Tag Archives: Bodegas

Catalonia: I find these photos GENUINELY TERRIFYING — “¡Basta ya con Cataluña!”

31 Oct

Supporters of Catalan independence outside the Catalan parliament in Barcelona during a speech by Premier Carles Puigdemont on whether he would declare independence from Spain, October 10, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-10-28 at 11.44.33 PM

Catalan nationalist

These are photos of a jubilance that one imagines accompanied the Emancipation Proclamation or sees in images of the Liberation of Paris or of the Greek flag being raised over the Acropolis in 1944 or of V-J Day or the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

Instead, they’re photos of a sociopathic hysteria: of a people with one of the highest living standards in the world, with their language and culture (a word I’ve come to hate) fully un-threatened, living in a region with the absolutely highest level of autonomy than perhaps any region of any other state in Europe, or even the world, cumming in the streets because of an absolutely meaningless independence they think they’ve won in an increasingly interdependent world.  Meanwhile their “leaders” are having their moules frites in Brussels.

Really, they scare me.  The affect is so off, the affect level so incommensurate to the stimulus, that it suggests the haunting spectre that even people in one of the most liberal, progressive of human societies can be convinced they’re victims of something.  And like the convert, beware the victim.

There’s a name to that spectre and the victim narrative that is now haunting not only Catalonia and Spain and Europe and American democracy, but the entire world: identity politics.  As Mark Lilla has already said — please read the piece — the main problem with identity politics is that they don’t do politics: Mark Lilla’s “The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics”.  It’s nonsense.  It’s a waste of all of our time, something even more precious than our energy and our resources and brain cells.  It’s a lame Fifth Avenue parade that’s supposed to actually express the soul of a particular segment of human civilization.  It’s an adolescent acting out of culture in a Mardi Gras costume in a deadly serious arena of politics that can quickly get dangerous.  And cultures that deserve to survive, will, by definition, do so on their own and don’t need constant “Pride” parades and manifestos and events and pointless — and dangerous — referenda.  (It’s bad enough to give the demos something complicated to think about; giving them an easy yes-no question is potentially fatal to any polity.)

Andrew Sullivan did a really good job in his  “I Used to Be a Human Being” for New York magazine last year, describing how being hooked up to a screen and keyboard all our lives makes our brains oatmeal, and how blogging all the years he did for his Daily Dish started to have physical health consequences for him, physical consequences that he could only deal with through treatment of his mind and soul.

I’m not in danger of that — usually.  One, I’m too lazy.  Two, I don’t “cover” running stories like Sullivan used to do on his Dish, in what really was a border-line manic-obsessive fashion.  Rather, I jump here and there, back and forth, with now and then ruminations that are all kind of “evergreens”, to use journalist sprache.

But as the child of a family that suffered terribly as an ethnic minority under a Stalinist regime, as a member of an ethnic group that was once spread all over the eastern Mediterranean and was then locked up in the pigsty of a nation-state, as an ethnic-American who always felt the world outside his window was sort of a foreign country, I’m acutely sensitive to issues of pluralism and how they should be negotiated and they strike incredibly powerful chords in me.  And they’ve made me a defender of minority rights but an even more intense critic of self-determination.  It’s not pluralist for every two-bit tribe of Balko-somethings to have their own country; you’re destroying pluralism that way — and the “way” always involves violence of some sort.  WHICH IS WHY I STILL GET SO FREAKED OUT ABOUT YUGOSLAVIA.

That’s also why a story like Catalonia can consume me for weeks if I let it.  And this post was actually meant to declare that I will not myself be writing or quoting or even linking to anything that has to do with the issue — at least until something substantive happens — which may be tomorrow…  I still have some identity politics/multi-culti-bashing pieces knocking around inside my head, but they’ll be dealing with other parts of the world.

Because Catalonia — which infuriates me — and Spain — which I love — are two players that can completely eat me alive if I let them.  For other gold-and-red semiotics, see my Bodegas.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Bodega 10

TIMES: end of Little Italy: “We took it for granted that New York would always be New York.”

10 Oct
Money quote: “…a city that can’t seem to hold on to its most captivating idiosyncrasies.”
I think it was yesterday’s Bodegas piece that may have primed me for this.

Moe’s Meat Market, in Little Italy, hasn’t been a meat market for 40 years. But the floor is still tiled in black and white, the walls covered in porcelain-enameled tin sheets. When the artist Robert Kobayashi, known as Kobi, bought Moe’s and the rest of its building in 1977, he moved in with his wife, the photographer Kate Keller, and installed his studio in the storefront, leaving the walls intact. As a sculptor who worked with tin, maybe he felt an affinity for the sheet metal. Maybe he just appreciated the history.

 Robert Kobayashi in his gallery in 2009. Credit Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times

Over time Moe’s became a fixture in the local art scene, part studio, part gallery, part social space. But now Moe’s is shutting down, one more loss in a city that can’t seem to hold on to its most captivating idiosyncrasies.

