Thursday, August 10, 2006

Brooklyn destinations.

The first thing I did when I woke up yesterday was find a place to upload a blog entry. I've learned not to rely on finding an internet cafe. We drove to the Brighton Beach branch of the Brooklyn Public library. There I was able to rush through a thirty minute entry before someone else took my place from the queue. Brighton Beach is truly unlike any neighborhood I have ever been in. It is referred to as "Little Odessa", in honor of the Russian city with which it shares its spirit. The main street of the business district is in the shadow of the el train that proceeds directly overhead. It looks simultaneously like a thriving market district, complete with signs in the Russian language, and a location for shady transactions. I loved it. We found an authentic Russian cafe, and I partook liberally (for the first time) of their culturally distinct cuisine.

We also paid a visit to the Brooklyn Museum of Art. This institution's collection rests heavily on antiquities from Egypt, Africa and Europe. There is a floor devoted to tracing the development of American art, but it wasn't very impressive in presentation or content. Perhaps most dubious was the temporary exhibit of graffitti. Twenty-two pieces on canvas by "well-known" NYC street artists are on display. Truthfully, taken out of their usual context, they just didn't work. Rudy Guliani might be happy about its displacement, but I am most assuredly not.

One intriguing aspect of the Brooklyn Museum that I hadn't seen before was the concept of "viewable storage". Of course any large museum has holdings that it simply cannot present due to time and space considerations. The Brooklyn has a dimly-lit section that visitors can walk through and view pieces jumbled together in glass enclosures. You don't get any of the usual commentary or contextual information, but the experience has a very intimate quality to it. I wish the Carnegie would do something similar.

When we were through with the museum, we drove down busy Flatbush Avenue to Coney Island. The boardwalk section was smaller and less seedy than I had expected. I wandered through Astroland snapping shots of the amusements. I decided to waste four bucks going through a dark ride. I noticed in a photo I snapped of the animated spooks that one female specimen was bare-breasted. They sneak that right by the kiddies! The Coney Island spirit has not died- but Coney has definitely been through rough times. There are still remnants of the old Coney crumbling into the past. I ate some Nathan's hot dogs and took in the atmosphere. I even spotted a fat dwarf.

One exceptional thing Coney does have is the Coney Island Circus Sideshow. Unfortunately it only plays the full ten-in-one on weekends. There were four young performers plying traditional "working acts". Insectina's fire swallowing act was very alluring, and Serpentina's snake dance was just as sexy as one would expect. The blow-off, which we viewed halfway through our time there (because the show goes on continously throughout the day), costs $1 and consists of... never mind... you'll just have to see it for yourself. The German Diamond Donny, the "Inflatable Boy", stuck his head in a surgical glove and blew it up through his nose until it popped. He set off a small bear trap with his hand, and a mousetrap on his tongue. Then of course, there were the traditional blade box and human blockhead acts. Even though they don't allow photographs, I was happy to support the efforts of the performers and Dick Zigun, who has worked hard to restore the magic of Coney Island. I went as far as buying a $25 shirt.

Our day was concluded with a trip to Williamsburg... the trendy Brooklyn area. Gentrification has brought its pre-yuppie bling full-force in this area. Granted our visit was at night, so it was hard to tell... but judging by the youngish WASP-y looking folks on the street, Williamsburg is no longer a haven for artists- but rather for art-style and the consumption of the newly-monied. Still, young artists are certainly still showing their work there... all kinds of "important" galleries are in the neighborhood. I hope to see some of them, but unfortunately many are only open during the weekends.

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