Thinking about Love: Raising a Fist for Derek Walcott

Poet and Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott died yesterday at the age of 87, on the island of St. Lucia, his home, and the setting of much of his poetry. Tributes are still pouring forth from all over the world at the loss of this scholar and virtuoso. This is mine.

For most of us, poetry is thrust upon us when we are very young. It helps us to make sounds, to remember words, and to begin to understand their power and magic. We learn not only that we have a voice, but over time, it becomes unique to us, an extension of our very selves, living within and without. And if used properly, it lives in the hearts and minds of others long after our bodies are gone.

Hold hard then, heart. This way at least you live.

Walcott’s voice, which The New York Times noted “demanded to be heard,” lived in St. Lucia and in the rhythm of the soft and mighty sea. And for those of us who have heard it, its fierce love lives in us. So let us raise a fist for that voice and let us love fiercely all the voices that are not heard.

The Fist

The fist clenched round my heart
loosens a little, and I gasp
brightness; but it tightens
again. When have I ever not loved
the pain of love? But this has moved

past love to mania. This has the strong
clench of the madman, this is
gripping the ledge of unreason, before
plunging howling into the abyss.

Hold hard then, heart. This way at least you live.

—Derek Walcott (1930-2017)

© Copyright 1986. From Collected Poems: 1948-1984 by Derek Walcott. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

Advertisements
Harold Perrineau as Mercutio

Thinking About Romeo and Juliet: Mercutio is the Thing

March 11, 1302, marks the wedding day of Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s doomed lovers. We are all of us familiar with the play—whether we chose to be or not. While it is not my favorite of the great Bard of Avon’s plays (that would be Hamlet), it’s still, well, Shakespeare, meaning you can’t really go wrong. The highlight of the play for me is the character Mercutio.

Mercutio, Romeo’s hot-tempered and witty friend, provides not only a practical perspective to contrast Romeo’s dreamy and romantic one, he also provides some much-needed comic relief. While we tend to read the play as a simply a romantic tragedy, there is still within it, as is the case with most of Shakespeare, some mirth to be found.

On occasion, it seems that Mercutio, too, is being carried away on the waves of romance:

“You are a lover; borrow Cupid’s wings,
And soar with them above a common bound.” (I,4,513)

Don’t be fooled by Mecrutio’s line. He is actually giving Romeo the brush-off, and in telling him to fly is attempting to bring him back down to earth. Mecrutio, along with Juliet’s nurse, point to romance as a great joke, one that has more to do with physical longings than longings of the heart.

“Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down.” (I,4,523)

And note, in the above that Romeo is pining away, not for Juliet, but for Rosaline, who does not share his feelings. Our fair Romeo has not yet encountered Juliet. As we all know, he’ll go over the romantic abyss for that young lady. Despite Mercutio’s warnings, of course, Romeo will do anything but come back down to earth. For this, Romeo and Juliet, and the loyal Mercutio will pay the ultimate price. In his attempt to kill Romeo, Tybalt instead stabs Mercutio under Romeo’s arm.

“No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a
church-door; but ’tis enough,’twill serve: ask for
me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I
am peppered, I warrant, for this world. A plague o’
both your houses! ‘Zounds, a dog, a rat, a mouse, a
cat, to scratch a man to death! a braggart, a
rogue, a villain, that fights by the book of
arithmetic! Why the devil came you between us? I
was hurt under your arm.” (III,1,1601)

A true master of wit, Mercutio, even in death, brings comedy to a tragic event. An intertwining of comedy and tragedy is a common thread in the works of Shakespeare. Humor makes the tragic bearable. That’s what makes his stories so very human and why they are still relevant. So, centuries later, let us bid Happy Anniversary to Romeo and Juliet. And a fond farewell to Mercutio.

Image: Harold Perrineau as Mercutio in Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Reading Love After Love: Derek Walcott and Greeting the Self

Derek WalcottI want to share another poem—this one on loving the self—by Saint Lucian poet, playwright, and essayist Derek Walcott (b. 1930). Walcott, currently Professor of Poetry at University of Essex, has received numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship “genius award” (1981) and the Nobel Prize for Literature (1992). His work spans not only time, but the full range of thought and emotion—from politics, colonization and history, to romance, rage and, of course, love. To read his work is to transcend, to be transported and to be transformed.