In its time, that tenement at 237 Elizabeth Street was alive with history, and Kobi and Kate quickly became part of it.

Upstairs lived Mary Albanese, the matriarch of the building and mother of another Moe the butcher, in his 90s today and still cutting meat at a shop across the street. (“Moe’s just a nickname in the family,” he explained. For what? “Gandolfo.” Go figure.) Down in the basement sat a Prohibition-era wine press and a heavy safe, once guarded by a bulldog named Reggio, who got drunk on the vino and left paw prints in the wet cement floor. (They’re still there, too, the press and the prints, though not the dog.) From the tenement’s open windows, elderly women dressed in black kept eyes on the street while the next generation did the same from sidewalk lounge chairs, their hair in pink curlers.

Mary Albanese standing in front of her butcher shop around 1970.

Bohemian life among the Sicilians of Elizabeth Street was good. Kate and Kobi were embraced like family. Their daughter, Misa, became one of the gang of Italian, Chinese and Puerto Rican kids on the block, and Kobi built go-carts for them to race. The artists who started moving into the neighborhood’s cheap apartments in the 1960s gathered at Moe’s, pulled in by Kobi’s magnetism. The storefront and its back room became a kind of third space, linking the old and new worlds together.

Misa Kobayashi and neighborhood kids playing on Elizabeth Street in the early 1990s. Credit Kate Keller

On a recent night, a crowd came to say goodbye to Moe’s and toast the memory of Kobi. Since his death in 2015, Kate has struggled to keep up with the building. Saying she felt lost on her own, she sold it to a man she calls an “angel” for his willingness to let her and the other tenants (artist and Italian) stay put. The gallery, however, will have to go.

 

At the farewell party, friends and family gathered in the dining room behind the gallery. There was the Dutch performance artist Marja Samsom in a black-and-white checkerboard hat and Susanna Cuyler, a writer who collects the names of people who have died during the year to read aloud on the winter solstice.

People gathered at Moe’s Meat Market on Saturday to tell stories and say goodbye. Credit Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Talk around the table drifted to memory. The actress Penny Lynn White recounted the dangerous thrills of old Elizabeth Street. “It was drug city,” she said. “You’d go in the deli and there’d be a dead guy on the floor. Then they made ‘The Godfather’ and the street had cachet. That’s when the shops started moving in.” But John Gotti still walked the walk. Of her single memorable brush with the don, Penny recalled, “He said just one word to me as I passed: ‘Nice.’ ”

Kate Keller with Moe Albanese who at 94 still runs the butcher shop across the street from Moe’s. Credit Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Another former neighbor, David Marshall, recalled how he’d go with Kobi to Mulberry Street on the last night of the Feast of San Gennaro, when the vendors were breaking down their stalls, so they could “harvest all that lovely wood for sculptures.” Kobi scavenged his metal from Bazzini peanut cans, beer cans and the pressed tin that decorated tenement ceilings. Increasingly, those ceilings ended up in Dumpsters as the neighborhood gentrified and buildings were gutted. Many at the goodbye party had already moved away or were just hanging on.

The San Gandolfo parade on a decidedly less prosperous Elizabeth Street, circa 1980. Credit Kate Keller

By the 2000s, the northern end of Elizabeth Street was lined with upscale shops and restaurants with names like Peasant and Trust Fund Baby. It was no longer Little Italy but NoLIta, rebranded by the real-estate industry. The block is unrecognizable. No more mingling families, no more open fire hydrants or trash can barbecues or dominoes on the sidewalk. “Now it’s all transient trust-fund kids,” Misa Kobayashi said.

Some at the party shrugged and said, “New York is always changing.” But one neighbor, Beth Joy Papaleo, put it bluntly: “We took it for granted that New York would always be New York. Then money destroyed it.”

Kobi and Kate purposely never profited from the building, and it’s clear that Kate is pained by the decision to sell. Still, she’s comforted by the thought that the spirit of the place will live on in Kobi’s work, in the colorful sculptures built from the stuff of the old street.

Kate Keller on the last evening at Moe’s Meat Market. Her daughter, Misa, is reflected in the mirror. Credit Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

 

“New York is like a big mystery tour,” Kate said, looking out from the open door of Moe’s. “When we moved here, it was a storybook. I’m from the Midwest. We didn’t have stories.”

As for becoming a part of those stories and bringing together the people who hold the history, she said, “None of it would have happened without Kobi.”

Bodegas

10 Oct

Spanish flag demonstrators

I’ve been color-numbed by the red and yellow of both Spanish and Catalan flags recently.  As a consequence though, a theory I once had that the color scheme of New York bodegas comes from the colors of the Spanish flag has resurfaced in my consciousness.

bodega 3.jpg-shot4 Philly or NYC

It’s not that far-fetched an idea.  The first large group of Spanish-speaking immigrants to New York originally came from mostly Galicia and Asturias in northwestern Spain in the late nineteenth century and settled in what are now the streets north and south of West 14th Street and in the meat-packing district.  That’s why there are still so many mediocre Spanish restaurants in the far West Village and Chelsea and there’s also the still spectacularly good El Cid on West 15th.

