Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene: Queens Style-Kew Gardens, Forest Hills, NYC

Dees Brick Oven Pizza, Metropolitan Ave.
Since sitting in Louis Armstrong Stadium at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Friday, I have spent the last two days obsessing about this bloody woman, Irene, whose violent effects have killed 21 persons, thus far, two in New York.  I never watch TV. I watched TV to keep abreast of the latest news on the storm.  I always go to my office in Starbucks. Starbucks has been shut down for two days for the safety of its employees. Sigh! I miss my venti, nonfat cappuccinos.

The windows have been taped.
                                                                                Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Cuomo decided that all MTA services including the LI Railroad and Metro-North should be suspended because of the possibility of power outages, passengers stranded, flooding, trees on the rails, and other sundry increased risks of harm and liability to employees from Connecticut, New Jersey and other states (Pennsylvania-my friend) who work in NYC, not to mention anyone planning to come into NYC for fun and frolic in the storm. The word was out! Stay away and stay home. We don't want your death on our heads!!!

As of this post, only bus service has been spottily restored in Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn and you get to ride for free today. As assessments are made about the damage, subway service will gradually be restored. New York 1 news has the latest update. And Amtrak is having its difficulties all up and down the East Coast from Philadelphia to Boston. And of course, New York airports have cancelled flights and will open sometime tomorrow. My cousin Louis who flew in Wednesday from Tacoma to visit with family will hopefully fly back tomorrow at some point when they reopen the airports. He was scheduled to fly out today. The Long Island Railroad and Metro-North have suffered the most damage from sweet Irene.

In retrospect, though some are thinking that the Mayor's and Governor's decision was based on political expediency and the response with the help of the press was overblown, I think it was the right one to make. I followed instructions, taking all my plants and planters off my balcony: I live on the 6th floor. My car was garaged and safely in its bed; I had enough water (I'm still trying to do The Master Cleanse and failing.) and lemons and organic maple syrup B and cayenne. And after a lousy tennis game Saturday morning in the torpid humidity and mosquito feast and drizzle, during which I worried about clearing off my balcony, I went home, took two hours to drag in all my plants and then hunkered down and watched the news and went online when the news bored me because I hate TV.

74th and Metropolitan Ave.
During that time, Irene ranged  up the coast creating her havoc, stretching her arms out to claw through Queens. This is a bit of the stench of damage she left during the night.  These photos were taken one mile from my apartment building in a section of Forest Hills that is heavily tree lined with huge and lovely oaks. The ground had been saturated with water and the roots were loosened enough so that a gust of wind from the right direction could tease the tree from its years of comfort and snap it out breaking its life in a swoop of terror. Whether the unfortunate car owner was away on business or just happened to forget there was a hurricane coming and naively parked next to a tree that had stood for over 50 years, never imagining both would be subject to painful cataclysm...will never be known. Fortunately, no one was in the car at the time.

The previous evening, in consideration of the hurricane, an SUV owner recognized the danger and circumspectly parked on Manse, not on 72nd; he avoided disaster. A neighborhood resident walking by with his dog told me he had spoken to the owner, of the house to the right in the photo, who heard the ferocious wind gust around 3:00 AM and saw the tree attempting to resist; then it toppled into the street, pulling up the sidewalk as it surrendered to its fate. The dog walker reminisced about how the neighborhood had changed since the tornadoes of last September and the additional 10 trees that had been brought down by Irene. Going down the streets the trees arched like a canopy. "Now it's like a beach, so open." And he referred to the tree. "It was a favorite. Beautiful colors in the fall." 

72nd between Loubet and Manse. The SUV is to the right around the corner.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bagnoli Del Trigno's Artist, Luigi Proietti

This post is inspired by the memory of my cousin Luigi Proiette, Bagnoli Del Trigno's artist. Luigi Proietti, the oldest of three brothers returned to Bagnoli in the summers and featured the town of his heritage in his art. The clip of Luigi discussing the meaning of "meraviglioso," "meravigliosa" shows in the background the lights of the band stage which shine brilliantly during an evening concert in Bagnoli during the annual celebration week in August. Then, Bagnolesi from Roma, Milano, Perugia, Agnone, the US, Canada and as far as Australia have come back to take part in the festivities honoring the town's patron saints. The week is scheduled to include Ferragosto (Assumption Day) when all of Italy closes down and the hotels are jammed with celebrants who party through the night.

