Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mother Cabrini

A saint lives half a block away from me in a Catholic church that holds a shrine to St. Francis Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants.  She is America's first saint, and she hersel f immigrated from Italy at the turn of the century.  She earned her sainthood by establishing hospitals and performing miracles all around the world.  In the Italian tradition of preserving important dead people, who lie embalmed in glass cases in churches scattered throughout the Motherland, St. Francis lies surrounded by artificial flowers in a glass case behind the church's altar.  Apparently the head in the case is a replica.  Her real head was sent long ago to Rome as a relic.  The church is surrounded by a high, gray stone wall.  On the wall, beside the entrance to the walkway leading up to the church, is a plaque announcing the shrine.  Floating on the plaque, St. Francis' disembodied head smiles at you.  The smile is gentle, the eyes weary.  The picture is black and white, ghostly.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Admiral

The Admiral has recently appeared in my neighborhood.  He wears navy blue spats and black boots laced to just below his knees.  Two rows of shiny brass buttons gallop up and down his short, tightly fitted military jacket.  A navy blue visored cap, made comical by three inches extra height, sits angled above his brow.  He walks slowly and deliberately, swinging a walking stick by his side.  With his head pointed regally ahead, he walks as if he were the chief of police keeping the neighborhood safe from ruffians.  Or people who might spoil his freedom to remain The Admiral.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Overheard Dinner Conversation

The other night I went to dinner at Bleu Evolution.  The evening was warm, the sky clear blue.  The restaurant's back garden had just opened for the season.  The grape vines had just begun to unfurl new leaves on the overhead trellis.  Halfway through my meal, three men sat down at the table next to me.  They were a German, a Mexican, and an American.  Within minutes, the American began a right-wing political tirade. He said that American culture is superior to Mexican culture, that illegal immigrants are disrespecting US laws and taking our jobs, that all Mexican immigrants should have a green card before being allowed in the country.  I wondered, did the American know nothing about immigration quotas, how hard it is to get a visa let alone a green card, how most people need enough money for lawyers in order to get the paper work together, that many Mexicans who enter the country illegaly work exploitative jobs for less than minimum wage, jobs that most Americans wouldn't deign to work.  Did the man not know that just a few blocks away in this neighborhood live Dominican families ten to fifteen to a room because that's all they can afford.  The man knew nothing of immigrant life, yet he was saying Americans are superior.  The German remained mute.  The Mexican tried  to talk some sense into the man, who hurtled personal insults at the Mexican.  Then American had the gall to wink at me.  He was fat and ugly, with two double chins.  I shook my head and tried to ignore him.  But my dinner had been ruined.  I broke into their conversation and told the man that he needed to stop blaming others and take a good hard look at himself.  Like most abusive narcissists faced with the truth about themselves, he next attacked me, calling me emotional.  I asked for the check and left.  On the way out, I asked one of the waiters, a small, shy man from Ecuador who is always friendly to me, how he could stand such talk. He said with a knowing smile which proved him to be the bigger man, we don't listen to it.  Good advice, with racist biggots as well as with other unsavory people.   

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Curbside Book Store

At W181st street the road curves down a steep hill toward the Hudson.  Midway down the hill and across from Cabrini Wines, a Dominican man sells books every day except Sundays and when it rains.  His books always flank the sidewalk in orderly columns, tantalizing me with stories of far off places.  Curbside books stores dot Manhattan, but this one's my favorite.  It's different from the others.  For one, the books are $1 each.  Hard to find a better bargain.  For another, the man sells quality:  Shakespeare, Ibsen, Charlotte Bronte, Gore Vidal, Joseph Conrad.  Most of the other sidewalk booksellers have sold out to mass market NY Times best sellers, the same weepy story packaged under eye catching covers.  But the man peddling Shakespeare on W181st St is my hero of the day.  I can't say what accounts for the difference in inventory-- maybe the population up here feels less pressure to keep up with the Joneses?  Today, the Pooch and I had finished our run (we are geting back into shape-- he laid down and refused to go any farther.  He had put in a good effort so I gave in).  We trudged up 181st.  I had a few dollars in my pocket destined for the bookseller.  While Pooch panted for dear life, I bought two books by Graham Greene, "Songlines" by Bruce Chatwin, and "The Year of Living Dangerously" by Christopher Koch.  Now we will go into the Heather Garden, find a shady tree, and read until sunset.  I can't think of a better way to spend a Saturday.