Unfortunately Riomar — on the corner of Greenwich Street and Little West 12th, one of the most ambient-blessed bars that this city has ever seen: a real dive, with horrible food, stale potato tortilla and sweaty chunks of bad chorizo tapas and Goya jarred red peppers you ate with toothpicks, dirt on the floor, a dismal wine list and great jukebox, the feel of a real sailors’ bar in Almería with a “manchado mostrador” out of a Concha Piquer copla, where you went to have an after-dinner argument with your girlfriend which no one paid attention to because everybody else was having their own vicious spats, interrupted only by a good merengue or when Don Can’t-Remember-His-Name from Burgos, chef and owner of El Cid, pulled out his guitar — left this world about fifteen years ago.

Riomar was one of those bars that got busy with after-shift restaurant workers (including those of El Cid) who needed a post-combat drink and the scene would really pick up after around midnight or 1:00 a.m. when the kitchens let out, and if you hung out long enough, the Nuyorican meat workers would come by for a caña before work (guess like Sheryl Crow, they liked “a good beer-buzz early in the morning”), and then you went for breakfast with the other meat-workers and the drag queens at the much-loved Florent around the corner on Gansevoort Street (three over easy on a roll for the butchers, eggs benedict for the gay dudes; this old diner managed to cater brilliantly to both its clienteles for decades), also now gone.  Infuriatingly, Riomar was replaced by some over-priced piece of mediocrity called Serafina Meatpacking with the gallingly named Gansevoort Meatpacking NYC Hotel across the street (“trendy hotel with a rooftop bar & pool, wi-fi, 259” says Google Maps).  Actually, have you seen the size of the rooms in most of these ’boutique’ hotels? “Meatpacking” might actually be the most accurate term.

Florent has been replaced by something called Bubby’s High Line.

(Grrrrrrrr….  Why did I let myself go there?  Now I’m pissed.  Does anybody even want to live in this sterile Manhattan that’s replaced that one anymore?)

Vanishing New York Jeremiah Moss

Ok, bodegas.  A lot of the Galician and Asturian immigrants who settled in that neighborhood often came through a generation’s or less immigrant experience in Cuba or Puerto Rico, Spain’s last Caribbean colonies; if you know Havana (saludos to my pana Yusuf who does) you know two of the most imposing buildings in the city’s center are the Centro Gallego and the Centro Asturiano.  One of the innumerable fascinating things about Cuba is that while it has perhaps the richest and most vibrant Afro culture of any society in the Americas, it also has some of the closest, organic ties to Spain of any Latin American country as well.

They bring the red-and-yellow color scheme?  Why?

The only place in the Spanish-speaking world where “bodega” means a cruddy, smelly grocery store that you can’t live without is New York.  Why?

And what you call the dank grocery is the same word as the word on the label of your $300 bottle of Rioja.  Why?

Because “Bodega” in Spanish simply means warehouse or cellar.  That’s why your wine, sherries especially, comes from “bodegas” in Spain.  But in Cuba and Puerto Rico, the sugar plantation or ingenio/refinery company store, where first slaves collected, and then indentured workers later bought, their basic food stuffs, was the company’s warehouse — the bodega.  And take a sec even today to look at the merchandise in your corner bodega, other than the beer, cigarettes and soft drinks, that really moves: plantains, yuca, yautía, malanga and other tubers, the bags of rice, beans, lard, and if it has more than just grocery pretensions, pig feet and salt pork in the counter fridge.  Slave food.

So when the guajiro plantation overseer or the Cuban-Galician neighborhood businessman came to New York in 1910, he called the little store he set up that sold Cuban food staples a bodega, and I’m guessing figured the best colors for it were Spain’s red and yellow.  And then it stuck.  And then became tradition practically.  You look for the bodega’s red and yellow lights in the streets in New York at night when you need a smoke, or a seltzer to rehydrate after drinking too much, and when you remember there’s no coffee in the house for tomorrow morning; just like you look for the flashing green pharmacy cross in a European city at night after drinking too much and when you remember there’s no ibuprofen in the house for tomorrow morning.  And though the economy that produced the term has disappeared in the islands, and if you tell anyone today in Cuba or Puerto Rico or the D.R. who hasn’t visited relatives here in the city to go down to the “bodega” and buy some milk he won’t even know what you’re talking about, it survives in New York, our huge φτωχομάνα and warehouse of the world’s darkness and exile that run a constant lament under the city’s exuberance and energy and often forced-feeling hedonism.

Bodega 10

bodega 1

Bodega 2.jpg gkjarvis

Bodega 4

Bodega 5

Bodega 6

Bodega 7

Bodega 8

platanos

Yuca

img_8353

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: