Signs of Spring in New York City

Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
Daffodils in bloom between Shore Road and the Belt Parkway in Bay Ridge

The first signs of Spring are evident throughout the boroughs this week. While daffodils have been in bloom for a few weeks now, tulips are on the verge of opening, and many pear, cherry and plum trees seem to be at their prime.

The Spring colors have been striking. Here are some photos I have taken over the last week in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Tulips in Washington Square Park
A field of tulips in Washington Square Park prepares to open into a sea of yellow.
Narrows Botanical Gardens in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
Daffodils and forsythia add a splash of Spring color to the Narrows Botanical Gardens between Shore Road and the Belt Parkway in Bay Ridge.
Cherry blossoms in Prospect Park
Cherry blossoms frame Grand Army Plaza at the entrance to Prospect Park
Prospect Park, Brooklyn
Though these trees have yet to respond to Spring’s mild temperatures, the residents of Brooklyn have. Many were out enjoying Prospect Park last weekend.
Pear blossoms in Red Hook
Pear blossoms on Conover Street in Red Hook.
Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn
OK maybe Spring isn’t everywhere. I couldn’t find a single Spring blossom along the Gowanus Canal from my vantage point on the Union Street Bridge.

 

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Old World Traditions Alive in Brooklyn

Most stories about Brooklyn these days have to do with gentrification, displacement and hipsters. But during Holy Week, the streets of Carroll Gardens felt more like the heel of Italy circa 1920 than the land of cupcake stores and American Apparel.

Court Street Pastry displayed marzipan lambs in its windows since before Palm Sunday. On Holy Thursday, a bus led pilgrims on a traditional visit to several local churches. And on Easter Sunday, sidewalks were filled with tulips, hyacinths and hydrangeas for sale.

But the most impressive tradition was Sacred Heart and St. Stephen’s annual Good Friday procession through the streets of Carroll Gardens. I have wanted to attend this event since I moved here eight years ago; this year, I finally did.

What I imagined would be a walk through three or four blocks of the neighborhood was instead a two-hour trip that zig-zagged as far as Court Street, 4th place, Degraw and then back to the steps of the church. Leading the procession was a statue of the body of Jesus, encased in a glass coffin. This was followed by a statue of Maria Addolorata, or Our Lady of Sorrows, dressed in black and pierced in the heart with a sword.

The statuary symbolizing both the Body of Christ and Mary the Mother of Jesus, under the title of Our Lady of Sorrows, have been used in the parish procession for 60 years and have both been restored in recent years. In a scene only experienced by many in a movie, the two figures are carried on the shoulders of the faithful accompanied by singing and music as they pass through the crowded streets. In conclusion, the bearers that carry the statuary through the streets re-enact the death of Christ by having the coffin of Jesus met at the feet of Mary three times before returning into Church.

Congregation of Maria Addolorata

Women dressed in black carrying electric candles sang Italian hymns and prayed the Rosary in Italian, followed by a marching band playing traditional Italian hymns. Neighbors and surely scores who have left the neighborhood followed, often greeting old friends. And residents watched from their windows, sidewalks and front porches. 

It’s good to see that some traditions still thrive in Brooklyn.

Good Friday Procession, Carroll Gardens

Good Friday Procession, Carroll Gardens

Good Friday Procession, Carroll Gardens

Good Friday Procession, Carroll Gardens

Baklava at Waterfalls in Cobble Hill

Baklava at Waterfalls, Brooklyn

 

Last week, I ate dinner at Waterfalls on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. While I was impressed with all the dishes, from the fatoush salad with crispy bits of pita and faint scent of dill to the eggplant stuffed with ground meat and served over a light tomato sauce, the dessert took me by surprise.

Always wanting to try something new, I asked the owner what he would recommend, fully expecting him to suggest one of the more esoteric dishes on the dessert menu, such as basbousa. Instead, he recommended the one dessert I was quite familiar with, baklava. He did so with such confidence that I obliged, reluctantly. And when I had a taste, I could see why he recommended it without hesitation: The baklava was not sickeningly sweet as it can be in some restaurants. The flavors were delicate, and I could distinctly taste beyond the butter and honey to orange flower water in the pastry and the crushed pistachios that covered the baklava.

Afterward, I told the owner how pleased I was, that I have had baklava a hundred times but this was probably the best I had ever had.

If you haven’t been to Waterfalls, it’s worth a try, whether you know Middle Eastern food well or not. Be sure to bring your own wine. And be open to the owner’s suggestions.

Postcards of Old New York

Old New York postcards

Though not a huge fan of antique markets, I do love to look through old postcards. Last month, I spent at least a half hour looking through New York postcards at the Antiques Garage Flea Market.

I bought three, each sent between 1905 and 1912 (postage was one cent then). Each bears an image of a New York City landmark no longer standing: Coney Island’s Dreamland, the old Pennsylvania Station and the Hippodrome.

Today, we send pictures and notes instantly, to hundreds at a time via social media. Will these digital messages interest people in the 22nd Century as much as these early 1900s postcards interest me? Each is handwritten of course, and hand stamped with the date and even hour that the post office processed it. And 100 years later, I am buying three of them for $12 and holding them in my hands, reading the messages and admiring the almost-forgotten landmark images.

