It’s that time of year, when only the locals are out, doing what they do best. Shot with point & shoot, unfortunately. But sand is the worst thing ever to happen to a SLR.
In less than ten minutes Lukas, a pro-snowboarder turned filmmaker from Vermont, somehow captures the essence of Brighton and Russian relationship dynamics (leave and come back, anyone?). It’s almost amazing. Inna is in the red dress, and her own father plays her father in the short. Watch.
Lukas was my student while he was at Columbia. Last spring he asked me if I knew any Russian actors for one of his shorts. I did, and told Danchik’s Inna about it. The short was meant to be filmed out in the Rockaways, but the location had to be changed to Brighton. Perfectly so.
At some point when filming, Lukas asked Inna how we knew each other and Inna replied, “We share the same boyfriend.”
Lukas was intrigued. I can just picture his expression, head slightly lifted, eyes sparkling, mouth open in “ahHHhh.”
“Uh, not exactly,” I laughed, much later. Definitely meaning was confused in her translation.
Initially Inna did not get why I connected them. I explained that Danchik is now like a little brother to me. I love him but am not in love with him. If Danchik loves you and has for some years now, clearly I love you, too. And why not introduce one amazing artist to another? (I’m not being douchey. They are amazing. Watch it.)
Nevertheless, Danchik and I aren’t really speaking at the moment. He’s annoyed with me for reasons I find mysterious and tiring, and I’m annoyed with him. Danchik can be an asshole. He knows it. He owns it. Unlike most people, he doesn’t pretend to be a good person, nor does he need to rely on such pretense as a mode of seduction. Yet he can be a very, very good person. I admit my acceptance was based on his not being an asshole to me, or in front of me, and recently he was. And I was offended. Whatever. I’m over it.
Seeing Inna fanned my current frustration about people, relationships, and how we view the world. We live in such little boxes of thought and expectation that we do not really perceive or understand the world around us. Inna and I discussed Russian men and American men, the pros and cons of each, and I admit I see her relationship with Danchik as being completely Russian in its patience and execution. My lack of this “womanly” patience (yes, to my American view, doormattery) is inherently why Danchik is annoyed with me. Yet it’s our difference and we won’t talk about it. We will let time heal us or we won’t.
Now, we will size life up as it fits our stories, not ever pulling our projections off the world to see it as it is. It is exhausting and the root of all misery. Danchik probably does not know or care that I am annoyed with him, and I am exhausted by his story around why he is annoyed with me. We are so attached to THE WAY WE SEE, the way we think and understand (not least because it is how we define ourselves), that we don’t give life a chance.
How to stop? Dunno. I think I’ll watch this for the 41st time for clues and comfort.
And this too, more kind of unbelievable student magic in film art & yoga: Purva’s Kumaré opens this week at IFC. How am I so lucky as to have such amazing people in my classroom and life? The list goes on and on. At risk of wanking, I will say I am hugely grateful. I never wanted to teach yoga, but it’s brought me the best of everything.
This installment gets into favorite treks, neighborhoods, and a few sites. I’ll add photos tonight, as (surprise!) I’m having troubles accessing them through scancafe. (The box of images and DVDs was returned today. I’ll see them tonight!)
♥ Coney Island to Brighton Beach. This walk is one of my favorites. I drag friends out here and show them Coney (pictured above), then take them down the boardwalk to Little Odessa, where Russians (and other ex-Soviets) have made their home. In the winter, the old ladies sit on benches in their furs and kvetch about their children. In the summer, everyone frolics in the sea, while Russo-Brooklyn’s finest drink beers in the boardwalk cafés, e.g. Tatiana, and stare. Then it’s to some bookstores and shops on Brighton Beach Avenue, and lunch or dinner at Gina’s Cafe or Cafe Glechik. Neither have great food, but Gina’s has that post-Soviet wanna-be-hip cafe ambiance that will make a traveler nostalgic, and Glechik is typical heavy Russian fare. It’s BYO, so grab $2 Baltika beers in the Pakistani Deli next door. The neighborhood feels more like the ex-Soviet Union than Russia does, because the immigrants have hung on to what feels like home, for better or worse. If you’re seeking the Russian gangster experience, head for one of the restaurant nightclubs, like Odessa or National (pictured below). The dancing, costumes, and shows are totally over the top. Это здорово. Bring lots of cash. Far too many born and bred New Yorkers have not had this experience. What a shame.
♥ Astoria. In 1999-2000, I lived on 33rd Ave, near 29th St and Broadway in Astoria. I loved it there. Astoria is known for its Greek community, but also has lots of Eastern Europeans (especially Bosnians) and Egyptians, which makes for a lively stroll through the neighborhood. There are great Greek cafes and lots of good Thai, Egyptian, and Colombian places. A favorite is Uncle George’s, on Broadway, a grungy Greek taverna open 24/7. No coffee is served. Neither is breakfast. Just the regular, greasy, lamb-laden menu all around the clock. (Touristy? How many “fodor’s-lugging tourists” trek out to Queens?) They serve extremely garlicky fare, with cheap carafes of house wine. The food is certainly not refined, but the experience is very Astoria, and good fun. Another favorite Euro-Astoria experience: Zlata Praha, for Slovak and Czech food and décor.
♥ On at least one occasion I walked from Astoria to Jackson Heights, to get a feel for Queens. I also adore Jackson Heights, though I recommend taking the train over walking. Some Indian friends refuse to go because it’s “dirty,” but I love the trip out to eat, shop, and enjoy. The main strip is full of South Asian restaurants, sari boutiques, jewelry stores (gold, lots of gold), music shops, and sweet stalls. There’s a huge grocery store, Patel Brothers, with great bargains on rice, spices, tiger biscuits, you name it. My favorite restaurant closed, so try your luck where you may.
♥ Staten Island Ferry to Little Sri Lanka. This is a more recent favorite. The Staten Island Ferry is delightful. I take visitors on it at least four times a year. It was always a bit of a drag in Staten Island, because the turnaround often meant an annoying wait in a nasty room, but the terminals have been refurbished on both sides, making the journey more pleasant. And I’ve found San Rasa, a Sri Lankan restaurant that’s a 10-minute walk from the Ferry. There’s a Sri Lankan neighborhood with more groceries and restaurants a further 10-minute walk up Victory Street (around Cebra St). That makes for a long return, so I usually stick with San Rasa. If you want to try Sri Lankan food, which well-prepared is amazing, without the trek, Sigiri in the East Village is worth a visit. Both are B.Y.O.
♥ Fort Tryon Park/Cloisters. If you want a break from the city but can’t make it out of town, take the A train up to Fort Tryon Park. The gardens have faded over the last few years, but the views of the Hudson River and the Palisades are stunning, and the air feels cleaner here than further downtown. The Cloisters (part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) are a quiet, gorgeous escape from the bustle of Manhattan. There are plenty of cafes around for lunch—New Leaf in the park, and a few on 187th Street. Or grab some sandwiches at Frank’s Market and have a picnic in the park.
Okay, long enough. The third and last part of “I <3 NY” will mention the obligatory NY cultural faves as well as our biggest draw, NY moments.