“I read; I travel; I become.” —Derek Walcott

The poem was originally published in Walcott’s Sea Grapes (1976), and is part of the collection 100 Poems that Make Grown Men Cry (2014). Like all the best poetry, it speaks for itself, so I am going to say only this: Love After Love does not make this grown woman cry. Its effect on me, in fact, is on the opposite end of the spectrum. For one day—perhaps today—I will greet myself and smile. I wish you the same.

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Reading About the Light of the Universe: Love and Neruda

2015/02/img_0599.jpg

Just sharing a little love on Valentine’s Day with a poem from the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1904-1973). I share not simply because it’s a love poem and it’s Valentine’s Day, but because it’s the kind of poem that if you read it in just the right way, you’ll feel as if it were written for you. And now, go and play with the light of the universe.

Every Day You Play….
Every day you play with the light of the universe.
Subtle visitor, you arrive in the flower and the water,
You are more than this white head that I hold tightly
as a bunch of flowers, every day, between my hands.

You are like nobody since I love you.
Let me spread you out among yellow garlands.
Who writes your name in letters of smoke among the stars of the south?
Oh let me remember you as you were before you existed.

Suddenly the wind howls and bangs at my shut window.
The sky is a net crammed with shadowy fish.
Here all the winds let go sooner or later, all of them.
The rain takes off her clothes.

The birds go by, fleeing.
The wind. The wind.
I alone can contend against the power of men.
The storm whirls dark leaves
and turns loose all the boats that were moored last night to the sky.

You are here. Oh, you do not run away.
You will answer me to the last cry.
Curl round me as though you were frightened.
Even so, a strange shadow once ran through your eyes.

Now, now too, little one, you bring me honeysuckle,
and even your breasts smell of it.
While the sad wind goes slaughtering butterflies
I love you, and my happiness bites the plum of your mouth.

How you must have suffered getting accustomed to me,
my savage, solitary soul, my name that sends them all running.
So many times we have seen the morning star burn, kissing our eyes,
and over our heads the grey light unwinds in turning fans.

My words rained over you, stroking you.
A long time I have loved the sunned mother-of-pearl of your body.
Until I even believe that you own the universe.
I will bring you happy flowers from the mountains, bluebells, dark hazels, and rustic baskets of kisses.
I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.

Looking at People Looking – Works of Art at the MoMA

Toulouse Lautrec lithographThis week I took a friend for his first exploration of the MoMA, which was kind of a cool thing to do. When you’ve been to any place many times and take someone there, it’s as if it’s your place. In this case, it is your museum, your work of art.

No matter how many times I go to a museum, I am in awe. Look! I’m standing in front of a Picasso, a Modigliani, a Miró, a Monet longer than my entire apartment (okay, my apartment is small, but still), a Cézanne that takes my breath away every time I see it. Or, as was the case this week, all of the above and an exhibit of works by the great Toulouse Lautrec.

Museums are relatively large spaces, and you usually go with a friend or two and share the space with them and a crowd of people—sometimes large, sometimes small. However, as you stand there looking at the Individual pieces, it’s almost as if the world were composed of just you and the art.

Pablo Picasso - Les Desmoiselles d'AvignonYou walk from gallery to gallery with your friend, each of you drawn to works that speak to you. You often separate until you feel the need to share your perspective, or until it’s time to move on to the next room. You might pass by works that don’t catch your fancy or that you’ve seen before. And then suddenly you stop. Ah, I was looking for you. How have you been, Les Demoiselles? You look lovely, as always, especially considering that someone fell into you a year or two ago. Don’t worry—it’s not at all noticeable. (Bet he’ll never forget it, though.)

I looked around. Where did my friend get to? He’s on the other side of the room, mesmerized by something else. I thought, well, I’ll just stand here and wait for a moment. I don’t want to break the connection. My eyes started wandering to other people making their connections with the art, isolated in their own worlds.

