grey marble

July 30, 2005

A day in Astoria

I'm tired. There are two birthday parties I'm supposed to go to, but I'm thinking I might stay in. I've been out the past two nights (last night at Simone's birthday; more about that later, after she blogs about it) and I spent the day today walking around Astoria. Plus, I just bought two DVDs in Chinatown, the director's cut of Stanley Kwan's Centre Stage and Eros.

I had been planning a day or weekend in Astoria for the past month, but I've been too busy to go. I started my day at the Fisher Landau Center for Art. Just off the N train stop on 39th Avenue, the gallery is housed in a converted parachute harness factory. The three floors exhibit contemporary art in large, well-light surroundings that put the art front and center. I didn't even notice the building save for how well it exhibited the art. I spent the most time looking at the recently acquired photographs on the second floor, and admiring the very grey (and very off-limits) library on the first.

On the way out, I asked an attendant for recommendations on what to do in the area. She suggested the Museum of the Moving Image and the Noguchi Museum. I told her I had been to both fairly recently, and she recommended a falafel place on Steinway Street and a restaurant on Broadway run by a Turk with an ecclectic menu.

I thanked her and walked north to 36th Street. A street fair was in effect, more subdued and fun than the ones you find in Manhattan. A number of the usual suspects were in evidence, but then there was a stand selling stuffed churros. I watched as a man squeezed batter from a metal seive into the hot oil. Muslim women shopped the stalls, their heads covered, their dresses flowing. One child called to her father to stop and come back to a stand to buy corn. It felt early, as if the stalls had just set up and were attending to their first customers of the day; it was already nearing one in the afternoon.

I walked to Steinway and turned left. The attendant had told me that the southern end of the street had some stores, but north of Broadway, I could find better shops. And north of that was a small Egyptian area, where I could find cafes and water pipes. I walked up to 34th Street to the Steinway Salvation Army (the falafel place was closed). Reported to be the largest in the city, I flipped through its racks of men's shirts. I found a few Banana Republic shirts for six dollars, but the colors didn't suit me in the end. As I was leaving, two men were fighting over a Disney TV/DVD player set. An attendant told them that the electronics section was closed, and that the player was not yet for sale. They kept asking if there were any DVDs with which to try out the system. As I left I could hear one man making an offer.

On Broadway I turned left, heading back towards the subway and the cafe recommended by the woman from the gallery. Around 36th, I saw a church tower that looked vaguely Armenian and I walked down to check it out. In front, a girl wore a pink dress. Around her, brothers and cousins wore black tuxedos with pink bow ties. Each wore a wide brimmed black hat. Her mother tried to assemble them for a picture. One boy stood off to the side, dry heaving in the heat. A limo was parked on the curb. I waited for a bit to see the bride, but then hunger got the better of me and I continued back to Broadway.

I took a sidewalk seat at the Omonia Cafe. I couldn't remember the name of the restaurant that was recommended, but it sounded similar. The food options were limited, but desserts covered the menu. I ordered a spinach pie and thought about dessert. The pie was bigger than I had expected, however, leaving no room. I ate and paid my bill and walked north on 33rd Street to 31st Avenue, where I turned right to get back to Steinway.

Steinway had completely changed. Chain stores lined the street, from Gap to Express to Payless Shoes. I wandered aimlessly through the stores continuing up Steinway until the stores gave way to Arab groceries and then Egyptian cafes. Passing one, I could smell the strong scent of apple tobacco. Closing my eyes, I imagined Damascus around me, until the crowds and traffic brought me back to New York.

At Astoria Boulevard, I realized I had been here before. Years back, when I first reconnected with Lauren, she invited me to a birthday dinner at Mombar Egyptian Restaurant. I was still new to the city, and unfamiliar with the boroughs outside Manhattan. I took the train to almost its last stop and walked along the unfamiliar boulevard in the darkness. It seemed to take forever before I reached Steinway, though the restaurant was not far from the corner. I don't remember much about that night, save the decor and the walk, but being back on the corner brought the memories rushing back.

I followed Astoria Boulevard back towards the river until I reached 12th street. A Greek Orthodox church lorded over the corner. I turned north and found myself in the middle of Old Astoria Village, the site of a number of pre-Civil War buildings. At 26-07 12th Street, I stopped in front of the 1840's house dubbed "Tara." Its colonnaded front porch and manicured shrubs bespoke an earlier time, and I longed to walk through the front gates to see what lie within. Across the street, a modern condominium towered over the street. Its monolithic wall of balconies and glass seemed to mark the end of the world as it blocked out horizon and sky.

