Fishballs, Warehouses, and Sunsets in Sunset Park

On a recent weekend, I explored Sunset Park, Brooklyn with a local. You may not know from the name, but Sunset Park is a neighborhood, though it also contains the park after which it was named.

Among several other immigrant groups, there is a large community of Chinese people. We had Fuzhou food at a small, casual place whose sign was only in Chinese (so don’t ask me what the name of it was) and whose menu was half translated into English (I guess they did what they could and didn’t bother with the rest). I am actually not familiar with different Chinese regions’ cuisine. To me, Chinese food is my mom’s home cooking and New York Chinatown food.

We shared fishballs stuffed with meat in a clear broth (I grew up with fishballs but had never heard of a meat-filled version); fried dumplings; short, fat noodles with squid; and sweet peanut balls in a bowl of hot water. The food was cheap and plentiful. The place was casual.

We walked to Sunset Park in the heat and took in the views of New Jersey and Manhattan and sat on the grass. After what must have been a few hours lounging, we headed out of the park, but not before taking a quick look around for elderly Chinese women dancing, which my companion had seen on other evenings. We only saw one woman slowly dancing by herself. Was she practicing before her fellow dancers arrived? I kept looking back to check, but she remained alone, inconsciente of people walking by.

Before continuing our walk to the water, we looked for a bathroom for me (story of my life). We passed a Catholic church that does activist work. I like visiting churches when Mass is not going on, so I asked if we could stop inside. I lit a candle. We both agreed that St. Michael’s Church was beautiful. And there was a bathroom! The toilet paper dispenser was so high that you had to reach up to the heavens.

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All set, we went off the beaten path, down a street almost completely quiet besides a group of family and friends barbecuing on the corner of the sidewalk. We meandered deep into a stretch of silent warehouses. My companion said he wasn’t completely sure we were supposed to be there, but nothing was blocked off, and no signs prohibited pedestrians from wandering in between the blocks of buildings. We came to a nice view of the sunset and stood on a large plank of wood to see it over the fence.

We got on a slightly, though not much more, beaten path in a nearby new park called Bush Terminal Park. Here, families walked down the long path and stopped to view the beautiful sunset by the water.

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A walk to the end of the park led us back onto the sidewalk and past a mural in Spanish that we pondered a bit before peeking at the de Chirico-esque view by the Brooklyn Army Terminal, which I recognized from a prior visit with friends and which took on a magical quality in the evening. Then it was onto the subway for me to pack for an international trip.

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Nighttime Park Activities

A few months ago, a friend and I and a group took a walk in Central Park in the evening. The first time I remember going to Central Park at night was New Year’s Eve 2015. Three friends and I got there right before midnight to watch the fireworks and ring in 2016. It was so relaxing. If you’ve seen the Times Square Ball drop on TV (or in real life), it’s the opposite of that. Central Park is so big that there’s space for everyone who wants to watch the fireworks, and you can show up right as they start, as we did. Afterward, it feels safe to walk through the park because there are a lot of people around.

Many people, locals included, think Central Park is dangerous at night. Maybe it used to be, but I’ve discovered that there is an above-the-board nightlife there. Joggers, groups of young people sitting by the lake, and people walking their dogs form the park life. It isn’t busy by any means, but the people who are out aren’t dealing drugs or otherwise creating an uninviting atmosphere. If there are shady activities being conducted, they are well hidden enough that I haven’t come across them when walking on the paths. I wouldn’t go to Central Park alone because it is dark, parts are isolated, and there isn’t a lot of security patrolling, but in the past two years I’ve gone with friends and dates and felt safe.

One time, I was sitting with someone on a bench on the north side of the park, not far from the green Pool, when we heard someone come up behind us. As it was dark, it was my first time in the park at night, and there were no other benches around us for the person to approach, we were a bit startled. It turned out that it was a young woman who had left her keys in plain sight on the bench we were sitting on. She quickly retrieved them and went off.

There are some characters you won’t see during the day—one time I saw a woman feeding dog food to about a dozen raccoons. I like animals, including raccoons, and have an affinity for some that many people don’t like, such as pigeons, but there was something about the loud chewing of a dozen raccoons in the dark that freaked me out a bit. We could hardly see them, but their eyes glittered as they chomped.

On the most recent walk with my friend and our group, I saw the Bethesda Terrace at night for the first time. It was quite magical.

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We All Got Our Own Thing Going On (And We Find People to Share Them With)

A few weeks ago I saw in the morning on my way to work:

A bunch of people in the bus station looking up, mouths slightly agape. They were watching a huge TV screen that had been temporarily set up in the bus station to show the World Cup. A guy energetically said to people who passed by, “Koozie koozie koozie,” offering free foam cup holders from the TV channel that sponsored the viewing.

