Going “Down the Shore”

When I started this blog, I was living in Paris and posted pretty regularly. Eventually, I posted less often, but for all these years I’ve kept up my goal to post at least once a month, save for once. There were times it was on the last day of the month (and then often again within a few days because one post creates momentum). I knew that if I didn’t have this concrete benchmark, I would likely fall off the wagon. And that’s what’s happened! I have not posted here all autumn.

Tonight I opened up my laptop to write, and I realized that I had written the post below on August 4th! So a few days before the start of winter, here is an account from the dog days of summer.


The first summer after I returned from France several years ago, I concentrated on learning my responsibilities at my new job and generally enjoyed a wealth of outdoor activities in New York City. Since then, every summer I have used the majority of my year’s vacation days on a trip abroad for two plus weeks. Theoretically, I see the value in taking a day off to rest and relax, but after getting to travelling all the time in Europe, I felt the need to accumulate my days in the States in order to be able to leave it—for a short bit.

This summer, of course, was different due to Covid. No international travel. At the beginning of summer, I thought that maybe eventually I’d do a road trip domestically, but that has not happened. What that means, however, is that I suddenly for the first time have all these vacation days that I am not using in one swoop. And I am discovering the joy in taking a day off here and there.

The first day I took off since January was in the beginning of June. A friend and I took a virtual trip to Italy, which is a story for another day. In mid-June I took a Wednesday off for my mom’s birthday, which I had not done before.

The past few Fridays, beau (who is not French but I will refer to him thus, as it comes naturally to me) and I have headed down to the beach, which we have taken to pairing with a hike beforehand. I now understand the appeal of taking an extra day off without jetting or bussing off to a destination for a few nights. It’s relaxed. In general, I am a night packer because I like to have everything prepared the day before a long trip, but now I can pull out my big sturdy tote bag the morning of and easily toss in a towel, suntan lotion, herbal bug repellent, water, and snacks. There was a time I thought I wasn’t a “beach person,” but these quarantine times have expanded my definition of myself, for the better. I like taking out one of my two bathing suits every week.

No dogs and kites.

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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Lotus Flowers, A Snake, Gospel

A few weeks ago I met up with a couple of friends in the Bronx to have lunch on Arthur Avenue and visit the New York Botanical Gardens. Since a friend organized this pairing of activities over two years ago, I’ve continued to suggest it to other friends since we don’t go up to the Bronx that often. It’s an opportunity to have Italian food and see an amazing variety of flowers and plants.

My friend was a little late meeting me at the subway stop in the Bronx (due to the eternal subway issues), and was I glad she was. First, while waiting I saw a man with a huge snake draped over his shoulders and curled around his waist. I followed him for a little while. He went into a pet store.

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Then I walked a little more and saw a small church with open doors.

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When my French friends came in February, one of them wanted to go to a service at a Baptist church. I’ve found that this is a common item on French tourists’ lists in New York, which surprised me when I first learned it. As far as I know, American tourists don’t seek this out, and I would not have thought of attending a service. I thought I would feel conspicuous since I didn’t belong to that denomination and would stick out. When I asked my French friend why he wanted to go to one, he explained that he wanted to experience Gospel music and that it was an especially American thing.

Before my French friends came, I did some asking around and research online. It seemed that some big churches were indeed used to receiving tourists and even had a different section for them. A friend advised me to show up early because from her experience (with her French visitor), the line to enter could be long. In the end, we didn’t end up going, but years of hearing of French friends and acquaintances interested in Baptist services peaked my curiosity when I saw this little church in the Bronx.

Inside, the service was in full swing and most of the members of the congregation were standing in song. An usher standing by the back door welcomed me warmly, and when I said I would stand at the back instead of sitting in the pews, she insisted I sit in her chair. She gave me a program. One woman in the church was standing and swaying back and forth with her arms in the air, singing along with the song “My Soul Says Yes,” which I had never heard before and was indeed moving. In the song, for a long time you sing, “My soul says yes” over and over again. There are other lyrics, but when I walked in they were in the full refrain.

I couldn’t believe after all that research I just stumbled upon this church. There were no crowds of tourists, and there was plenty of seating available.

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After the song, there was a reading. The usher went to a shelf to get me a Bible in case I wanted to follow along. She was so kind.

After listening for a while, I went back out into the summer heat to meet my friend. We walked to the Italian neighborhood and had a lunch of fresh pasta on the backyard patio of a restaurant, then walked to a nearby bakery to get an iced coffee and a tiramisu (her) and a black and white cookie (me) to go. We walked to the botanical gardens to meet another friend.

In the gardens, we chatted at the café for a bit, then headed to the Haupt Conservatory to see the flower show “Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai‘i.” Signs described her stay in Hawaii and how she was inspired by the flowers there. The flowers in the conservatory were varied and beautiful, and the water lilies and lotus flowers outside were amazing and like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Also, it was just our luck that hula dancers of a hula school in New York were performing when we arrived at the conservatory.

After getting our fill of the flowers, we took the garden tram, which was a hilarious experience. Because it made multiple stops in the gardens but was at full capacity, thus not having room for passengers wanting to get on unless some got off, the driver loudly tried to sell each stop. “This library is very historical…” “It’s only a 2-minute walk to the Rose Garden from here… you can get off here for the Rose Garden instead of going to the Rose Garden stop.” Translation: Get off! Get off!

It was one friend’s first time to Arthur Avenue, and the other’s first time to both the gardens and Arthur Avenue. It was my third time, but first time in the summer. I love summer in the city. In the summer I never remember what it is I did for fun in the winter.

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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

We Celebrate the Liquefaction of San Gennaro’s Blood with Zeppoles

How do you fit a Ferris wheel into a tiny city street? Ask a New Yorker.

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As you can tell, I post out of chronological order, hence this photo of a summer festival. Recently it has been below freezing here (and don’t get me started about how we didn’t have heat for a couple of weeks at work), so I might as well dream of warm days strolling through the city.

I read about the San Gennaro festival a few years ago. It’s quite a fascinating story—San Gennaro, or Saint Januarius, is the patron saint of Naples, Italy. Legend has it that his blood, kept as a relic in the Naples Cathedral, liquefies three times a year. I know, right!?

I grew up in parts of New Jersey that had a lot of Italian immigrants and their American-born kids and grandkids, so I’ve been to my fair share of Italian-American festivals with my family. If you’ve never been to one, it’s stands of zeppoles and Italian sausage and pepper subs, games like knocking down objects to win stuffed animals, and rides like the Ferris wheel and rotating teacups. It’s people walking around in their shorts. Festivals are usually organized by local Catholic churches, but they’re open to everyone.

For almost 90 years New York’s Little Italy neighborhood has held an annual festival in September, at the end of summer and around the date of San Gennaro’s feast day, September 19th. A friend suggested we check it out. The atmosphere was the same as the Italian festivals I had been to in northern New Jersey—lights, groups of people, the smell of fried food—but I couldn’t believe how huge it was. We walked down street after street of stands and kept turning corners expecting it to be done, but there was more in all directions. Most of the stands were food or goods. I was delighted and surprised to come upon one selling cute dresses with prints. There was no fitting room, and the seller said someone had just stolen his mirror the day before, so I tried on a short-sleeved dress over the dress I was wearing and skedaddled away with it (after paying, of course). No fitting room and no mirror, but I could pay via credit card and have the receipt emailed to me.

When we came upon the Ferris wheel, I couldn’t believe someone had the idea to jam it into the little Little Italy street. It made me think of the city citrouilles. Ferris wheel or bust.

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