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”  ―Pablo Picasso

There’s a man in a tailored suit, his head back, his gaze traveling down his nose to look at the painting. He seemed to know it well. Hello, old friend.

Over there, a student with her sketchbook. She started at one side of the room, turned the page after drawing a few quick lines, and walked across to the other side. She settled in front of a painting and was still there busy with her sketchpad when we left.
Henri Matisse Le Danse

Look at this couple, their eyes on the woman at the bottom of Matisse’s La Danse (1909). Her hand does not quite touch the other’s to her left. They, too, stood with their hands outstretched to each other, smiling as they imitated art. Their fingertips finally touched, and then they came together like this.

Joan Miro Portrait of a Man in a 19th-century FramIn front of this Miró I heard a woman say that she didn’t realize that they had so many of his works. She was probably in her late-seventies, but her eyes were filled with the wonder of a child. She was utterly delighted, as I was watching her in her delight.

Couple in front of a Joan MiroHere’s couple in front of another Miró. They politely moved out of the way, not realizing that I was photographing them with the painting, not just the painting. It was nice of them to move aside, though.

Dali The Persistence of MemoryFinally, here is my friend. His characteristic humor was alive and well throughout our visit. But here and there, he grew silent and pensive. He stood in front of this painting, Salvador Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory (1931), for a long while. (It’s quite small, isn’t it?) I wandered away from him, exploring the entire gallery. When I circled back he was still there. So I snuck a photo while he was engrossed in his memories.

Chagall I and the VillageWe stopped together in front of I and the Village (1911) Marc Chagall. More memories—and our own internal worlds. It is striking—its bright colors and whimsical imagery, the stories, the movement, and the worlds only possible for most in dreams and childhood.

Mme KrupkaI always forget about this one: Mme Kupka among verticals (1910-11) by František Kupka. My art teacher always warned against attempting to define or name shapes in abstract paintings. But in this case…Look, Professor! There really is a face in there!

Visiting a museum is more than the artwork we are seeing. It’s the sound of footfalls all around you, the muffled voices (well, usually), the shiny wood floors, the perfectly-placed lighting, the curation, the memories and thoughts the pieces invoke, and the people with whom you are sharing the experience—friends and strangers. For each of us, it is our museum, our painting, our tiny universe. In a way, we are part of the exhibit, a collection of works inadvertently curated by us and our interaction with the paintings and with each other. We are all, in a manner of speaking, owners of the art and the museum itself, a work of art and an artist. There’s something to think about next time you’re in a crowded museum.

Looking for NYC’s Magic – Every Once in a While

broadway_nycThis past week I had the good fortune to see a matinee of Once on Broadway. I was back and forth about going. When you tell people you live in New York City many of them automatically assume that you go to Broadway shows all of the time. Unfortunately, most of us don’t go often enough. They’re, well, expensive, so we wait for people to visit us to justify the expense and call it a “special occasion.” Not to mention that as glamorous as Broadway and the Theatre District may seem from afar, it’s an area that most of us who live here avoid like the plague.

Life in NYC ain’t all that glamorous, folks, but it has its magical moments. If we allow them to happen. And look for them.

The tickets were surprisingly affordable, and since I had seen the film, I already knew that I would enjoy it. How could I say no? I’m really glad I didn’t. I’ll spare you the review since I’m no theatre critic. Once has won numerous Tony Awards and accolades. It’s a lovely story, and the music is goosebump-inducing. Boom! There you go. Go see it. The last performance is January 2015. What I’m talking about here is magical moments.

Not-so-glamorous

I had to work in the morning. The train was crowded, as usual. I walked from Grand Central to my freelance gig at a hurried pace while scarfing down my breakfast, like I do every morning. After a few hours I had to leave to go across town. For the readers who don’t live here, this is a short, but dreaded journey. If you look at a map of Manhattan, you will note that it is quite small (only 2.3 miles wide at its widest point). However, navigating from one side of it to the other is a bit problematic and time-consuming. And there’s never enough time.

