26 August 2006

Special Saturday "Reads Brooklyn" Edition

Being the well-rounded guy that I am, there are quite a few things I enjoy doing when I'm not running (or dissertating, of course). I like going to ballgames, for example (though I've only been to a half-dozen this year), and I'm definitely looking forward to the new opera season (which starts in just a few weeks). But perhaps most of all, I love to read. Because of my Brooklyn explorations I've been spending considerable time thumbing through some useful references, like Leonardo Benardo and Jennifer Weiss' Brooklyn by Name, Francis Morrone's An Architectural Guidebook to Brooklyn, Ellen Snyder-Grenier's Brooklyn! An Illustrated History, and -- my favorite -- John Manbeck and Kenneth Jackson's The Neighborhoods of Brooklyn on Yale University Press. All of these have proven invaluable in getting to know my way around the borough and in providing me with some very useful background and history on the city and the various neighborhoods I've been visiting.

But I read a lot more than this kind of thing, and my favorite reading material is still good fiction. I realize that "good" is, in part, a value judgment and representative of my own tastes, so -- purely for the purposes of clarification -- here are some of the books I've read recently which fall into this category. Make of it what you will.
This is just a pretty random sampling off the top of my head, and I suppose it's pretty representative of what I like (Lethem's is also a great Brooklyn novel in addition to being a terrific read). However, my favorite book of the last decade or so is David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, which I think is one of the greatest things I've ever read. I've just started his newest novel, Black Swan Green, and though its first-person, semi-autobiographical story is about as far removed from Cloud Atlas as imaginable, I'm enjoying it very much so far.

Anyway... with the passing rain showers and gloomy skies, it seems like a particularly good day to sit by the kitchen window and read for a few hours. I'll be back running tomorrow, so tune in then for more tales from the sidewalks of Kings County. As usual, here's an off-day photo from the archives:

Congress Street

25 August 2006

A Little Less Pondering, a Little More Running

Friday 8/25: Gravesend, Sheepshead Bay, Marine Park, Flatlands, Mill Basin, Canarsie

9.73 miles
Time: 1:15
Pace: 7:42
Temp: 72
Dewpoint: 66
Weather: cloudy & humid

click on image for interactive map

Unique Miles Today: 9.34
Total Unique Miles:
Percent of Brooklyn Run:

Route: Today I began at McDonald and Kings Highway, headed east on the latter (which soon became Avenue R) to 22nd, south to Voorhies, east a block to 23rd, up a block to Avenue Z, east another block to 24th and back down to Voorhies, then east one more block to Bedford, north back to Avenue Z, west to 24th again, and then north up to Avenue R. I went east again to Gerritsen, south to Fillmore, stayed on Fillmore to Avenue T then quickly looped around the little triangle there back to 57th, north to Avenue O, east to 61st, south to Avenue T, east to 64th, south a block to Avenue U, east a block to 65th, north to Avenue M, back west to 59th, and north to Glenwood. I then followed Glenwood east to 100th and took the L train home from Rockaway Parkway.

Notes: While I pondered a lot of things on today's run, I'll resist the urge to philosophize this morning, sticking instead to a more-or-less straightforward reporting of things as I saw them. Yes, I headed back down to the southern reaches of the borough yet again, for two main reasons: First, it's easy for me to get there transportation-wise (I just take the G to Smith/9th and then take the F as far as I need to go). Second, I'm actively trying to fill in some of the neighborhoods down there (Sheepshead Bay, Gravesend, Bath Beach, Flatlands, Brighton Beach, Coney Island), simply because while I realize that I don't mind spending an hour each way on the train during the summer, this might change during the colder temperatures and shorter days to come in December and January. In other words, every long journey down to Gravesend now is one less trip I make down there in the dead of winter. But some of these areas -- parts of Sheepshead Bay and Flatlands in particular -- are a good hike from any subway station, which also means I'll need to do longer runs, on average, to get in a lot of streets down there. Yet another reason to work on them in the summertime. In any event today's venture was pretty typical, with the usual sights and sounds (and, indeed, smells). The Rockaway Parkway subway station is a busy place, though, maybe because it's as far as the L (or any train, for that matter) penetrates into the area, and because of the free bus transfers there. I'm taking tomorrow off, as I usually do on Saturdays, and will shoot for a longer (12-13 miles) run on Sunday.