I kept walking north, past the condominium and out to Astoria Park. The Triborough Bridge loomed above, its towers wrapped to resemble a projected by Christo. Cars hummed overhead as I walked along the river. Another bridal party prepared for pictures. A transvestite dressed in a pink dress served as a bridesmaid. He kept looking for someone, calling out their name. "Has anyone seen —?" I passed a plaque and stopped to read about the steamboat General Slocum.

On 15 June 1904, more than 1,300 people boarded the steamship on the lower east side for an outing at Locust Grove on Long Island Sound. They departed at 9:30 am, under an air of excitement. Children jammed the upper decks to see all the sights. As the boat passed 90th street, smoke could be seen coming from below decks. People thought the flames were coming from the kitchen and paid it no mind. Attempts to put out the flames failed as the rotten hoses burst. The captain wasn't informed of the fire for a full ten minutes. By then it was too late; the fire raged out of control. The captain ordered the ship grounded as fire barges attempted to quelch the flames. Other boats that attempted to help caught fire.

Passengers donned life vests and leapt into the water. Unfortunately, they hadn't been recently examined, and the cork used for bouyancy had rotted and disintegrated. Unable to swim, most drowned. Bodies washed up on the shores of Astoria. 1,021 people had died.

A week after the disaster, President Roosevelt named a five-man commission to investigate. A scathing report was issued in October of that year placing the blame on the United States Steamboat Inspection Service. Dramatic reforms were drawn up and put into place, leading to dramatic improvements in steamboat safety. And until the events of September 11th, it was the city's greatest disaster.

After reading the plaque, I looked out over the river, and noticed the swift current that churned the water near where I stood. People lay out in the park, children called out to each other just out of sight.

I kept walking north by northeast to the edge of the park and then turned to walk back to the subway. I had arranged to meet with Lillian back in Chinatown so she could lend me the last Harry Potter book. The train was waiting when I arrived at the last stop on the N line, and as I sat in a car, I gazed down over the area, and took in a mural recently pained down below.

Tomorrow, I hope to go further into Queens, to the Hermon A. MacNeil Park in a remote northwest corner of the borough. I have my book and a blanket, and I plan to sit and read and watch as airplanes come and go from Laguardia, just a few thousand feet across the water. Posted by eugene at

July 25, 2005

Following the white rabbit

Kit tells me that Sonjia's secret power is her ability to get people who wouldn't ordinarily drink to do shots. If she were a superhero, instead of smashing her opponents she would get them smashed. And then vanquish them easily.

Saturday night, I went to the AAIFF closing night party. Hua said he was there, but had left by the time I arrived. He texted me telling me he was hoping to return. After the awards were announced, and the offical pictures taken, I found Sonjia at the bar. She was standing with Elisa. The bartender was setting up glasses on the counter. Sonjia did a quick count as he poured the drinks. "Petron," she said, handing me one. We looked for the salt. One girl picked up a shaker, but nothing came out. I looked at it and saw a switch on the base. It was a lamp. The bartender brought us the salt.

We toasted and drank. "Welcome to the family," she said as she had the bartender line up another round. She poured out the salt. More people gathered. I protested, but she put the drink in my hand. We toasted and drank. I bit into the lime. On the third round, I forwent the salt so I could take pictures. We drank. I felt fine. And then I felt very fine. Eric laughed when I told him. He asked me if my face was numb. "You're not really drunk until your face is numb," he said. I hadn't been drunk in quite some time.

We went outside to chat. Hua appeared. He and Betty had been to the Tribeca Grand for a concert. He said that everyone there was dressed too hip, and that he had to come see me drunk. I met the producer for The Motel and we chatted about films and travelling. Sonjia was trying to convince Hua to take a shot. He said he had to go home.

Back in the bar, my buzz faded. The crowd had thinned. Some friends were dancing. I stood by and watched and then the music changed and I had to join in. I said my goodbyes, but the music got better. At four, we were the last ones in the bar. We made our way outside. Diana wanted to go to another bar. I wanted to make sure I could still walk home. I bid them goodnight and made my way home.
listening to: djbc, glassbreaks
Posted by eugene at

July 21, 2005

A dream of the life I once had

This morning I woke up exhausted. At the office I did something I almost never do. Brewed myself a cup of coffee. I decided to make it a cappucino. There was no milk, but I found mint chocolate chip ice cream in the freezer. I put it in a bowl, ready to be steamed.

There are two coffee machines at work; I could figure out neither. Someone told me that I could go onto the server and find the instructions on how to make coffee, and how to steam milk. I said I would print it out and post it next to the machine, then promptly forgot about it. I turned the machine machine around and turned it on to try to figure it out. I prepared my coffee, the ice cream, my mugs. I tested the steamer. The ice cream foamed up nicely, overflowing its bowl. People wondered what I was doing frothing up the ice cream. I didn't have time to explain.