Unhealthy lunch in hand, I scarfed it down as I walked to the train station on the other side of town. (Lots of scarfing going on early that day.) I encountered numerous tourists, their eyes wide at seeing the wonders of the city–my city–for the first time. I encountered still more after I got off the train in Times Square, another place we residents avoid like the plague. A few blocks uptown and I was on 48th Street standing in front of the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.

Finally, I was able to take a breath and have a look at my surroundings while I awaited my friends. Surprise, surprise—a New Yorker with a little time to spare.

“I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” —Oscar Wilde

Glamorous

I took it all in… as a spectator in the theatre that is my city.

  • The theatres: they look so tiny from the outside, but they hold within them giants of tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral,… (etc.).
  • The people: Wednesday is matinee day for many Broadway theatres, so the street was crowded with tourists and NYC residents alike, all of them wearing that same expression of excitement and anticipation.
  • The celebrities (also people): stand around long enough and you’re bound to see a player on his or her way to a performance. On this day, it was Once cast member Scott Stangland. I also saw Wallace Shawn, and Matthew Broderick. No, I did not yell “Bueller! Bueller!” but was, of course, tempted. In NYC we see lots of celebrities, and we treat them like everyone else—we ignore them. And that’s just the way they like it.
  • The hustle and the bustle: from my vantage point on the sidewalk and as someone with time to spare, I was able to observe the chaotic motion from without. A swirling mass of movement is much more fascinating when you’re not caught up in it, and I was miles away, or a few feet, at least.

A Pause for Magic and Gratitude

I was soon joined by one of my companions, my friend’s sister, whom I had never before met. She greeted me with a bright smile, and I was immediately comfortable. My friend and I had been trying to get together for about a month, but our plans were repeatedly thwarted by conflicts, one of which was nearly tragic. He would be joining us later, meaning he was fashionably late. As always. The doors to the theatre now closed, we left the other two tickets at the box office and went inside. It was pitch black, and I was certain that I would make a show-stopping fall, but after some fumbling, we found our seats. Just as the first number ended, our two friends made it, a little out of breath, and after a few quick waves, we settled in to enjoy the show.

It snapped me out of my reverie, but it stuck there in the back of my mind as I watched. How lucky I am to live in this great city that gives me the opportunity to not only observe but to be a part of its chaos (glamorous and otherwise), to have a spare moment, to be able to experience theatre, and to be with friends.

Finale

Once was lovely, as previously mentioned. But it was the experience as a whole that made for a magical day: the getting there, the anticipation, everything I observed, the meeting of friends, and our excitement about the show. When the show ended, we talked about it briefly. It was time to go back to hurrying and playing the role of a New Yorker. Two had to be at work, and the other two of us were on our way downtown (and once again across town) for something to eat. On our way back through Times Square, we rushed through the human obstacle course (aka the sidewalk), and then we shoved ourselves into a crowded train.

We were now in the Flatiron district, one of my favorite areas of the city, with its Beaux-Arts style of architecture, green spaces, and assortment of restaurants. The food and drink were delicious and the atmosphere dynamic (CraftBar). We ate and drank and talked and laughed. And there it was again—the magic of the human experience.

Admittedly, we New Yorkers are a bit jaded. We’ve seen it all, or at least act like it most of the time. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. As a resident of any city or town, in fact, we are likely unimpressed by our surroundings. We go about our routines and ignore what is right in front of us. But there is always something to see. Sometimes it’s a big event, but more often than not, it’s the quotidian, the tiniest thing, that’s magical. We need only look for it, to allow ourselves to enjoy it, and to share it with the other players in the theatre of life. Every once in a while.

Thinking About Critique – Destroying Ideas or Creating Solutions?

Fountain by Marcel DuchampWhen performing a critique, we often focus on the negative aspects of being critical. A critical eye will discern not only what is not working but what is. It’s not just what we don’t like, not simply an opinion but an informed opinion, one that asks questions as much as it gives answers. Critique is about having a conversation that contributes to the creative process.