Oh, and I did indeed pass the 300 unique mile mark, for what that's worth. However, I think the next significant milestone (in my mind, at least) will be when I hit 25% of Brooklyn run, which should happen in early October or so.

It was pretty gloomy out today (after several weeks of warm but mostly pleasant weather), so the photos suffered a bit. Nonetheless, here's what I've come up with today:

Off of 22nd Street in Sheepshead Bay

Sheepshead Bay

Corner of Paerdegat Avenue and 59th Street, near where Canarsie, Flatlands, and East Flatbush meet

Glenwood Avenue in Canarsie

Also on Glenwood (less than a block east of the previous picture)

24 August 2006

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, Indeed

Recently, no doubt as a result of my own borough-wide perambulations (you can get a lot of thinking done over a ten-mile run), I've been revisiting the concept of the flâneur. Poet Charles Baudelaire famously descibed the flâneur as a product -- even a hero -- of modernity, an individual with the time and the resources to immerse himself in aimless rambles among the teeming urban masses, an anonymous figure who is both part of the crowd around him and a dispassionate observer. In this way the flâneur is emblematic of the very essence of what it means to be modern, exhibiting all the contradictions of nineteenth century capitalist society and at once capturing the "fleeting and the infinite." As both participant and observer, Baudelaire notes, the Flâneur is simultaneously "shocked and intoxicated" by what he sees around him, repelled and drawn closer at the same time.

In the twentieth century, the idea of the flâneur was further examined by literary critic Walter Benjamin. While Baudelaire saw the flâneur as part of the crowd around him (it is his "element," the poet wrote, "as the air is that of birds and water of fishes"), Benjamin emphasized his alienation from the masses, suggesting that the "heroism" of the flâneur was a direct result of his distance from the crowd, not his integration into it. Regardless, as both involved protagonist and detached commentator, the flâneur was able to "read" the city as a text while serving as one himself, an intermediary who interpreted the sights and activities of the urban landscape for others even as he made his way across it.

Benjamin (who, by the way, is pictured above), also joined Baudelaire in pointing out the significance of some of the physical manifestations of modern capitalism, believing that the storefronts, signs, advertisments, and even men walking up and down the street in sandwich boards all offered insight into the modern condition for the flâneur, providing intellectual satisfaction and simple entertainment at the same time.

So what am I getting at here? Good question. I guess it's just that I sometimes wonder whether I, in my criss-crossing of Brooklyn, am not a sort of 21st century flâneur in running shoes. The similarities are intriguing: I have the leisure time to engage in such an enterprise (as opposed to, say, working 12 hours a day in a factory); I am constantly surrounded by people but very rarely actually interact with them; I use the things I see and learn to sate my own curiosity and my photographs to entertain (for lack of a better word) myself and others; my experiences are "real" on one level (in that I am indeed physically on the sidewalk) while lacking in a certain "authenticity" on another since I am not (and cannot be) an integral part of the tableaux I pass. Of course, this whole thing could lead to deeper consideration of just what "authentic" means in the first place (is a graffito made by a hipster in Williamsburg, for example, less "authentic" than one made by a gang member in Brownsville?), but I'll save that discussion for another day.

For now, I'll just offer all of this up as food for thought, a minor meditation on the ambivalence I sometimes feel about this whole running-all-of-
Brooklyn thing, about the nature of experience, and about my simultaneous roles as outsider and intimate within the diverse neighborhoods of my adopted city. The simple truth is that over the next year or two I'll run by the residences of over two and a half million people, but there are times while I'm out there that I've never felt more alone, or less a part of anything. Weird.