You can read more about this amazing mountain town in the article first published as Bagnoli Del Trigno on Technorati.

Special thanks go to Chris Black who produced Meraviglioso Luigi.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My Parents' Home Town in Italy

Bagnoli Del Trigno from the lower level piazza

Article first published as Bagnoli Del Trigno on Technorati.  (Photos by Carole Di Tosti)

(Actually this is more about Bagnoli's history. Photos in this article by Chris Black.)

I heard about this place my entire life. It's the place where my parents learned to make home made pasta, sausage, bread, canned tomatoes, peaches, paniche and other delicious treats. And it is the birthplace of my gluten allergy, damn!!! Bagnoli Del Trigno, you are the mother of my 12 time yo-yo dieting fiascos, my penchant for overeating and my thrifty genes which probably got my ancestors through famines in the 12th and 13th centuries and brought me up to the present, posting in my office in Starbucks, which about an hour ago, like the entire northeast, and like Bagnoli have, at times in the Appennines, sustained an earthquake.

Bagnoli from the (Terra di copa/alta) upper level within the town gates.
Bagnoli Del Trigno is nestled in the mountains about two and one half hours from Roma and about one and one half hours from the Adriatic coast. It is in the poorest, youngest and mostly forgotten province of Italy, Molise, which split from Abruzzo in 1963. No one in our paternal and maternal family who emigrated from Bagnoli knew that the two provinces separated from each other and they referred to the province as Abruzzi-Molise. Until
the day he died, my father still thought that the area was conjoined like it was in "ancient times,"  with the county seat at Campobasso where the family used to go to trade and obtain contracts for business (1910-30s). Since 1963 the county seat for Bagnoli is Izernia about 45 minutes away from the mountain town which means bathed (Bagnoli) in the Trigno River.
The Trigno River

The town was settled by the Samnite peoples who, legend has it, were gentle yet strong. When the Romans came to conquer the area, the Samnites resisted and engaged in three wars with the Romans until they eventually were overcome and made a harsh peace.

Bagnoli's site on top of a huge rock outcropping is a testament to how the feudal mountain towns of Italy were settled. The castle (currently being renovated) housing the noble family was situated on top of the outcropping at the highest point. Surrounding it on three sides were the lords and family elites in descending order of importance and service whose homes progressed down the steep incline until one reached the huge wooden and iron gates protecting the preeminent side townspeople. There was one road going up to the castle and one road coming down and snuggled along it were stone houses and the church and a sheer drop off on one side, a veritable wall of steep rock. The sentries and watchmen made sure to close these gates every evening against the stray wolf looking for prey or the roaming robbers and highwaymen who were looking to pillage, burn and kidnap.

Bagnoli was a tough one for the robbers because of its Edward Scissorhands' setting on the mammoth stone boulders. You see, it's as if the town was chiseled into the rock. As a result it is naturally protected by a precipitous drop that cannot to this day be easily scaled unless one is an experienced climber with the proper equipment. The first settlers must have been thrilled to witness the potential for the natural geological barrier and decided there could be no better place to situate a town. It would be difficult to launch an attack up the straight rock face. The only way to enter the town would be to assault the gates which were fortified. And the robbers first would have to thread their way through the houses and armed serfs below the gates who would alert the soldiers above and mount their own first resistance, wearing down the enemy for the stronger reinforcements above. They were not going to have an easy time of it. Torches were lit from one mountain town to the next if danger was approaching. From Bagnoli's castle, signal fires alerted Duronia, the next mountain town over. The noblemen and soldiers doing obeisance to the ruling Duke of the nearby town would offer assistance and send soldiers. In that way the towns communally thrived. There are signs of this today during La Festa when neighboring towns join each other to celebrate Fiera Augusto and the Patron Saint days.