A large group of people in the park listening to someone praying over a microphone. People were dressed up, milling around, and some were carrying platters of food. They were Muslims celebrating Eid, the end of Ramadan.

A woman walking two dogs whose back halves were paralyzed and were walking with dog wheelchairs. An older man bent down to pet them. A woman with two dogs of her own stopped to talk to her, and they chatted about their dogs. The first woman described the disabled dogs’ different personalities.

Glimpses of different worlds and the important things happening in each of them. I loved coming in contact with them in the span of twenty minutes.

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Nature’s Sparkles

A few months ago a friend and I went to the Museum of the City of New York, which is on the northeast edge of the vast Central Park. Since I was early, I took my time walking through the park to the museum. It was cold—cold enough that there was still ice on the lake. Part of it had melted to create these shapes of water with sparkling edges from the bright sun. I realized that whomever invented glitter must have taken his or her inspiration from nature.

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I came across a garden that I don’t remember having visited before—the Conservatory Garden. It was bare, but I could see how regal and beautiful it must be in the springtime. Time to go back. And the gate to enter it was surprising, almost random next to the New York city street, yet I can see how it matched the garden.

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Right next to the museum was this tree. Do you have yarnbombing where you live?

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The foyer of the museum was cool.

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We visited the exhibit on Martin Luther King, Jr., which was a small gallery but jam-packed with interesting photos and captions. It brought up conversation about what’s going on today.

The exhibit “Mod New York” featured over seventy outfits from the 1960s. It was groovy.

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Lastly, we looked at a room of items about the history of ice skating, fitting since the last time we were in this neighborhood together was when we went ice skating in Central Park last year, on what must have been the last weekend one could skate outside—the rink was covered with a layer of water. Obviously it was much warmer than today.

I like museums and have spent a lot of time in New York, and still sometimes a museum that is new to me will come up on my radar, like the Museum of the City of New York. Many times, I discover a place and love it and think, So this has always been here.

After, we took the subway down to the East Village where she got a bite to eat and I bought a hot chocolate from next door to bring over and sip while she ate and we talked.

Our next stop was a café where she bought two macarons and I got a doughnut. There was no seating, and it was too cold outside to linger, so we went to another café, where she got a drink and we sat and chatted some more over our sweets.

When the weather is beautiful outside, sometimes I forget what I ever did during the cold months. Here’s one example—hopping from place to place on a Saturday afternoon into the evening.

Sunset

Sunset in summer in Paris was late, at 9 or 10 sometimes. On nice days, I stay out as long as possible (I think this comes from growing up in a place where the cold months outnumber the warm). However, in Paris if I aimed to be outside as long as it was light outside, it meant that I went home quite late.

It’s like that in other parts of the world too, of course, even in my own country, like in Chicago. Paris was the first time I had lived somewhere where the sun set so late, though, and so the first summer I was there, I was surprised. It was easy to lose track of time in the evening. Not for too long, though—I could always count on the guard at Luxembourg Gardens to jolt me out of my reverie with a whistle blow and a bellowed “Ferrrrrrmature!”

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Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, 9:15pm

via Photo Challenge: Rise/Set

Nirvana

Lunchtime in the park in Manhattan. On the next bench over from me, a man sits and chats with his friend who has rolled up and parked her wheelchair next to him. I’ve seen her in the park before; she has some kind of handwritten sign affixed to her chair. They seem to be regulars who linger in the park without anywhere to rush back to. A girl comes by and greets them. She is a student, perhaps in college. I wonder how they know each other. They talk about her classes a bit. In the course of their conversation, she mentions Nirvana.

Man: Nirvana? Is that a white girl? She won a Grammy, right?
Girl: It’s a band.
Man: It’s a band? It sounds like a girl’s name.
Woman: You’re thinking of Rihanna.

An old man approaches. I scoot over a bit to make room for him. He obviously knows the rest of the group, but they merely tolerate him. He is very drunk and has a small bottle of alcohol with him. His manner is subdued, not raging, though he’s definitely out of it. He tries to talk to me about his travels during his time in the service and his anxiety these days, but he has trouble completing his sentences, so his thoughts taper off as quickly as they begin. However unfinished, his brief mumblings reveal more in a flash than decades of greeting a distant neighbor or colleague in passing.

People in the park.

Finishing Touches

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To me the weirdest part about this scene was not that a petite man was painted green, solely covered by a loincloth, and about to climb on a pedestal, but that he was painting himself in public. Wouldn’t a professional have come out fully painted and ready to pose?