I'll be back running (and, most likely, thinking too much) tomorrow. Today, though, here are a couple of recent pictures:


Brownsville (Pitkin Avenue)

23 August 2006

Some Days are Better than Others

Wednesday 8/23: Coney Island, Brighton Beach, & Sheepshead Bay

10.04 miles
Time: 1:20
Pace: 7:58
Temp: 72
Dewpoint: 60
Weather: sunny

click on image for interactive map

Unique Miles Today: 8.00
Total Unique Miles:
Percent of Brooklyn Run:

Route: I started at 8th Street and Surf Avenue, went north on 8th, east on Sheepshead Bay to 6th, up a block to Neptune, west to Shell, north up to West, east to Ocean Parkway, south to Ocean View Avenue, south on Brighton 7th and back up on Brighton 8th, over to Coney Island Avenue and then back and forth on the four short Brighton 10th streets (Lane, Terrace, Path, & Court), up 12th Street to Sheepshead Bay Road (with loops around William and Gilmore Courts & Desmond and Doone Courts), down Sheepshead Bay to Avenue Z and east a block to 14th. I took 14th north to Avenue R, went east to 16th (with the dead-end part of 15th in between) south to Moore, east to 17th, north to Avenue P, west to 12th, south to Avenue X, back north on 12th (yes, again) to Avenue S, west to McDonald and north to Colin.

Notes: Today's run was pretty lackluster, on every level. I was experiencing some pain in my feet still, but I've also had some trouble sleeping of late and just generally felt sluggish and rundown. The run I'd planned was almost all residential, and with all due respect to the fine people that live along today's route, it was just kind of boring and had limited sights to pique my photographic interest. Furthermore, I apparently planned poorly, and ended up re-running a mile and a half of road I'd already covered. Oops.

I guess I'll take tomorrow off, and hope for better days on Friday. I'll probably top 300 unique miles during that run (hard to believe, isn't it?), so at least I'll have that (admittedly minor) milestone to look forward to.

Until then, some pictures:

8th Street

West Avenue

Mural off of 12th Street

The pedestrian-only alley Margaret Court

Under the entrance to the Kings Highway F platform

22 August 2006

Quick: What do Margaret Sanger, Mike Tyson, and Ted Nugent Have in Common?

Tuesday 8/22: East New York, Brownsville, & Bushwick

9.22 miles
Time: 1:10
Pace: 7:36
Temp: 72
Dewpoint: 56
Weather: partly cloudy

click on image for interactive map

Unique Miles Today: 8.95
Total Unique Miles:
Percent of Brooklyn Run:

Route: My run began today at the L train stop at Sutter and Van Sinderen. I then ran east on Sutter to Euclid, north to Conduit, down to Glenmore, east to Forbell, up a block to Liberty, east to 75th, south back to Sutter (with a little loop around Conduit and Belmont), west back to Euclid, and south to Linden. I then headed west to Logan, north to New Lots Avenue, west to Sheffield, north to Dumont, west to Hinsdale, north to Blake, west to Amboy, north to East New York, east a short block to Thomas Boyland, north to Eldert, and then up to Knickerbocker. I took the L home from the Halsey stop.

Notes: The answer to the question posed in the title of today's post, of course, is that all three of these folks have connections (although one is admittedly tangential) to the neighborhood of Brownsville. Tyson grew up there (as did fellow heavyweight Riddick Bowe, coincidentally), while Sanger opened up the nation's first birth control clinic on Amboy Avenue in 1916 (the cops shut it down days later). And bow-hunting enthusiast, aging crotch-rocker, and outspoken carnivore Ted Nugent, though a native Michigander, took the name of his 1960s band (the Amboy Dukes) from Irving Shulman's 1947 novel of the same name, which was set in the neighborhood.

