The One With the Garden

He who has a garden and a library wants for nothing.  ~Cicero

I do not have a garden, yet I have watched more than my share of gardening television shows and had lengthy conversations with my neighbor, who is a landscape architect, about how much to water gerberas. I just finished a book written by the head gardener at Versailles who spent nearly 300 pages describing his love affair with the “world’s grandest garden.” As someone who has little knowledge about flora, I am continually fascinated that you can put a small seed in the dirt and within a few weeks gaze upon a purple blossom or pick a ripe tomato.

I say, “you” because I can do no such thing. Gardening is a skill I wish I possessed. I admire people who can sustain small villages with the bounty from their backyards or who can turn trees into art. I want to be this person, the one with dirty knees who smells like the earth, closer to the cycle of nature. Unfortunately the last time I tried to grow anything, every leaf withered into brown crisps within minutes.

When I need a garden fix, I go to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardena beautiful respite in the middle of the city.  Here’s what was in bloom just last week. 

 

Water Lilies

Water Lilies Brooklyn Botanic Garden

 

 

 

Water Lilies Brooklyn Botanic Garden

 

Water Lilies Brooklyn Botanic Garden

 

 

Shakespeare Garden

Shakespeare Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Plants from the plays and sonnets of William Shakespeare

Shakespeare Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground, long heath, brown furze, any thing.  ~The Tempest

Shakespeare Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Good monsieur, get you your weapons in your hand and kill me a red hipp’d bumble bee on the top of a thistle. ~A Midsummer Night’s Dream

 

The Blooms

Sunflower Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Nothing says summer like sunflowers.

 

It looks like a baby eggplant, but apparently the taste is quite bitter.

It looks like a baby eggplant, but apparently the taste is quite bitter.

 

Anyone know the name of the pink round blooms in the top half of the frame?

Anyone know the name of the pink round blooms in the top half of the frame?

 

I love the showy blooms as much as the next person, but my favorites are these oaks. Majestic.

I love the showy blooms as much as the next person, but my favorites are these oaks. Majestic.

 

Do you have a green thumb? What’s your favorite plant or tree? 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

The One With the Dosas

It’s time for another installment of Tourist in My Town. Today I’m taking you to Washington Square Park, located in the heart of the NYU campus in Greenwich Village. Last week I went to the park for a very specific reason. But I’ll get to that in a moment. (Spoiler alert: it involved food.)

The centerpiece of the park is this arch. It was erected in 1889 to celebrate the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration as president. These days the arch is dwarfed by the buildings around it, but I imagine that it was quite imposing in its day.

If you peek through the arch you can see Fifth Avenue on the other side.  Can you believe that cars used to drive through the center?

 

Washington Square Park

Hey, no swimming allowed.

Washington Square Park

 

 

 

Washington Square Park

 

Washington Square Park

That’s the Empire State Building visible through the arch.

 

Washington Square Park isn’t your typical park in that there isn’t a huge expanse of green space or ball fields for recreational activities. So what do people do?

Play chess. They’re always ready for a game.

Washington Square Park

These guys would give Bobby Fischer a run for his money.

 

Take their dog to the dog run. While studying.

Washington Square Park

Rover, can you help me with this calculus homework? It’s a beast.

 

Listen to a jazz trio. These guys are students at NYU and perform in the park nearly every day. People applaud when they finish a set.

Washington Square Park

 

Stop and smell the flowers.

Washington Square Park

 

 

Skateboard.

Washington Square Park

It’s so much better if you do it right under the No Skateboarding sign.

 

Now, the real reason I went to Washington Square Park. This guy:

 

Washington Square Park

His name is Thiru Kumar and he operates the NY Dosa cart, a Washington Square Park institution.

Washington Square Park

There’s always a line. Always.

 

Mr. Kumar’s food has been reviewed in just about every local magazine, newspaper and website imaginable. Even Rachael Ray comes by. But the real proof is in the dosa as it were.