Critique, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary:
a detailed analysis and assessment of something, especially a literary, philosophical, or political theory

How can we be effective (constructive) critics? Some suggestions:

  • Understand the form. Have a good understanding of the form and structure as well as the basic elements involved in the form of expression. What is the form of a song? What are the elements of fiction, an essay, a film? What makes a good play in a game?
  • Know your history. What is the history of the form itself? Of the artist, actor, musician, writer, etc.? How has the form evolved over time? How have historical events affected the form?
  • Describe the work. If the work is a painting, you will include color, composition, media, technique, emphasis, repetition, etc. If you are describing a literary work, provide a summary of the work, a discussion about the characters and their relationships, setting, and genre. If the work is a film, you will include elements of both.
  • Understand your emotions. Extreme emotional reactions such as I hated that movie! or I love this painting! are normal, and it’s fine to start out that way. However, take the time to discover why you have such strong feelings.
  • Ask questions. Critique is as much about asking questions as it is about responding to something. What works about it? What doesn’t? Why? The photo above is an excellent example about understanding our emotions. Photographed by Alfred Stieglitz, Fountain (1917) is attributed to Marcel Duchamp.
    How do you feel about it as art? “It’s a friggin’ inverted urinal!” is the most common response. However, Duchamp, the ultimate anti-artist, had the intention of making a statement about art—art as a thought process and not simply an aesthetic one. Does Fountain, then, work as a statement about art?
  • Perform an analysis. An analysis will often consider the effectiveness of the work from a specified criteria. For example, George Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize winning realist novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939) explores the experiences of a family of tenant farmers during the Great Depression. In order to compose an analysis, we can look at the novel from a historical, economic, or environmental perspective―or all of the above. We can also explore Steinbeck’s ability to portray the period in a realistic manner as the genre he utilizes is realism.
  • Make a sandwich. The sandwich method is recommended for just about any conversation—work, relationships, etc.: start off with a positive, address the negative, and end on a positive. It makes critique a little easier to swallow and our audience more receptive.
  • Formulate an informed opinion. Ready? It’s not about you. It’s about the work and your ability to present an effective argument about its faults and merits.

It’s easy to attack and destroy an act of creation. It’s a lot more difficult to perform one. —Chuck Palahniuk

  • Be respectful. Recognize that whether you like something or not, someone probably put some work into it. A novelist friend of mine once told me: “It really gets under my skin when people say things like ‘I could write a better book than that,’ but they’ve never actually tried to write a novel. It’s painstaking, time-consuming work.” Think you could do it better? Could you write a better novel, direct a better film, sing that song better, play a better game, bake a tastier cake? So do it. Let’s see what you got.
  • Make Appointments with Your Inner Critic. It wouldn’t be fair of me to discuss critique without discussing how vicious we can be in critiquing ourselves. Our responses to any creative work are entirely subjective, regardless of our attempts to be objective. It’s especially difficult for us to be objective about our own work. There is perhaps no one as lacking in subjectivity as one’s inner critic. But that inner critic is useful—at the right moment. My technique: I don’t attempt to silence my inner critic—I make an appointment with her. “I’m writing on Monday and editing on Tuesday. I can really use your help tomorrow. How does ten work for you?” Respecting the strengths and talents of our inner critics can give us more productive results.

There it is again—critique is also about being productive, constructive, and other -ives. An effective critique moves us forward, makes the next book more engaging, the next cake more delicious, the next experience more satisfying. It can be used to destroy and kill ideas or to create and give birth to them. Which of those two actions seems the most logical choice?

Do you have some constructive critique you’d like to share? Leave a comment.

Image source: Wikipedia

Thinking About Listening – I Hear You Loud and Clear

I once took a class entitled “Oral Communication.” The specific thing that I remember above all others is that we only hear about 25% of what other people are saying. It turns out that it’s even less than that.

We hear only half of what is said to us, understand only half of that, believe only half of that, and remember only half of that. *

So, let’s do that math: half of 50% (hear) = 25% (understand); half of that = 12.5% (believe); half of that = 6.25% (remember). What??!!!

infographic_listening

I don’t guess any of us should be surprised by these numbers. Think about the last time you really needed to be heard and it didn’t turn out as hoped for or expected.

Something wonderful happened and you wanted to share it. You tell someone you consider a friend your news and they say Great! and quickly move onto another unrelated subject. You’re standing there thinking Hey! Wait! This was really special. It deserves some kind of major acknowledgement. Maybe musical fanfare? Confetti? Anything? (tapping microphone) Is this thing on?

