Book Review — Vanishing New York

Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul
Jeremiah Moss

Hyper-gentrification. It’s happening in nearly every city, in varying degrees. Currently, there is almost zero affordable housing in most major cities around the globe, with New York probably being the worst scenario.

Starting with the East Village, Jeremiah Moss, creator of a blog by the same title, moves through the various neighbourhoods of Manhatten and Brooklyn, outlining the efforts made to push out the poor, the artists, the gay communities, in order to make way for condos for the wealthy, where they don’t even actually live, but allow the places to sit empty.

An ongoing process of pushing out the poor by various means (luring the “acceptable ethnics” — Irish Catholics, Jews, Italians — to the predominantly WASPish suburbs) and cutting down existing services to “redlined” neighbourhoods to make living there miserable, was the MO for mayors whose goal was to turn a city that was all about the different cultures, artists and weirdo, into a sleek, Disneyfied place for rich white folks and tourists. There is real evidence of white supremacy at work as these efforts predominantly targeted Blacks and Puerto Ricans.

Reading Vanishing New York, I see a lot of Toronto in these scenarios, although we still manage to keep many of our most unique neighbourhoods intact (Kensington Market, for instance, where residents have vehemently fought gentrification), although the flight to the suburbs is real, and areas such as Chinatown and Little India are shells of their former vibrancy.

Moss has been accused of being overly-nostalgic, and there were situations in the book that felt over-inflated to prove a point, even if they are true.

The trick for everyone, Moss included, is to find the line. We are all gentrifiers. If you went to New York, or any other city, from somewhere else, if you enjoy a craft beer, some artisanal pickles or have recently started buying music on vinyl, you might be part of the problem. And while some people might long for the energy and brashness of the East Village in the 70s, I doubt anybody misses being mugged.

A great analysis of how New York City is changing, but Moss might be too invested in his topic.

 

The People the Internet Forgot

For people of my generation or younger, basically anyone born in the mid-60s or later, it is expected that we all have some level of internet presence. Whether it’s a Twitter or Facebook account, or a history of posts made back in the days of usenet, our activity, our lives, has all been documented. Facebook’s Timeline even encourages people to go back and add photos and events from their pre-Facebook years to create a full picture. Pretty much everything we do is documented in some way.

But the generations before us, from the Boomers back, do not really exist online unless someone else puts them there. Either through genealogy resources, or someone who has taken the time to post old stories and photos, unless people are really famous (and thus deserving of continued adoration), we have no recollection of them other than our own memories.

I’ve been thinking of this recently because I’ve been trying to track down anything I can find about someone I used to know – someone who should, by rights, be famous enough to warrant some historical respect – but the internet continually tells me No.

Continue reading “The People the Internet Forgot”

Lucky Dip – Monday, February 27th, 2012

In Toronto:

Kensington Market icon European Quality Meats and Sausages (176 Baldwin Avenue) will be closing down on April 7th. Full story at the Toronto Star.

Also in Kensington, Thirsty and Miserable has opened at 197 Baldwin Street. With a “culinary team” listed as Swansen and Deep Freeze, maybe don’t go expecting anything more than booze and great local craft beer.

Chef Greg Couillard is back in town, serving up Nonya cuisine tonight at The Depanneur (1033 College Street). There were still tickets left as of this morning.  Couillard revealed to guests at last night’s dinner (which was fantastic!) that he plans to open a restaurant in Toronto’s west end, to be called Pink Slip. He’s also doing a guest stint from March 4- 6th at the Fox and Fiddle at Cityplace (25-17 Fort York Boulevard). (Yeah, I know, but that’s what the man said.)

Continue reading “Lucky Dip – Monday, February 27th, 2012”

Chili Willies

I am not normally squicked by bugs. I wear a beetle in resin as a pendant, I’ve had pets that needed to be fed crickets or mealworms. And as a food writer, I’ve even had the opportunity to eat bugs on several occasions. But I’ve done so knowing full well that I was doing so, and of my own conscious choice.

For the past few months we’ve had a moth problem – those little beige moths, known to be fond of devouring precious cashmere sweaters (yes, I’m still bitter!) – but we’d rarely see more than one a day, and we could never figure out where they were coming from.

We’d had moth issues before at another residence (thus the bitterness over the cashmere), and after a particularly disturbing dip into a jar of currants with a cork stopper (the moths had burrowed through the cork and there were thousands of larvae in the bottom of the jar), pretty much all food in our house gets stored in glass jars with metal lids or plastic containers. So the current moth issue had left us frustrated and confused.