Lower level (Terra di Basso) on a feast day procession.
There were two segments of the town. In Bagnolese these translate to the "higher level" and the "lower level." And depending upon the snobbishness of the locals, the closer you were to the castle, the more grace and honor you received in the town's social strata. To some extent this elitism exists to this day. One of my cousins is proud to live right on the piazza where you enter into the town. The other cousin lives on the outskirts near the fields and on the road to Rome. And there is a tweak of complacency about living in the closer location, rather than the outskirts. I remember my mother discussing gossipy, arrogant attitude."This" family lived nearer to the gates of the Lord and the castle, and "this" family lived on the lower level and were inferior peasants. What an irony that this attitude is prevalent in Italy regarding Torino, Stresa and the Lake Como regions and Milano. The Northern industrial "hard working" and fashionably elite Italy wanted to separate and secede from the "lazier, criminal types" in Sicily and Southern Italy below Roma. A guide on a tour of Italy five years ago told us that his mother who was from the North was disinherited from her family for marrying someone from Florence, the central region. Eventually, the family changed their minds, but it took a while. God forbid she married a Sicilian? The disinheritance would stick.

Bagnoli Del Trigno is a place one can return to again and again to learn something new. So I will return with more information about my heritage in this unique and fascinating place. But for now, I'm including a picture painted by my cousin Luigi Proietti which captures the essence of the feudal mountain town responsible for shaping who I am today.
by Luigi Proietti

FYI:  For more pictures of Bagnoli Del Trigno, click here.

Leyna Gabriele is the featured artist in the above presentation by Chris Black.
Bagnoli is the town of her ancestors; Leyna and I are cousins. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

What a Difference Three Years Makes!

All we need is time! Sometimes we forget that a few years can make such a difference in our learning curve, in our healing from sorrow, in our first step toward freedom from a relationship, or in our move toward independence from old habits that we have allowed to destroy our lives. If we don't "turn to the right or left" and we are persistent, regardless of the struggle and pain, we will eventually overcome ourselves or the pitfalls that we have allowed, holding ourselves back. All learning is a funicular ride from the valley to the mountain top and back and again, for as long as we wish until stability comes. And soon, the routine becomes healing, health, wholeness with surprising regularity and we become inured to forgetting the thoughts of the early hardship.

When I look at this picture of myself which I deleted from picture files three years ago, but was able to retrieve (I am glad I did) I have to smile and think back to its origination. I was one year into my change of lifestyle and feeling much better, but I had not discovered my gluten allergy, yet, and I was still eating bread and pasta, though smaller portions. What put me over the edge into discovery were friends who were complimentary but circumspect about my lifestyle plan. They just didn't get it, nor did they understand my determination. It was their covertly annoyed response to my weight loss and impatience with my explanation of the "why" of it that made me realize the danger of my addiction to carbs, sweets and especially food items that were made with combinations of flour, salt, sugar and fats. I'm not sure how, but in explaining to them what I had been going through yo-yoing, I stumbled upon the reality that addictive foods turned off my appetite sensors of fullness. No matter how much I explained this, these folks still didn't get it and stood in judgment warning me not to lose more weight because I would look old, I would be wrinkled, I would look ugly. They said this seriously to my face, decrying every reality they viewed. They did not want me to be thin.

That is why I am happy to post the photo of myself when I weighed about 175 pounds. One relative said I looked no different at that weight than I do now. Meanwhile, at BMI 21 and currently going lower to BMI 20 (two pounds away) I feel great and I think I look younger than I did at BMI 28.7.  You be the judge.

BMI 21    ;-)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Witches of Washington

Again, I am revisiting Donovan's classic song, Season of the Witch about hypocrites, witches who are out to do you harm but who would lead you to believe they have your best interests at heart. Know anyone like that? The time lag is what is most important with these pestilential folks. In other words, if they can get you to believe them for just a moment, a day, a week, a year, two years, an election term, then this gives them ample time to hide the bodies, destroy the evidence, push forth their agenda, "get their ducks in a row," before you sniff out their lies and the carcasses they have left moldering because they have deluded, seduced or lured you away to look in another direction.  Meanwhile, the "whole world is watching" America and asking, "What the hell is going on?" It's the season of the witch, folks, the season of the witch, perpetually.  And I'm looking for the Light, the whistleblowers, the mavericks, the iconoclasts to restore integrity...the Harriet Tubmans, the Frederick Douglasses whose courage and fortitude bring us "up to the nation our ancestors conceived us to be."  Hello? And that is not under the power of witches and warlocks.