Or maybe it was at the other end of the spectrum—you experienced something traumatic and needed to share it. You pick up the phone and call the person you think will most likely understand. Maybe they barely hear what you’re saying, or they one-up you. They’ve experienced far, far worse. Or maybe they just start talking about what they ate for dinner. In any case, you’re diminished.

The art of conversation is the art of hearing as well as of being heard. ―William Hazlitt, Selected Essays, 1778-1830

Most of us are not good listeners. We are not active listeners. We hear a few words here and there but miss the full meaning of what we are being told. We’re all guilty of this at one time or another. And yet, we all want to be heard.

When we’re not actively listening, we’re not just telling people that we don’t care about what they’re saying, we’re signaling that we don’t care about them. Oops. That’s kind of a biggie. Of course we care, we’re just a little distracted.

And speaking of distractions, we have to be conscious of our listener. We may need to be heard, but it takes two to tango in conversation. Maybe our friend is super busy at the moment we call, had a terrible day, or is simply not a good listener (in which case, call someone else―really). Conversing also involves listening and paying attention to the needs and abilities of our listener. It’s a continuous exchange of information. In other words, we need to listen in order to be heard.

When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen. ―Ernest Hemingway

How, then, can we become better listeners? There are various methods we can find in books, online, etc., that are very helpful and instructive. (Google “active listening.”) There are plenty of experts out there who can help us to be better listeners. What I’m proposing is that we think about our listening, that we be conscious of it. We all drift off sometimes, and that’s okay. Just don’t forget to come back.

Can you hear me now? Good. (Sorry–I had to.)

*Source: Kathy Walker et. al, “Communication Basics,” LEADS Curriculum Notebook Unit II, Module 2-1 (Kansas State University, 2002), 2

Eating Like a Regular – In Praise of The Dog and Duck

Dog and DuckLast night, I decided that I needed a burger. I needed one. Never mind that the fridge is full. I can always cook that eggplant tomorrow, right?

My favorite place to get a burger is my neighborhood pub, make that gastropub, The Dog and Duck. Co-owned by James Dolan and Chef Padraigh Connolly, it is located on tree-lined Skillman Avenue in Sunnyside, Queens. It boasts a seasonal menu of diverse cuisines, and ingredients that are locally-sourced are utilized in every dish.

You can dine in the elegant and inviting dining room (lots of booths and natural light), at the bar, or al fresco. Nightly live music (save Fridays)—Irish on Sundays and bluesy jazz otherwise—adds to the convivial atmosphere. The bar is open until 4:00 am and the kitchen until 11:00 pm. According to the manager (and sometimes bartender) Patrick, the kitchen will soon be open (in the coming months) until 1:00 am for late-night snacks.

Chicken sandwich Dog and DuckI’ve sampled various items from the lunch, brunch, and dinner menus. On this particular evening, I tried the Chicken Sandwich with chipotle mayo (left) at the suggestion of the head waiter Alan. It was messy, crunchy, and delicious. I never have room for dessert, but the selection is pretty mouth-watering. Some D&D signature dishes that I’ve not yet had the chance to sample include the Braised Lamb Shank, Duck Confit with wild mushrooms, and the Scallops Gratinee.

In addition to my favorite pub beverage, a pint of Guinness (expertly poured here), they also have seasonal cocktails crafted by Andy, mixologist, bartender, and world traveler. He utilizes fresh, simple ingredients to create rich, complex flavors and makes creative variations on traditional cocktails. They have fourteen(!) draft beers that rotate seasonally, along with a pretty large selection of bottled beers. Their wine list is pretty good and pairs well with the food. It features domestic wines, as well as wines from Italy, France, Spain, and Argentina. They also recently added a few from New Zealand.

Burger dog and duck

But let’s get back to the burgers…

All of the dishes I’ve tried have been really tasty, but I can’t stay away from their burgers. A customer once confided in a loud whisper that he suspects that The Dog and Duck burgers may contain some addictive substance. I am inclined to agree with him. They’re juicy and cooked to perfection, and I also strongly suggest that you have them with the crispy hand-cut fries.

