"Parts Unknown": Bourdain does The Bronx

I finally got around to watching the episode of “No Reservations” set in the Bronx last night. I had been avoiding it because everyone around here had been bitching about how wrong he got it. Also because, well, Bourdain. He has been doing shtick from day one. Initially entertaining shtick to be honest, but even the best bullshit artist will start wearing out his welcome eventually. There is a difference between being a character and playing a character and Bourdain is squarely in the latter camp. That being the case he has repeated himself too much to be very watchable at this point. For these reasons I gave the episode a pass.

As for the reaction of the locals to this episode, I should have expected it. You see, the Bronx is hard. It’s hard in a way that all of New York used to be. This is still the poorest of the five boroughs by far, and nothing comes easy here. Whereas gentrification has turned Manhattan corporate and Brooklyn into a theme park for assholes the needle has gone the opposite direction in these parts. The poor and borderline impoverished who have been displaced by the ever-encroaching wave of artisanal vinegar distillers have landed on our shores. More and more people fight for the same ghetto cribs and only the toughest dogs get the scraps. Don’t expect to come here and be greeted with open arms; much more likely you get a punch in the face. Cynicism and combativeness aren’t a pose but rather a means of survival.

So I waited to watch the episode and cannot tell you how pleasantly surprised I was. He really got it right, showing some hidden corners of the borough and celebrating the best of the present while honoring the past. He opened the show by acknowledging the Bronx as the birthplace of hip hop, and anyone from Queens who differs can shove a twelve-inch disc of “The Bridge” right up their ass. One record does not a subculture make. The Queens argument is the equivalent of claiming that Punk was invented in England: ignorant and wrong. It was a solid way to open the show and buttressed by his first stop, a visit with DJ Kool Herc.

The Herc segment was about culture; the second stop was about the food. He visited a cuchifritos joint on 188th and The Grand Concourse, right in the heart of the borough, with a local character named Baron Ambrosia. Ambrosia is the type of character one saw in abundance on the Lower East Side in the 1980’s. He’s a wacky multicultural pastiche with lots of street smarts who belongs to everyone and no one. I miss the experience of encountering someone and having no handle whatsoever on what his deal is. “Hipsters” are wearing a uniform just as much as sanitation workers are. A guy like Ambrosia is a truly unique individual whose appearance raises more questions than answers. The meal they shared was absolutely mouth watering as well, and one I will experience in the near future.

Other segments included a reminiscence of the graffiti era with Futura 2000 which felt a little wistful yet still necessary. He visited a thriving tonic business run by a Jamaican bush doctor who grew up in the same projects with surprise guest Afrika Bambaata. The segment at White Castle felt like a throwaway but I’m still always happy to see Handsome Dick Manitoba on screen. He was right to go to City Island but definitely went to the wrong restaurant there with the wrong tour guide. I could introduce him to a dozen fascinating characters who are City Island born and bred who would have been much better company for him. Although Desus was the wrong guy for City Island he was the perfect guy to tour the Jamaican restaurants and bars. Desus was incredibly charming and I’ll be surprised if we don’t see more of him in the future.

Overall I thought Bourdain did an excellent job of representing the Bronx. These shows are made on a tight schedule and budget, yet the production values were top notch. They photographed the borough quite well. Some of the bitching has been about a lack of Arthur Avenue but that’s hardly “parts unknown”. In any case there’s enough there to warrant a show of its own. Equally ridiculous are the quibbles about his overlooking the Bronx Irish. I’ve spent my share of time on Bainbridge Avenue and there’s very little of note there culinarily. The interstitials with local break dancers and rappers weren’t overburdened with talent but they were the real thing. It was also fantastic to see even a brief shot of a Boricua bicycle club. That’s the definition of local flavor.

It would take a nuanced viewer to realize just how thoroughly he covered the borough. The Jamaican segments for instance were shot both in the enclave in West Bronx as well as in the West Indian community up north off White Plains Avenue. Finally I was pleased with his inclusion of Bronx historian Lloyd Ultan both for historical context as well as a nod to the Jewish history of the borough. Doesn’t hurt, of course, that they ate at Liebmans where I enjoyed a pastrami sandwich just last Friday. Overall I give Bourdain top marks for this look at the borough that I call home.

Harper, not totally digging the High Line.

Harper, not totally digging the High Line.

Coney Island, 1987

Coney Island, 1987

New York is a tough town.  The city doesn’t just kicks you in the nuts, it laughs when it does.  Here I am on the perpetually congested Queensboro Bridge looking at a traffic sign reminding me that I’m going slow.  Nice job, DOT, good work.

Edit: I should note that the sign has me clocked at 11 miles per hour when I was and had been, at a dead stop.

New York is a tough town. The city doesn’t just kicks you in the nuts, it laughs when it does. Here I am on the perpetually congested Queensboro Bridge looking at a traffic sign reminding me that I’m going slow. Nice job, DOT, good work.

Edit: I should note that the sign has me clocked at 11 miles per hour when I was and had been, at a dead stop.

Tags: NYC

New York Fucking City

Driving across the 59th Street Bridge and traffic slowed to a crawl. As we inched forward i saw that emergency vehicles had the bridge down to one lane. Eventually i saw about a dozen ESU trucks and SUV’s. Then I saw a large crowd of ESU officers wearing safety harnesses attached to the bridge. Finally as I pulled even I turned and looked into the dead eyes of a man hanging onto a cable with one hand, leaning out over the edge and threatening to jump.

Fuck me. Hope he reconsiders.