Continue reading “Chili Willies”

Clean as the New Fallen Snow

We went to the Festival of Lights Solstice parade last night. Which I guess is what you do if you’re not quite sure how else to celebrate the season but want to pay homage to nature, pre-Christian traditions or just generally like the sound of hippies banging drums. Because you can be sure that all the real Pagans and Wiccans who consider this an actual religious event were probably not standing around in Kensington Market last night watching people walk around with lanterns.

However, the idea of celebrating the Solstice is much more concrete to me than the birth of Jesus. Yes, I believe Jesus existed, but I’ve always taken umbrage with the idea that early Christians moved the celebration of his birth to coincide with Saturnalia and the Solstice to lure pagans to Christianity through the temptation of a bigger and better party. Almost all of the “traditional” Christmas traditions predate Christ.

Also, as someone who is really into food, sustainability, supporting farmers and enjoying the harvest, the Solstice as the huge year-end celebration just seems to make so much more sense. On the darkest day of the year, it is just so logical and down to earth to celebrate the returning of the sun, without which we could not survive. After a long year of harvesting, the Solstice celebration is not only a way to enjoy what has been reaped in the previous year but a way to look ahead to the the year and new crops and new conquests.

Continue reading “Clean as the New Fallen Snow”

Out of the Closet

Some people are naturally pack-rats, saving everything, dragging it with them from home to home throughout their lives. Others though, are purgers, overcome with the need to be free of the stuff they no longer use, need or love.

I’ve never seen the point of keeping “stuff”. Sure, I have a few items that I keep for sentimental reasons, but the overall quantity is small, and the pieces have real meaning. When we moved a few years ago, I took the opportunity to get rid of piles of things I knew I’d never use again – moving to a significantly smaller space, I didn’t have much choice – but I got rid of furniture and CDs and books without regret.

The only thing I sometimes regret purging with such strident rules is clothing.

Moreso than any other item we own, clothing has the power to tug at heartstrings and provoke memories. The dress you wore on a first date, a boyfriend’s favourite comfy sweater. I assume this is why brides spend tens of thousands of dollars on a wedding dress they’ll wear for a few hours and then save it in a special box, long after the marriage has dissolved.

Continue reading “Out of the Closet”

You Like Shop Chinatown?

It’s that invisible, emotional umbilical cord that ties us to our past. Chinatown, especially when it’s hot, reminds me of that day in August of 1987, when I stepped out of an airport limousine and into a different world.

The stench hit me even before the heat that day, and as long as I lived there, I wondered if I carried the smell with me; if I invaded nightclubs and restaurants perfumed with the smell of durian fruit and greasy bread and sesame oil and fish.

Today, my quick tour through Kensington Market and Chinatown is mission-based. Beads of sweat forming on the back of my neck, I want to get what I need and get out.

I don’t dally in the market, hitting the health food store and the fruit stands for what I need. It’s too hot, and I want to be home in front of a fan. On Spadina Avenue, in the crush of bodies and racks of knock-off Hello Kitty purses and cheap luggage, I move with purpose, sliding gracefully around the tourists and the delivery people pushing dollys full of boxes. Like riding a bike – this way of moving, thinking, looking up to assess the sidewalk – comes back easily. This is my ‘hood. Get out of my way.

Continue reading “You Like Shop Chinatown?”

Living Out of Boxes (of Food)

It’s been quiet in these parts, and the food has been unexciting. Too much stuff out of packages and too much stuff out of take-out containers. There’s two more weeks of this to go, and I swear, once we get moved and settled, I never want to see another frozen pizza again.

I mean, it’s not as if we’re moving far – a whole five blocks east. But it’s still easier to weed down your kitchen cupboards and buy new, rather than moving all your groceries, particularly perishables. So we’re trying to use up and clear out, which means no trips to Whole Foods, or the markets (Kensington and St. Lawrence), or swank and lovely Pusateri’s.

Instead, we eat the crap. Salads out of tubs, the ubiquitous frozen pizzas, store-bought frozen vegetarian lasagna, and many things from soy made to resemble parts of dead critters. The plan is to eat the crap for now, and once we’re in the new place, unpacked, and have had time to hit all the grocery places for fresh grub, to do a two-week detox to clear all the gunk out of our systems.

Continue reading “Living Out of Boxes (of Food)”