The grinning, thickly mustached Kumar works his small grill like a hyperactive DJ, pouring batter, spreading on curried potatoes, and sprinkling a crunchy dice of carrots and peppers (the Pondicherry masala dosa). When the batter is cooked through, Kumar folds it with an artist’s flair, effortlessly lifting the ethereally thin lentil-and-rice-flour wrapper from the grill, then chops it into sections and serves it with a gingery coconut chutney and a small tub of spicy lentil soup. ~New York Magazine

My mouth is watering just remembering how good it was.

My mouth is watering just remembering how good it was.

 

Have you been to your local park lately? 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

 

The One With the Clarinet

A man shuffled through my subway car. “Hi. My name is Sonny Payne. I’m homeless and I’m hungry,” he repeated like a mantra as he tried to dodge the standing-room-only crowd. “If you don’t have it, I can understand because I don’t have it. But if you have a dime, a nickel, or a piece of fruit, please help.” I know his spiel like I know my address.

Sonny Payne isn’t the only person on the subway asking for money. I’ve been approached by a variety of people, including but not limited to: A blind man with a white walking stick who deftly skirted around a bike messenger without missing a step. A woman who said she lost all of her belongings in a fire. Talented singers, accordion players, and doo-wop groups. Teenagers doing Le Cirque-esque tricks on the center poles. Men who outright admit that they’ll be using your donation to buy a bottle of Southern Comfort at the next bodega they stumble across.  But a long time ago I made it a policy not to give money to people on the subway.

I figured that I could just make the decision and I wouldn’t have to think about it again. This way I’d ease any guilt I might feel in the process. Because, I thought, if I gave to one, I’d be reaching into my pocket constantly for change. I’m not pretending these people don’t need my change more than I do. But if I were to break my standing rule, who gets it? Do I then have to give money to every Sonny Payne I meet or, for that matter, every time I meet Sonny Payne?

Every once in a while I start to rethink my position.  Not long ago, a man with torn clothes, but not all together unkempt came through the subway car with his baseball cap extended for donations. “Just a penny. A penny will do. A penny. A penny,” he said as if he was composing a song. At first I wasn’t moved to contribute. A woman across from me began making the standard maneuvers to find change— shifting in her seat, reaching deep into her purse. The man paused, not wanting to assume or be pushy, but anxious to move on. Time is money.

I noticed something I’ve suspected to be true, but hadn’t really brought to conscious thought before. It seems, more often than not, the people giving money don’t seem to be in a position to give. They’re not the ones carrying smart leather briefcases, tapping away on their iPhones. They’re wearing paint-splattered jeans and hard hats. Their hands are callused and scraped. Maybe the ones who appear to have less know what it’s like to need it more. The pangs of guilt I’d always hoped to avoid chimed loudly.

The man waited patiently for the woman still digging through her purse. Like someone who’d lost her keys she kept trying the same pocket over and over as if change would magically appear. The train came to a stop at the next station, his cue to move on to the next car, but she was still searching. His head hung low, maybe debating the further loss of dignity of continuing to wait while she grabbed at crumbs and empty wrappers. “That’s all right, miss. You can get me next time.” He continued down the aisle. “Just a penny. A penny will do…” By the time I considered getting my wallet, it was too late. He was on the platform, and the doors had closed.

Then yesterday morning, I’d been lucky enough to grab a seat. As many of you know, I write during my commute. I was embroiled in my latest novel when a man hopped into my subway car just as the doors closed. He was holding a clarinet. Buskers are not uncommon on the subway. Some are “sanctioned” by the transit authority through a program called Music Under New York:

Yep, she's playing a saw. And she's really good at it!

Yep, she’s playing a saw. And she’s really good at it.

 

and some are not.

They were amazing.

Amazing!

 

 

The buskers who work the train cars are typically not part of Music Under New York. That’s why they work the cars; it’s harder to get caught. The clarinet player warmed up a bit and then launched into this song:

It was a beautiful rendition, clear and crisp. He had certainly received lessons or trained for years. He swayed back and forth in time with his eyes closed. I watched him for a moment, my pen poised over the paper, and I felt a connection–a passion for the work we were creating, separately but together. We were both tapping into a creative spark, different means to the same end. He finished the song and passed through the car to collect donations.