Tags: NYC

New York City has become a horrible place filled with loathsome people

For many years a series of derelict piers sat at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge just below Brooklyn Heights. While Brooklyn Heights was some of the more desirable real estate in the city, the piers were a Godforsaken place. Yes, they had million dollar views. Anyone who has worked on the waterfront can tell you, however, that winters are brutal, summers are stagnant and the weather is a constant threat. Bordered by warehouses on one end, cut off from the neighborhood by the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and sitting in a flood plain there’s a good reason these piers sat untouched for decades.

New York real estate will not be denied, however. With property values escalating ridiculously everywhere else even this piece of land would be built on eventually; it was inevitable. And so it came to pass. A plan was developed to turn the large warehouse on one end into luxury housing. Some other parcels would be developed as well. Profits from these residences would finance a park on the piers; it would be open to all and provide amenities to the community.

The converted warehouse quickly sold, and the value of the apartments there rapidly appreciated. They gained so much value that the park had a surplus of revenue. So much so that the other properties being developed could afford to include some middle-income housing. Not public housing, no poor people involved. We are talking about housing for families with income from 50-80,000 dollars a year.

The homeowners in the converted warehouse and adjoining neighborhoods are up in arms. This isn’t what they signed up for! No lower middle class people were part of the bargain. How dare they include people who are less than wealthy. They will overrun the park and crowd the schools. Probably drink inferior wine too.

I am so sick of the people in this city. Hurricane Sandy didn’t go far enough.


http://gothamist.com/2014/08/02/nimbys_wage_war_over_brooklyn_bridg.php

He’s not the hero we want, he’s the hero we need.

Yes, okay, it is a bit overboard. Have to admit he sends the right message though, and it is a message that needs sending. In a city this densely populated every action is magnified; every bit of obnoxious selfish behavior negatively affects others to an exponential degree. When you blast your shitty music too loud more people are stuck listening to it here. Sprawl across multiple seats on the subway and that many more people have to stand. Every car on 2nd Avenue is delayed in their journey when you ignore the red light and slowly jaywalk your lazy ass across the street. Thanks for honking a split second after the light turned green, it made everyone’s day worse. Hey, great, just go ahead and toss that garbage on the street.

The message this guy is sending probably doesn’t get through to the far too many people who make the world worse by their existence every day they breathe. Even so, if he fucks with the shit of the BMW driver who parks squarely between two spots I am okay with it. In a perfect world we would all see this and understand the converse to be true as well; positive actions make the world a better place. Give up that seat to someone who needs it more. Let the car merge in front of you, hold the door for the next person, smile at a stranger. Say hello to someone. For my part I try to increase the good. Don’t always succeed but I really do try. Even so I have no problem with someone being bad to the bad people.

A great movie, ruined

The Pope Of Greenwich Village has always been one of my favorite films. Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts turn in fantastic performances. Daryl hannah has never been more beautiful, and Burt Young. Burt fucking Young. It’s also particularly resonant to me because it’s set in Greenwich Village in 1984. I moved to the East Village in 1986 but spent plenty of time in the Village proper. That was a world that I lived in.

At the time I had a buddy named George who lived on Mulberry Street. He aspired to a life of criminality and I wasn’t opposed to some shady dealings either. We used to drink at The Spring Lounge, which is featured in the film, and pick up what odd jobs we could. Ironically enough for two wannabe hoodlums on Mulberry Street we wound up working for a Jewish gangster. That’s a different story though. Stories, really.

Now that I’m older and a solid citizen living in the suburbs I enjoy the film immensely. It brings back some great memories. Noticing that it was on last night I stayed up well past my bedtime to watch it and I noticed something for the first time that bothered me no end. Mickey’s character, Paulie, refers to the safecracker as being “stunatz”. That’s wrong; it’s not a word. You refer to someone who is a little dense as “stunad”. If you have empty pockets you say you have “ungotz”. Knowing Mickey a little bit I’m sure he did his research and hung out in the neighborhood, and I’m sure he heard the words and accidentally conflated them. It’s a little thing but it drove me nuts and I’m going to hate hearing him say it every time I watch the movie.

Tags: film nyc

Here’s what my “office” looks like today

Here’s what my “office” looks like today

Grabbed some pictures from the top of the Pan Am Building yesterday.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/69201346@N02/sets/72157644755335655/

Grabbed some pictures from the top of the Pan Am Building yesterday.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/69201346@N02/sets/72157644755335655/

Work

Work

I own a lot of cameras but somehow wound up without a single one in the house. So here’s an iPad shot of my world right now.

I own a lot of cameras but somehow wound up without a single one in the house. So here’s an iPad shot of my world right now.

Tags: iPad nyc sunset

Allow me to be a complete douche…

Whenever I’m purchasing something on a website I get to that point where there’s a pulldown menu where you have to select your state. Every time this happens I think that New York should be first on the list. The rest can remain alphabetized but NYC is the biggest city in the country and the most important, why should we have to scroll down to find ourselves? I realize how supremely douchey that is but I can’t help think it every single time.

Oh yeah, I bought the traditional brown topsiders. Almost pulled the trigger on the ombre but realized at the last minute that they are cloth, not dyed leather.

Tags: NYC douchbag

nycnostalgia:

Julian Billiards in 1991, a few years before it closed. Right next to the old Palladium on 14th Street.

We lost Julian’s Billiards, the 14th Street Boxing Gym and the Palladium nightclub.  In return we got an NYU dorm, a Trader Joe’s and a Dunkin Donuts.  Progress.

nycnostalgia:

Julian Billiards in 1991, a few years before it closed. Right next to the old Palladium on 14th Street.

We lost Julian’s Billiards, the 14th Street Boxing Gym and the Palladium nightclub. In return we got an NYU dorm, a Trader Joe’s and a Dunkin Donuts. Progress.