Am I jaded? No, even though I was not surprised to see a little green man, I was not too blasé to take a picture.

Am I too demanding? Maybe…

The Cloisters

Earlier this summer, a friend was in New York for a business trip, and I jumped on the chance to hang out with her. She came up a day early on a sunny, hot Sunday. We agreed to meet at her hotel with another college friend.

First to arrive, I sat in the snazzy hotel lobby. A bit later, I received a text from my friend saying that she had arrived and how about we meet in ten minutes? I looked up and saw her checking in at the reception desk. Not wanting to scare her or interrupt her conversation with the receptionist, I creepily stood behind her at the distance you’d stand behind the customer at a post office counter when you’re next in line (in the U.S. I mean… in France mosey on right up behind that stranger).

We went up to put her bag in her hotel room, which to her surprise was stylishly decorated but did not feature a desk. Considering she was there for work and would need to use her laptop several hours a day, she called reception to inquire about it. They responded that she hadn’t requested one. We were baffled. Even in low-cost motel rooms, I have always seen a bed and a table.

Our friend joined us, and after a leisurely lunch and animated chat at a restaurant in the neighborhood, we took the subway up to the Cloisters, which is built from stone and materials from four French medieval abbeys. It contains art, objects, and tapestry from the Middle Ages. There was a surprising lack of signage leading to its location in Fort Tryon Park. We followed somewhat inclined paths surrounded by trees and plants before reaching the fortified structure. 101_1003

You may recognize “The Unicorn in Captivity” (1495–1505).

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You’ve probably never seen this guy, though. He is an aquamanile from Germany (ca. 1425-50), used for handwashing at the table.

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This stained glass window from the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Rouen (ca. 1200-10) depicts a scene from the Legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus.

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The gardens were lovely. 101_1009101_1010

There was an entertaining garden of plants grouped by use in medieval times: magic and ceremony, arts and crafts, brewing, medicine, vegetables and salads. Plants had funny names like wallflower, scarlet pimpernel, mandrake, common foxglove, catnip, and butcher’s broom.

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A couple of trees reminiscent of pipes or menorahs stood against a wall. 101_1050

Our visiting friend had chosen the perfect museum for her trip because she spent time looking at every object and artwork in the building. Meanwhile, our other friend and I sat in one of the peaceful gardens for a while after looking through the Cloisters until she joined us.

On our walk out of Fort Tryon Park, we took a different meandering path and found a small cave.

101_1055We topped off our day with dinner at an airy restaurant near our friend’s hotel. Old friends and the even older Cloisters, a delicious Sunday indeed.

Park Vignettes

I was sitting in a city park doing the metro newspaper crossword puzzle when three Asian girls approached my bench. One sat down to my right, while the other two stood to my left. I thought it was a bit strange since the seated girl still had space next to her for the other two to sit, but I looked up anyway to see if they were hoping I’d shift over. The girl seated next to me held up a half-finished Sudoku. She pointed to it, nodded her head, and said, “Yeaaah” while smiling a cheesy grin. I gave her the kind of tentative smile and wide-eyed glance you reserve for strangers who may be a little off their rocker. Odd, but okay, perhaps she wanted to celebrate our mutual success, however incomplete it was. She said, “Picture?” and gestured to her companion standing to my left. I turned and saw the friend’s camera phone pointed at us. I looked back to the girl who had spoken to me and asked, “Is this for a scavenger hunt?” “Huh?” she responded. They didn’t speak English. “For fun?” I tried again. “For fun,” she parroted, nodding, though it wasn’t clear that she actually understood what I had asked. Giving up, I did the only remaining thing to do– smile for the camera while we both held up our puzzles. They went away happily while I was left wondering what had just happened.

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A week later, in the park again, I chose a shady bench to read my book. In spite of its position under a towering tree, the bench was spotless. I wasn’t reading for very long when I heard a splat. One foot away from my foot, there was a fresh splotch of bird poop. While slightly perturbed, I delighted at my luck to have avoided it. If I had sat just slightly to the right, I would have been running to wash my foot at that moment. I’m not naive, though, bird poop can come in a series. I ran my hand over my hair and, finding it untouched, again congratulated myself on my narrow escape.

Half an hour later, I was sitting at my desk, happened to look down, and what did I see but… bird poop near the bottom of my skirt. I ran to the bathroom and frantically grabbed paper towels and repeatedly scrubbed my skirt with soap and water. Satisfied, I returned to my office with a big water stain my skirt. No matter. I had planned to go see a colleague with a question, but it could wait half an hour while the water dissipated.

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Sometimes even I marvel at my glamorous life.