When I actually woke up I was exhausted. I showered and shaved, gathered my things, and walked to the office. Along the way I bought a banana. I ran into Jay at the elevator. He had a large Jamba Juice the size of an emergency flashlight. I asked him if it was the small. He said it was the "original."

At the office I poured myself a glass of water and unpeeled my banana. My head feels stuffed and heavy. Tonight I have to shoot for ACV. It's going to be a long day.
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July 18, 2005

Ce suo zai na li?

Kit's back in town for the 28th Asian American International Film Festival. Missing played yesterday to a packed house.

I've been shooting photos for the event, and so it's been a crazy past few days. Thursday night I was at Lincoln Center, Friday night at the Asia Society for opening night screening and gala. It's been fun, and a little nerve-wrecking. Towards the end of the night on Friday I started shooting with my new Holga flash. Not used to the fact that it has a lens cover, I took a picture of Eric. "Dude, you left the lens capp on!" He laughed and I quickly took another photo of him after removing the lens cover. I told him it was on purpose so that I could get the better second shot. He nodded knowingly.

Saturday I was back at the Asia Society to pick up what I could before heading to dinner with Eric and Kit. We ate at Typhoon and Kit picked up the bill. She looked at the check for the three of us and exclaimed how cheap it was. In London, she said it would have been twice that for two people.

We walked Eric to Union Square and then took a cab west to Opus 22 where Stevie was having the first of his birthday celebrations. It was late; we were tired. Kit napped in the cab. I had to stop him at the right corner. He was ready to take us to 42nd.

Cherry arrived and we chatted and mingled and then decided it was time to go home. Stevie tried to get us to stay for karaoke, but Cherry had a meeting the next day, Kit was jetlagged, and I was just tired. We said goodnight and took off downtown in a cab.

Sunday, we were back at the Asia Society for Kit's screening in the Table for One shorts program. As people arrived at the theater, the ushers would ask, "Table for one?" "Why yes." "Right this way, sir," as they lead them into the theater. Or pointed out empty seats from the door.

Afterwards, we went to K-town for dinner. Cherry's been taking Chinese lessons, and Friday night she kept asking me where the bathroom was. At dinner, Renee kept pointing out food and saying the word in Chinese. Cherry said that she was going to take her out to lunch once a week if she would speak in nothing but Chinese. Kit and I finished the sake. By the time I got home I was ready to crash. Posted by eugene at

July 13, 2005

Swimming pools

Monday night I went swimming. It was the first time I'd used the outdoor pool at the gym formerly known as the Carmine Rec Center. It's been renamed the Tony Dapolito Rec Center, which doesn't roll off the tongue quite as easily. The pool was crowded and the clashing wakes made it feel like swimming in the ocean. I registered and asked how the pool worked. An attendant said I could go anywhere I fit in. Another attendant had to point out the unmarked lanes.

A few months ago I saw the Japanese film Starlit High Noon as part of the New Directors/New Films festival. Throughout there were scenes of the main character swimming alone in a large outdoor pool in Okinawa, and I was reminded of a similar pool in Thailand. In 2002, I visited a friend in Ubon Ratchatani. She wanted to take swimming lessons and so we and some of her friends drove to an olympic sized pool at the local college. We were the only ones in the pool, a vast blue rectangle reflecting the sky. My friend took lessons from the lifeguard as I swam slowly back and forth. I floated in the calm water and watched the sun set. The sky went from bright blue to shades of orange to black as the water deepened. We left as the lights came on.

In New York, I couldn't see much of the sky. Buildings surrounded the small pool. By the time I left the center was about to close. The sky was still lit, though darkening fast. As I walked home I felt the sometime narrowness of New York, and longed for open water.

And on the subject of swimming pools, I didn't much care for Ozon's film of the same name. Though I loved Under the Sand.
listening to: philip glass, kundun
Posted by eugene at

July 12, 2005

Photographic anxiety

Last night I dreamt that Diana asked me to photograph her wedding. (She's not getting married anytime soon as far as I know). She sent me an invitation. A quick glance told me that it started with a breakfast in the morning, and the ceremony was at noon.

I attended the breakfast with a friend. Afterwards, I left with my friend to kill time until noon. When I arrived at the reception hall, however, everyone was leaving. I had misread the invitation. The ceremony was from 10-12. I had missed it. I couldn't apologize enough. Diana was nice about it, but I felt awful.