Many groups recorded this great song. Some of them are included on the links (above in the concrete poem which should be in the shape of a witch) to see them on Youtube. One rendition is finer than the other, all bringing out the strangeness and duplicity of those who would take power over us and the discernment needed to "pick up every stitch" to know and see what is "goin' on."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Finding The Black Cat Book Store on Shelter Island

Approaching Shelter Island on the South Ferry
The North Ferry
Last Saturday, friends and I ventured out from NYC to harken back to a pastoral setting, yet satisfy our sea fever and ocean longings for salt spray and fresh, breezy air. Shelter Island, NY fulfilled our yearning for both.

At the tip of Suffolk County and carpeted with marsh and grassland greenery that is forever wild, the island, mostly wetlands nature preserve, has four bird watching and hiking trails. The narrow two-lane road around the island gently slopes and curves toward relaxing, light filled views of the water between tree lined shores that open onto a few sandy beach areas. Shelter Island "floats" in Shelter Island Bay which surrounds it on three sides along with Gardiners Bay on the fourth.

Situated between the North and South Fork of Long Island's eastern end, there are two ferries on and off Shelter Island. We drove to North Haven and took the South Ferry (5 minutes) to the island. When we returned, we took the North Ferry to Greenport (8 minutes) and drove home through Southhold and New Suffolk, quaint towns on the North Fork, before we eventually happened upon roads leading to the LIE.

The ride out to this vast tract of land owned predominately by the Nature Conservancy soothed and diverted us from the anxieties of city living, for me the upset of finding a mouse struggling to free itself from a glue trap was the least of it. Quiet, clean, green spacious, open, free, unconfined by heat-baked, oppressive concrete, what a pleasure to view the wealthier Victorian section whose owners' uncompromising lifestyles, lawns sloping to the water's edge and views made us understand why, if money doesn't come through inheritance, then individuals struggle "to make their first twenty million" at a young age despite the grueling stress. Now more than ever.                                                                                                                                                            
Many of Shelter Island residents are summer dwellers (The population bloats to around 10,000, perhaps.) but some live there year round; since the 2000 census, I would imagine the population has not grown considerably past 2800 during the wintertime. There is evidence of land buying, building and development, not to the crass extent allowed in various areas of Long Island, the East end thankfully excepted. But developers are razing heaven and raising hell to do so, and it may be just a matter of another decade before Shelter Island is discovered by more than a few Yuppies and upscale gay couples who don't mind trading blunt and roiling winters crossing Shelter Island Bay for the insanity of pressed sardine populations in the city or the horrific boredom of the vapid, suburban, shopping mall nonexistence sandwiched between NYC and the East End.

No, there isn't a Starbucks on Shelter Island, but there is a cafe and a few upscale places. That is its utter loveliness, along with the secret, still wonder, the serenity of bird song and the whoosh of silence in your ears,totally soul refreshing and mind uplifting. Hey, come on! If you live there, you get your own cappuccino maker! Besides, Bridgehampton and Southampton are fifteen to twenty-five minutes away by ferry and a non traffic dense drive. What need have you of civilization up into your nostrils. You can get that online; the place, like everywhere, is wired.