But the point is that the area has some interesting history, despite its lingering reputation as an area to avoid at all costs (Brownsville and East New York are the two places I'm warned about most frequently by Brooklynites when I tell them my running plans). So far I've enjoyed my runs in both these neighborhoods, maybe because of the history but mostly because there's a lot going on, and a fascinating mix of the old and the recent, the odd and the mundane, the run-down and the brand-new. One of the more interesting things I came across today was the New Lots Reformed Dutch Church, which, according to the results of some cursory googling, dates back to 1823 or 1824 and is the oldest building in East New York. It also had a very cool graveyard next door.

Lastly, while I don't usually interact with many people when I'm out running, today I had two interesting encounters. First, as I was exiting the subway I saw U.S. Congressman Ed Towns (Democrat from New York's 10th District) out campaigning for reelection. I know, it's not like he's a big celebrity or anything, but then again it's not every day I share a sidewalk with a national politician.

Mere blocks later, I was stopped by a big twenty-something guy on Sutter Avenue who told me a very sad story about his baby not having any formula. Normally, I wouldn't fall for such things (what, do you think I just rolled in here from Iowa?), but his superior size, menacing gaze, and repeated mentions of his inability to find a job after recently getting out of prison led me to fork over the two bucks I keep on me for my post-run Gatorade. While this clearly wasn't a robbery (after all, I handed him the cash voluntarily, there was no weapon involved, and he didn't ask for my camera), it was somewhat more coercive than mere panhandling. I'll chalk this one up to experience, but I was awfully thirsty riding the train home. Maybe I'll keep an extra fiver in my shoe from now on.

Anyway... the heels are still hurting, but the pain was mitigated by a pleasant morning and a neighborhood with a lot to see. I'll probably run again tomorrow (I don't know where yet), but take Thurday off. So, without further ado, some pictures from this morning:

Store on Sutter Avenue

New Lots Reformed Dutch Church

Water Towers atop the Brownsville Houses public housing

Community center on New Lots Avenue

Window on Thomas Boyland Street

21 August 2006

Seven Miles, Seven Neighborhoods, Two Advils

Monday 8/21: Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens, Red Hook, Cobble Hill, Prospect Heights, Clinton Hill, Bedford-Stuyvesant

7.18 miles
Time: 0:55
Pace: 7:40
Temp: 72
Dewpoint: 56
Weather: sunny & breezy

click on image for interactive map

Unique Miles Today: 7.05
Total Unique Miles:
Percent of Brooklyn Run:

Route: This one began at the Bergen Street stop on the G. I ran south on Smith to Lorraine, west to Columbia, north to Hamilton (by the entrance to the Battery Tunnel), west to Van Brunt, north Degraw, east to Columbia, and north to Congress. I then took Congress east (after running the little dead end part to the west) to Court, headed north to Pacific, went east to Classon, north to Fulton, west to Washington, north to Lafayette, and then east to Nostrand.

Notes: Though I'm not at 100%, the two days off did my body well, and the improving weather conditions further helped to push me back out onto the streets today. In a weak attempt at appeasing my guilty conscience (and my sore heels) I opted for a more modest run (under an hour, in other words) and stayed pretty close to home. In fact, I figured it was time to finally venture into some of the neighborhoods I've been "saving" for the colder months -- the stretch from Clinton Hill down to Red Hook and Gowanus that's easily accesible from the G train.

Though I'd visited this part of the borough before, this was my first "official" run there and I enjoyed it very much. I'm quite fond of Red Hook in particular, though the entire area is dense with a diverse array of historic architecture, local color, beautiful churches, and odd signage, as well as ample evidence of both lingering urban decay and rampant gentrification. One of the stranger aspects of running here, though, is that it is home to a vast number of bloggers and photographers (including many of the ones I follow regularly and whose work I enjoy), so there was this weird feeling that just about anything that I saw -- no matter how seemingly insignificant or unusual -- had probably been documented earlier and more effectively than I would ever be capable of by taking quick snapshots with a cheapo digital camera.