I woke up tired. I'm shooting some events for ACV's Asian American International Film Festival, starting on Thursday. Originally I thought it would be a fun way to explore event photography, but everyone seems to be getting serious about it. It's starting to freak me out. But in a good way. Kind of.
Posted by eugene at

July 11, 2005

Checking the date (and the benefits of being late)

I called Sonia Sunday morning to see if she wanted to have brunch. She was just getting out of bed. "Give me an hour," she said. We agreed to meet at two. I checked a Time Out to see what was going on in Central Park and saw that Khaled was playing along with a number of other artists. I decided to go after lunch.

I took the subway to 42nd street and walked to a Starbucks on 11th Avenue. Sonia had left me a message. I called her; she was still in the shower. I told her I'd meet her in the lobby of her building. I went and sat down to read the paper.

At three, Sonia emerged. She said she was supposed to be in Queens by five to learn her mother's kim chee recipe. She was running late. We had a quick bite to eat and then went to Penn Station together to catch her train. She just missed the 4.40. The next train was at 5.20 and I offered to keep her company. We sat and chatted.

After she left I debated what to do. I walked outside and started walking north. I made some calls. I ended up at the park. As I approached Summerstage, I could hear R&B music pumping over the speakers. Not the rai I was expecting. I asked an attendent who was playing. He replied, "The Five Blind Boys of Alabama, I think." I had read last week's copy of the magazine.
listening to: +1, Bare Necessities
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July 6, 2005

Deja vu all over again

Sunday morning Li Ting called. She was craving the french toast at 202. Had I been? Did I know where it was? I told her I'd meet her in thirty minutes and got up to shower. I put on my "i eat carbs" t-shirt and took the train to Chelsea.

After the creamy sweetness of the toast, I asked if they had spinach. Mikiko said she'd check. When she returned she said it was coming. Li Ting was impressed. I said we were at Chelsea market. If they didn't have it in the kitchen they could have just gone to a store and picked some up. She nodded and supposed that was true.

On the way back home I stopped by the supermarket and bought hamburgers and buns. Eric had invited me to a stoop BBQ at his house later that day. When I arrived, people were sitting on the steps ot his house. It was like an asian Spike Lee movie.

Last Sunday I had gone to 202 for brunch (with Lynda and Sereen) and then come to Brooklyn for Teresa's BBQ. I was wearing the same shirt (though laundered) and jeans. I was eating burgers again, easily reaching my usual yearly limit in two days. I felt like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day only without the moral lesson and with many more burgers. Posted by eugene at

July 5, 2005

It's like riding a bike

At Eric's BBQ we learned that John didn't know how to ride a bike. He couldn't swim either. Or drive a car. There were four people at the party who never learned to ride a bike, but they could do one or both of the other activities. John grew up in New York, and hadn't been to Long Island until last year either. It was decided that he would learn to ride a bike that afternoon. He protested, then relented.

It was fascinating watching a grown man learn to ride. He kept leaning far to his left, forcing everyone to hold him steady. He was too big to hold upright with just the single hand on the seat of the bicycle, like our fathers did when we were little. He attempted to pedal before he even gained his balance. He kept his head down as we shouted, "Keep your head up! Keep your head up!"

We had to clear the sidewalk and warn pedestrians as they passed. One laughed once she realized what we were attempting to do. The sun set and it grew dark. A light on the handlebars lit the ground before the bicycle. By nightfall, John could almost balance. Almost.
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July 1, 2005

The terror of silence

Last night, a man walked into the theater at MoMA. He recognized a woman sitting in front of me and they began talking rather loudly about a recent run of Fassbinder films. The woman had a lisp, as if she had no front teeth. She had them, I could see, but her consonants came out unformed. Sometimes they whistled.

I had gone to see Edward Yang's The Terrorist. The screening was sparsely attended. When the lights went down and the first title appeared on-screen in Chinese, the man sat up. "What is this?" he said. A round of shushing spread through the theater. "Am I in the wrong theater?" Shushing continued. He stood up. "I'm in the wrong theater!" He marched up the aisle.

Moments later, the woman got up. "This is the wrong movie," she said. People were annoyed. They shushed her. She walked to the back of the theater. As she left, she loudly asked where the other film was playing. Shushes followed her out the door.

As the film began, people around the theater began to unwrap candy. It was as if we were at the symphony. People turned to shush a person behind me. Way in the back, I could hear another group shushing a second offender. In the front rows, a woman rustled a plastic bag. A man shushed her. She kept digging. He got up and walked over to her. For a moment his head blocked the subtitles. After speaking to her loud enough for the theater to know he was talking to everyone, he sat back down. The bag rustled no more. No more candy was unwrapped.
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