are quite beautiful and they seem to be dressed in the same way as their siblings – perhaps to distinguish them from the children of others?


We go into a bakery and pick out a handful of very tasty in a bland sort of way cookies.


Ed is the Jewish boy who stands out: no head cover, no traditional attire. I stand out in all ways. But unlike the Amish communities, the people here are not especially shy or suspicious of strangers (even as they like to protect their children from the bad influences of the outside world). They are, more than anything, oblivious to us.


And, unlike other insular communities, they are not opposed to the use of modern technologies.


We find the pickle lady. They calls themselves Ess-a-Pickle now.


So, you like it here?
Yes, it’s good for us to be here. I didn’t think I’d still see a camera once I left Manhattan! She laughs.

We buy a gallon and talk abut transporting the pickles back to Madison in a carry-on.
Drain the brine and make new brine once you get there – she tells us.
We also buy a quart for now. I know Ed will finish those by the time the day is done.
Please, the newer ones for me! (I like them to be new, not even half sour yet.)
Throw in a few for her, Ed sighs. Every pickle for him is a treasure.

We walk back to the bus that will take us to Brooklyn Heights. And once we cross an empty street with closed warehouses, we are crossing a great divide, as if crossing Canal Street, or any other street that manages to completely transform a neighborhood.

We’re in Bangladesh now.


And there is a street fair. Crowded, fragrant with grilled meats and the sweet smell of mango milk, colorful and almost exotic, particularly to us, having just spent an hour in a completely different environment.


I want to know what the festival is about. I ask the policeman, standing out as the only other non-Bengali in the crowd (besides us). He shrugs his shoulders. There’s another one coming up at the end of June – he points to a sign announcing this.
What’s that one about? I ask.
I don’t know. I don’t read their writing.

We stroll a little longer, but the music is loud and the day is quickly ebbing away from us and we still have quite the walk...

...back across the Brooklyn Bridge, back to Manhattan.

It’s late by the time we feel ready for dinner. For an hour or two we discuss the trial of the week ahead. Ed is staying and he has some small points that he wants to pay attention to. I’ll be leaving Monday evening. I haven’t enough of my work with me to continue doing it in New York.

But for this night we go back to an Ed family favorite – Katz’s Deli in the East Village area.



We buy a pastrami sandwich for me, a turkey one for him, on rye, with cole slaw and more pickles. Beers are sold late in grocery stores. We pick up those as well and head back for a picnic at our deflating mattress on Bleecker Street.