One tells a friend of a new address, 3 West 29th St. and hopes for a visit: “Thought sure I would see you this summer. See how popular you are. It’s dandy that you can go home for Thanksgiving.” Another talks about March weather: “Am feeling very well and having fine weather today changes sudden may not be tomorrow.”

I’d like to display these postcards somehow, but how—especially if I continue to collect them?  photo 1 (4)

Fairway in Red Hook Reopens

photo 3 (2)

Last week, a truck with a giant TV screen on the side of it drove down Court Street, loudly announcing that Fairway in Red Hook would reopen March 1, after being devastated by Hurricane Sandy. I didn’t think the publicity was necessary. And I was right.

This morning, two days after a grand reopening that drew Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Sen. Chuck Schumer, the auxiliary parking lot across Conover Street from the store was filled beyond capacity, with cars struggling to navigate the tight lot as they waited for fellow shoppers to unload their carts into their cars and free up needed spaces. Last year, the lot usually had a dozen cars at most on Sunday mornings.

A sign outside the main parking lot announced: “Established 2006 · Devastated 2012 · Reborn 2013 BROOKLYN STRONG(ER)” An employee at the entrance handed out free bottles of apple cider, thanking customers for returning.

The newly reopened Fairway has a new layout, which, while confusing at first, is far more easier to navigate than the old store. (Am I the only one who thought the old produce section was a frustrating maze?) To help shoppers find their way around the new store, employees handed out maps near the entrance.

Sandy’s storm surge damaged everything inside the store, overwhelming it with 5 feet of water. But the Civil War era building that houses Fairway is made of brick, so structurally, it remained sound. Here’s more about the building itself from current owners, the O’Connell Organization:

The 5-story Red Hook Stores, originally known as the New York Warehouse Co.’s Stores, was built by William Beard in the 1870s as part of the major expansion of storage and warehousing inside Erie Basin and along the Red Hook waterfront after the Civil War.

Like many warehouses of its kind, the building was set back from the bulkhead with the long façade facing the water so that ships could unload goods for storage directly onto the adjacent docks. The building’s dramatic brick façade features row upon row of arched windows with iron shutters. It’s heavy timber mill construction was typical of mid- to late 19th-century industrial buildings; massive square yellow pine columns fitted into cast iron “shoes” support heavy girders over 20 feet long.

Days after Hurricane Sandy, Fairway Founder Howie Glickberg showed hot air being circulated through the empty store so that he and his team could rebuild and reopen. He predicted that when Fairway did finally reopen, it would be stronger and more efficient, and customers would come in with smiles on their faces.

It appears his prediction rang true.

photo 2 (2)   Fairway, Red Hook, Brooklyn

Locations from “Wiseguy” and “Goodfellas”

Though I had seen Goodfellas as a teenager, it was only this month that I watched the movie as a New Yorker. And as a student of New York City history, I immediately downloaded Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family, the Nicholas Pileggi book on which Martin Scorsese based his 1990 film.

A former crime reporter with the Associated Press and New York magazine (and husband of the late Nora Ephron), Pileggi made it easy for me to pinpoint many of the book’s locations, from the taxi stand in East New York, Brooklyn, where, at the age of 12, Henry Hill began his work with Paul Vario, to Hill’s home in Rockville Centre, where he was arrested in 1980. Though much of the action takes place in Brooklyn and Queens, Manhattan and Staten Island make some appearances as well (for example, Jimmy Burke did time as a teenager at Mount Loretto Reformatory on the South Shore of Staten Island—the same Mount Loretto that Francis Ford Coppola used for exterior shots from the baptism scene at the end of The Godfather).

I made a Google map of locations mentioned in Wiseguy. You can access it here or see it below. Fans of the film might also be interested in this map assembled by Eater that shows many of the restaurants used in the filming of Goodfellas.

Finding Family Roots in a Carroll Gardens Church

Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen's, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen’s sits on Hicks Street in Carroll Gardens, just above the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

On my first real visit to New York, some 10 years ago, a leisurely walk through Brooklyn Heights and its surrounding neighborhoods brought me to Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Carroll Gardens. Designed by Patrick Charles Keely in the late 19th Century, this Gothic revival church  suffered a devastating fire in 1951. By then, the parish was largely Italian American—as evidenced by the names on the stained-glass windows.

One of the stained-glass windows, however, stopped me in my tracks.

The name inscribed in the window is Crescenzo Orlando. My mother’s maiden name is Di Crescenzo. And her paternal grandmother’s maiden name is Orlando. Both names are common in the town my grandfather was born in, Guardiagrele, in Abruzzo, not far from the Adriatic Sea.

Though family members on both the Di Crescenzo and Orlando sides of the family tell me that relatives of ours worked on sewers and aqueducts in New York City around the turn of the 20th century, I have no evidence that anyone from the family settled in New York City. The Orlandos moved to Putnam Valley, N.Y., while the Di Crescenzos settled on the south side of Chicago.

Surely, however, there has to be some family connection, or at least a connection to Guardiagrele. A local historian suggested I look at neighborhood census records around the time the church was restored after its fire. But thus far I have not undertaken that task.

Only two years ago did our side of the family learn that my great great grandparents are buried in Putnam Valley. It was good to learn that I had a family connection to the state of New York. I’d love to find out whether I also have a family connection to Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen's
Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen’s stained-glass window