Seven years ago into this beautiful enclave and forever wild island preserve came Michael Kinsey and his wife. And recently these proprietors moved their store to its current place conveniently next door to their residence in the town of Shelter Island after converting their barn into the new Black Cat Books
The store, which buys and sells rare and used books is named appropriately after their black cat which is 21 years old. This uncanny and aptly titled treasure has been around since the 1990s and it is really like no other. I'm not exactly sure why except that perhaps my reading and intellectual tastes may be similar to the proprietors? Perhaps I enjoy the idea the place can and never will be a Barnes and Noble? Perhaps because it reminds me of one element of the past (I hate nostalgia, by the way.) which I enjoy: there was a time when you could browse and look to your soul's content, sampling, picking up, savoring, then putting back with a revitalized interest in the topic of the book and then move on enriched with an inner thoughtfulness, almost like a meditation or prayer. I have always been moved to these feelings visiting Black Cat Books. 
I serendipitously tripped over the place during a drive out to Sag Harbor with Est, my sister-in-law many years ago. There was a Java Cafe next door; the store was smaller and there were fewer offerings, but I enjoyed wandering through the sections unpressured by noisy crowds with uninterested friends or children in tow. It was better than a library with its Dewey Decimal systemed order; the order was the selection of the proprietors, what they enjoyed, what they felt appealed to them and others they knew, what they knew appealed to bibliophiles online. The glass bookcase with the first editions and signed copies of books fascinated me. The rare book section fascinated me. If you don't love books, you won't have these feelings. But I do. Books are souls. I love looking into others' souls. Often, in person, people are hiding. You don't even get to see the tip of the iceberg let alone it's girth below the water line.                                       
Each year I would visit and bring friends. And then the store was gone from Sag Harbor and I was heart broken until I spoke with another shop keeper who told me The Black Cat Books was a success story in the up and down economy. It had moved to Bridgehampton right across from Starbucks. Well, I was in heaven; rare books and Starbucks, too? Again I brought new friends and bought a signed copy of Truman Capote's Other Voices Other Rooms and In Cold Blood and this was before the film about Capote came out. And over the past couple of years it had been there, I discovered a used copy of The City of Falling Angels, John Brendt's interesting reportage about the unique characters who peopled the Venice elite, during the unraveling of the destructive fire that destroyed La Fenice, Venice's ancient and beautiful opera house. 

Then Black Cat Books was gone again. I had stopped to get a cappuccino in Bridgehampton and thought I would run across to the store to see what rare or used books had been added recently. There was a rude clothing shop in its place instead and when I asked neighborhood storekeepers, no one knew where it had moved. I truly thought the black cat had died, killed off by the economic winter. Then a friend checked online and found they had moved to Shelter Island. It was a perfect location...removed, rather remote, fun to get to and lovely solitude. It represented the antithesis of what was happening in the frantic and crazed book publishing industry with agents and editors not knowing how to get out of each others' way, with discredited, untruthful authors and Oprah network disappearance. (There is some rude justice to this. Technology is transforming the marketplace and jerking the chain of industry monopolies as the golden ring goes to innovators like Amazon who are on the cusp of "breaking through to the other side." Niche writers will be on top, after all is said and done with their e-publishing, self-publishing and self-marketing.)                                                                                  


After stored items in the barn were removed, Michael and his wife set up The Black Cat Books. It's larger than the book stores were at any of the other locations. There are also a few interesting lithographs and prints for sale and you can sit there until the geese fly overhead in twilight and savor and sample as you lounge on the couch in the large room or talk to Michael who is very friendly, knowledgeable and helpful about the selections and reading lists. They have a blog and online website and continue to buy and sell used, rare and signed books. 

It was a great visit and I found I had to be pulled away by my friend who was driving; we had reservations at Claudios the heart of Greenport, and needed to make the North Ferry in time. So we said goodbye to Michael and the rare books and first editions and we vowed to return for another lovely journey in the fall with the turning leaves.
Michael Kinsey, Proprietor of Black Cat Books

I'm thrilled Black Cat Books is alive and well. And its namesake whose longevity is equally amazing and which has remained invisible to me as cats are wont to do with strangers, Michael assured me was lurking around somewhere on the grounds. In October when I'm out there to purchase a used or signed book, I'll take a picture of the cat if it lets me. Long life is to be honored and prized in cats and book stores. This seems especially so today after receiving an e-mail from Borders which is selling books at 50-75% off to empty all its inventory. So here's a brief word in remembrance of Borders and a celebratory congratulations to a book store that continues to thrive and bring solace and quietude to someone like me who is looking to escape the anxious, and at times harried and frenzied pace of NYC.