There are three burgers from which to choose:

  1. Cheddar-Bacon Burger (pictured)
  2. Duck and Duck Burger with caramelized onion and fois gras
  3. Bison “Monte Christo” Burger with ham and gruyère

What keeps me coming back…

It’s not just the burgers that keep me coming back, though. It’s the people. The moment you walk through the door, the staff will greet you with smiles, and your seating and food preferences will be accommodated.

And here’s something that’s really important in a neighborhood pub: they’re welcoming no matter what, but come back two or three times and you’ll be a regular. This is the place that I mentioned in an earlier post Thinking About My Diverse Community – New York City – A Bunch of Small Towns, in which the manager Patrick introduced himself. He knows the names of many of his regular customers and our interests. Regardless of how busy he is, he always makes time for you (like today when I stopped by to ask a few questions for this post). You’re probably thinking That’s what managers/bartenders are supposed to do. Exactly.

Andy and Alan, too, introduced themselves and make time to chat about the food, the weather, or whatever. The rest of the staff—Hector, Shannon, Matt, Audrey, Christian, et al—are experts at making you feel at home. And finally, the co-owners are usually around and will likely give you a warm grin as you enter and a thank you as you leave. Think community.

Guinness PintThe clientele isn’t bad either. You can expect friendly conversation if you sit at the bar—it’s a pub, people. However, if you want to be left alone, that’s okay too. I don’t recommend it, though. You’ll meet some pretty interesting people from all walks of life, and they will likely make you laugh. As a rule, I don’t go to bars by myself (I’m a lady!), but I feel very comfortable here.

Sunnyside is delightfully peppered with numerous restaurants serving delicious, authentic food, and I gladly sing the praises of many of them. I highly recommend that you make yourself a regular at least one of them, especially The Dog and Duck. Just leave some space for me, please. I might need a burger.

 

Thinking About My Diverse Community – New York City – A Bunch of Small Towns

20140702-161443-58483788.jpg

Mention that you live in New York City to anyone who doesn’t live here, and they’ll likely believe that you live in a city of cold, unfriendly strangers. Sometimes, yes, people are rude, mean, and every New Yorker’s favorite nuts, and we treasure our anonymity. However, we live in small unique communities that are part of this great city.

I’m lucky enough to live in Queens, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the world. How cool is that? Here I have the fortune of coming into contact with people from all over the world. On a daily basis I encounter various languages, cultures, and cuisines. They’re people from all walks of life who are pretty amazing with a lot to share, even if it’s just a smile or a hello.

When I walk the two blocks from the subway to my apartment, it’s a rare occasion that I don’t run into someone who says hello and stops to talk–neighbors, friends from college, business owners and their employees, and people I see on my commute.

Practically everyone I encounter is from a different culture with a different point of view, a way of seeing the world. A conversation with them about the simplest thing can have me saying “Hmm…I never thought of it that way.” We don’t always agree, but that’s okay. The world is more fun because of varied perspectives. And delicious–the food here is outrageously good.

For all of our peculiarities, here we are living in the same neighborhood. We take the same subway, work, live in the same buildings, care about our families and friends, etc. We share similarities and differences, but that’s exactly what makes these encounters so interesting.

Finding out what connects us, revelling in our differences; this is the process that brings us closer, that gives us a world of shared values, of meaningful community.
― Bell Hooks, Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope

I just wanted to state it for the record: NYC equals New York City, and it also equals New York Communities. For those of you who live outside of New York City, it ain’t all bad, and those of you who do, I’m telling you what you already know–we live in a great city.

I truly appreciate my unique fellow Queens residents: the people at my grocery store who let me practice Spanish, the Irish guy at the pub who shook my hand the other night and introduced himself (he gave me a shot of bourbon so he might be my favorite), my friends (Korean, German, and Latina) at Starbucks who make my iced double tall nonfat latte before I’ve finished ordering it, and my neighbors who allow me to stutter in French with them occasionally.

You make our little neighborhood a rich community, and you make my little life interesting.