Another hallmark of this area is the relatively small size of the neighborhoods, and the suddeness in which you can move from one into another. I've been spending a lot of time in the southern reaches of the borough over the last few weeks, where running two or three miles from part of Sheepshead Bay, for instance, will take you into, well, another part of Sheepshead Bay. In today's modest run of just over seven miles, by contrast, I ran through parts of at least seven distinct neighborhoods, and saw everything from scrap metal yards and cement factories to the sprawling Red Hook public housing to tranquil, tree-lined residential streets to the cranes along the Buttermilk Channel waterfront to the lower Manhattan skyline to the railyards between Atlantic and Pacific (a site which is, to say the least, the source of much controversy of late). It was almost too much, but it made the 55 minutes seem to fly by, and kept my mind off any aches and pains.

Right now, I'm planning to do maybe an hour tomorrow, and then take Wednesday off. As always, this is subject to change based on, well, almost anything. Meanwhile, my photographic output from this morning:

Church on Lorraine Street in Red Hook

Smith Street

Scooter place off of Columbia

Washington Avenue

20 August 2006

Giving Pieds a Chance

Well, it's Sunday and I'm not running, which means that common sense has (temporarily, at least) trumped the irrational but very real compulsion to keep running regardless of how worn out my body's been the last week or two. But I'm not going to belabor the issue -- I've written enough about these things recently, and I don't want to bore people with yet another day of "well, I'd really like to run but everything hurts so maybe I won't blah, blah, blah." And you know what? I might even take tomorrow off, too. So there.

Anyway, I thought I'd use the space I save by not fretting about the relative merits of trying to maintain my body's physical integrity by writing instead about other things going on that make me quite happy. After all, there's more to me than merely sitting around having increasingly bizarre internal monologues about my ankles. So here's a quick rundown (uh, no pun intended) of what's bringing me joy this week:

1) Summer's almost over. It's true, I really hate hot weather. And I hate humid weather even more. To me hell isn't some abstract netherworld, it's Houston. But fall's right around the corner, which means cooler, drier air, and whole weeks on end of bare trees silhouetted against leaden skies with temperatures never rising above the 40s. Perfect.

2) I got my tickets for the Met this week (thus the pic of the opera house up top). I sprung for ten operas this year (OK, the tickets are the $26 ones in the family circle section, which means that I'll be closer to New Jersey than the stage, but still). Among other favorites I'll be seeing Idomeneo, Jenufa, Meistersinger, Eugene Onegin, and Tan Dun's new First Emperor, too.

3) Speaking of music, Ted Leo/Pharmacists are playing free at South Street Seaport this Friday. I don't love Ted because he's literate (only songwriter I know to rhyme "apostasy" with "historicity"), or that he's from New Jersey (which doesn't hurt), or even because he's vegan (he is), but because he rocks live and I've never seen him do a bad show. And it's free. Free!

4) Kate and I and her friend Paul and my friend Mike and his friend Mike met up in Staten Island for a SI Yanks ballgame this past Friday. It was a beautiful night, the ferry ride was great fun, and the score was 0-0 until the Yanks won in the bottom of the 10th. A very exciting game, indeed -- so much so that I overlooked the fact that I found myself cheering for the Yankees' victory. Of course, this was a short-season single-A minor league game, and something like 90% of the kids playing won't make the big leagues anyway (and the Yankees will trade away the other 10% while they're still in double-A, most likely for an overweight 42-year-old pitcher or something), so I didn't feel too guilty.

5) After the moving and settling and all that, I revisited my dissertation research after a month or two of not looking at it, and... it didn't completely bore me! This is great news, indeed. Yes, I thought I might have burned out on the history of dietary reform in Great Britain and the US between 1883 and 1919, but it looks like the time off may have rekindled my interest in such things. Now, if I could just stop fussing about my achilles tendons and start writing...

So there it is, actual proof that I don't spend 100% of my time worrying about whether I should run or not. But now that I think about it, I will probably have to have to run soon -- I'm quickly depleting my supply of old photos to post here on my off days. Here are a couple, rescued from the bottom of the barrel:

Yeah, you never know when you're going to want a little rusty iron with your diet Coke (Bed-Stuy)