For four years now, I have been buying my Christmas tree from the same pop-up shop on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn. Did you ever wonder where all these trees come from? I did. Turns out they are Canadian imports! At least the ones on Bedford. I discovered that the tree-logging-team is from Montreal. They work for a tree farm in Nova Scotia, and spend 5 weeks a year selling tress on the streets of New York City. The most intriguing part to me is that they live in their vans. Naturally, given this is New York, they sell trees 24 hours a day. 4AM on Bedford tends to be peak time for them, as those that imbibed too freely find themselves spending too freely. I asked them where they freshened up. The team on Bedford uses the facilities at the Williamsburg Metropolitan Pool, across the street from their van. Occasionally they meet a friend or two in the city, on their time off, and get to enjoy the warmth of a real home. There are always 2-3 people in the van. One person always selling, the other resting, and the third on stand-by should things get busy. Oh, the things that make this city-go-round…
“New York was a city where you could be frozen to death in the midst of a busy street and nobody would notice.”
– Bob Dylan
For the past two summers we have had a special park just down the block from our apartment, overlooking one of the most breathtaking views of the Williamsburg Bridge. Havemeyer Park, a temporary haven in what remains one of the last pieces of undeveloped land along the East River Waterfront. The park is open only on limited days, but always accessible on the weekends.
There are free public grills, picnic tables, and plenty of space to spread a blanket out on and relax for the day. In the evenings, you can even arrange to host small parties with live music, for a small fee. There is a dirt bike course hosted by Ride Brooklyn. There is a flourishing urban farm, which opens as a farmer’s market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I’ve heard the “Havemeyer team” will even cook you a farm-to-table meal for your party, if that fits your fancy. How special is this gem? Oh, and did I mention the tipi/teepee?
When it first opened, I was so excited that there was a yet undiscovered park right down the street from me! Only recently did I realize its impermanence. As soon as the construction begins to tear down the Domino Sugar Factory, Havemeyer Park goes with it. I had to put my fantasies of hosting the welcome”rehearsal dinner” event for my wedding next year at Havemeyer to rest. I suppose the natural evolution of a city is to grow, tear down, and grow bigger.
The book I’m reading right now takes place in New York in the 70’s. There was a paragraph that really stuck with me. The author describes how New York is a city of present moment. It is a place where the past is disregarded, constantly overwritten. I’m heartbroken that Havemeyer Park won’t be around next summer, but I’m thankful that it is part of my present.
And until then, I always make a point to stop by the park every weekend… to take in one more inspiring image of the Williamsburg Bridge and the glimmering city behind it.
366.8°F, the Melting Point of table sugar.
I live up the street from the old Domino Sugar Refinery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The factory and its iconic yellow sign (which, I guess is 40 feet tall) have become a bit of landmark in my trek home from Manhattan. I often bike to home from work, and just as I cross the mid-way point on the Williamsburg Bridge heading into Brooklyn, I look up and think, “almost home”. I realize that the old abandoned factory symbolizes much beyond my selfish desire to return home after a long day, but I mention it because it is part of my life. Simple and subtle, but it is there.
It has been known for a few years now that the old Refinery was nearing its end – slowly hitting its melting point, its point of decomposition. Sadly, in gentrifying neighborhoods, large useless (albeit historic) structures scream “monetize me”. The city has great plans to place a high-rise building with 2,200 apartments right in its slot, rising over 50 stories high. The waterfront and skyline of Brooklyn will forever be changed.
There is a live exhibit going on inside the desolate structure this summer, Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety”. I made the time to go. An exclusive entrance into this massive structure I have gazed at and beyond so many times is impossible to pass up. All of her art is formed out of sugar. You step into the building and are instantly hit with the scent of sweet molasses, a wave of boiling sugar.
“…an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.“
The colossal Sugar Baby structure is mesmerizing, clearly larger than life. The contrast of her white figure with the black and rotted wooden walls of the structure is breathtaking. This baby is not melting.
I feel lucky to have lived in Williamsburg during the time of Domino.
It is often in moments when I step outside the city walls for a weekend that I think about my own life choices, and exactly what it is that inspires me to stay in the middle of this mayhem. The truth is, it is a very personal and perhaps at times selfish attachment. I center my life in New York because it is exactly what I need to center me.
People for centuries have been referring to the magic that is New York City. When I think about what I define as its magic, I think about the people it connects, the boundaries it removes, the challenges it sustains, and the pace at which we as individuals evolve in the midst of it. I think about the resilience it brings to one’s character, by giving you the freedom to explore. I am perpetually amazed by my everyday.
Perhaps the most formidable trait the city empowers is the thinking (and flourishing) outside of American societal norms. It redefines normal, in the most refreshing way. Normal in New York is lugging your laundry bags up your five floor walk-up to the lingering stench of your neighbor’s drug habit. Normal in New York is living with roommates at any age. Normal in New York is finding a cheaper and healthier meal at the restaurant downstairs then the one you cook yourself. Normal in New York is grazing dozens of strangers while navigating the rush hour maze, and not finding it weird. Normal in New York is using the bed you sleep on in your studio apartment as appropriate seating for guests at your house party. Normal in New York is crying profusely on a crowded subway after a rough day, and being allowed to do just that – without any judgement. That’s New York’s normal. It isn’t for everyone, but for me, it is a life worth living.
I am not so foolish as to be blind to the City’s downfalls, and acknowledge they are abundant. But the beauty behind those of us that remain here is that we persevere against them. What is life if not full of obstacles and the small successes we celebrate in the overcoming of them?
So I would like to raise a glass to New York — thank you for being my home.
“Let me tell you something about full moons: kids don’t care about full moons. They’ll play in a full moon, no worries at all. They only get scared of magic or werewolves from stupid adults and their stupid adult stories.”
– Neil deGrasse Tyson
Cold winter nights, saved by the sweet sound of French jazz and the soulful sound of an accordion.