This time I was ready. I put my change into his hat. He winked and said, “Keep on writing.”

 

Was there a time you had a change of heart? 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

The One With Napoleon

Some time ago, Reggie and I were hanging out with Little Kitty on our stoop (Reggie loves the kitties) when around the corner came an affable golden retriever with her tail swishing like a windshield wiper. When she saw Reggie and Little Kitty, she came bounding over smiling that goofy golden retriever smile.  Little Kitty ran under a car; she’s a very selective kitty.

 

Reggie and Little Kitty

Reggie and Little Kitty

Being on leash, it’s harder for Reggie to get away from the slobbery affection. He has always been afraid of big dogs which he defines as: any dog bigger than him. He also dislikes most puppies. They’re all jumpy and herky-jerky, and his goal in life is to find a warm sun spot to lie down. (Like dog, like person, I suppose.) He is a medium-size dog at forty-five pounds, so there are a fair number of dogs bigger than him, including the golden retriever in our midst.

Reggie began backing up and looking for an escape route. Not finding one he started growling to warn the golden away. Perhaps not the brightest dog ever, the golden moved closer, far ahead of her person. (I won’t get started on how much I hate the flexi-leashes.) My options to get Reggie out of that situation were now closed off. His tail went down and he gave sharp barks. It was a dog version of a panic attack. The golden’s person rolled her eyes. “God. She’s just being friendly. (To the dog) Come, Sasha. You don’t want to play with this mean dog anyway.”

Reggie Noir

Reggie Noir

I imagine parents deal with this kind of interaction regularly. I knew the golden was friendly and didn’t mean any harm, but it doesn’t matter what I think (or know) to be true. If Reggie is afraid, then he is afraid. Some people send their dogs (or children) into situations where they’re uncomfortable, a.k.a. the trial-by-fire method. If the dog or child can see firsthand that the Very Bad Thing didn’t happen, then, the theory goes, they’ll be less afraid. There were times I’d found this to be true in my own life.  But much of our fear is the irrational kind—elevators, heights, airplanes, bigger dogs, (insert your bugaboo here) and common sense doesn’t play a role.

As Reggie’s guardian, it’s my job to protect him. I want him to trust that I’m not going to put him into a bad situation. Parents will surely relate to this feeling. Dogs (and very young children, I assume) learn through repetition. If a dog has what he determines to be a bad experience, he will put up defense mechanisms to protect himself from the Very Bad Thing. I decided I would do my best to operate within Reggie’s comfort zone.

Then doubt crept into my mind.

Reggie and I passed a woman walking her chocolate lab. I’d see them occasionally and always led Reggie away from them, despite that the lab appeared calm and easy-going.

“It’s okay if they meet,” the woman called to me.

I shook my head. “He’s afraid of bigger dogs.”

“How do you know?” She shrugged and walked away.

I was a little miffed by her ridiculous question. But I began to wonder if I was doing Reggie a disservice. Maybe by trying to protect him, I wasn’t giving him the opportunity to grow. I put him into a box, labeled it, and sealed it closed. Admittedly, it was easier for me. We had the rules of the game and I didn’t have to think about it. How many times had I done that to myself? How many times had someone done that to me?

A few weeks later we ran into them again. “Why don’t you let them meet?” There was an edge of frustration in her voice.

I felt myself bristling. Who was this woman to judge me?  She hadn’t been there for all of the barking and the panting and the whining over these many months. Then Reggie took it upon himself. He wagged his tail a bit and headed toward them. She gently patted him on the head, mere inches away from her hefty 70-pound lab. Reggie sniffed the dog and returned to getting attention from the woman. I had tears in my eyes. I was so grateful to watch him put his fear behind him and sad that I very nearly could have missed it by not allowing him the opportunity to step outside the box.

I was so joyful that I didn’t mind what I knew what coming next. “See?” the woman said as she straightened and walked away.

“Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.”  ― Orhan Pamuk

Have you ever felt stuck inside a box of your or someone else’s making? 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

I still consider Reggie a DINOS (Dog in Need of Space). Not all dogs want to say “hi” to your dog and not all enjoy being petted by large or small humans. If you have a DINOS or even if you have a friendly golden retriever, check out Jessica’s fun and informative site. She says, “All dogs have a need for and a right to their own personal space. Some dogs have a stronger need for personal space then others.” Reggie gives Jessica and especially this post two paws up. :)

The One With A Cappella

It’s been said that not all who wander are lost. And then there was that thing about roads diverging in a wood.  Despite the romanticized hubbub about the benefits of being lost, I’m not buying it. I like to know where I’m going and how long it’s going to take to get there. I take the most direct route from point A to B. I’m stressed when I know where I am, but can’t figure out how to get where I need to go. (Metaphor, anyone?) I tend to get the most frustrated about getting lost when I should be the least worried about it—when I’m on vacation.

Problem is, when I get lost, it’s rarely an idyllic setting. I’m never ambling along a pretty country road with a charming farmhouse on a hill in the distance. I’m not strolling beside a classic river waving at a boat captain as a gentle breeze kisses my cheeks. No. If I’m lost, it’s in an industrial wasteland where columns of black smoke are pouring into the sky covering everything for miles in ashy soot. And it’s probably raining.

But there was one time I got lost on purpose.

I was traveling solo in Florence, Italy. It was dark, but not too late. I’d stopped at the Piazza della Repubblica for the third day in a row to get my favorite apricot cookie from the pastry shop on the corner. This was before my phone was smarter than me; I had a map and my memory to find the way back to my pensione.

The streets running through Florence’s city center might have been planned by children playing a game of pick-up sticks.  The narrow lanes run every which way and some didn’t even appear on my map. But now that I was a regular at this patisserie, I’d developed a sort of muscle memory with the route. It was a right at that handbag store, then a left, past the bank with the enormous wooden doors, then another right along the Vespa parking station, and a final left with my hotel on the corner. One wrong turn and it was all over for me. I’d be forever stuck in a cobblestone labyrinth filled with tourists wearing their backpacks on their fronts who would be of no assistance.

Then I heard the most wonderful chorus. I followed it like a hound on a scent. Down the smallest of side streets I went, trying to find the source, with no regard that I could end up roaming around Florence for eternity. Their voices echoed off the buildings making it difficult to find them, but I was determined.  If Barbra Streisand, Audra McDonald, and Judy Garland had their own glee club, this is what it would have sounded like.  For fifteen minutes, I must have walked up and down every street in the vicinity, worried the whole time that they would end their tour de force.

I made a left down a street I was sure I’d walked before, and there they were, standing in front of a shuttered shop. A small crowd had gathered in a semicircle. It was…heavenly. I found out later that the women were three American exchange students and preferred the acoustics of this street. They liked the idea that their voices floated up above the red-tiled roofs of Florence. They were sharing their art with the city.

A Cappella

Everyone can sing, but not everyone can sing well. I’m in the latter group. In fact, I’m a terrible singer. I only sing in the shower or on solo car rides so as not to inflict my Tiny Tim voice on others. Only my hairbrush knows the depths of my embarrassment. Well, my hairbrush and Reggie, who has arrived at resigned acceptance because I feed him.

Please, I beg you, make her stop.

Please, I beg you, make her stop.

 

Due to having a voice that sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard, I have a reverence for people who have this gift. It took me an hour to find my way back to my hotel that night in Florence, but I floated on their voices all the way there. Maybe I should allow myself to get sidetracked more often. Maybe I don’t always need to know where I’m going. Sometimes that’s the best way to be uniquely surprised and inspired. Sometimes it’s “not till we are lost…do we begin to find ourselves and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.”

Come to think of it, now that I have a “smart” phone, I haven’t wandered in a while.

 

When was the last time you got lost? Have a great weekend, everyone!