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Dona Cafe- owner:

Dona Cafe is on the sleepy corner of Driggs Avenue and Monitor Street. It is opposite McGoldrick Park, diagonally across from P.S. 110 and on the remaining corner, is the ubiquitous corner store, also owner by the Alammos family.

In August, the interior of Greenpoint is sleepy, but in August time stands still, if you refrain from talking you can hear the wind blow through the dry and crackling leaves of  trees readying themselves for Autumn, accompanied by sounds of children running through the sprinklers; their squeals of laughter, tired tears, wafting on the hot, and humid air, and the occasional barking dogs in the dog run of McGoldrick Park. 

Greenpoint is fortunate to have this cafe, for the ready-made view that is provided by the elegant, lady-like , and very elderly Mc Goldrick Park. This corner, somnalent in a timeless kind of way, has craved such a place, where one can sip a glass of wine or beer, eat a plate of Middle Eastern specialties and take respite in the expansive view of trees and open, public space.

McGoldrick Park is a park with a “voice”, due to several factors: scale of size, quality and quantity of trees, and the curving and straight, broad sidewalks, that say, ” Promenade, Promenade, show off your dogs, your children in their sunday best, after attending church at St. Stan’s, come and meet your friends, and watch your children play

The Candy Store

Jaslowiczkanka Polish Bakery

Jaslowiciekanka Polish Bakery is located on Nassau Avenue, between Newel and Diamond streets in Greenpoint. All products are baked on the premises.

Cato’s Army and Navy Store- Owners: Marion and Ed

Storefront of Cato's Army and Navy Store

The following clips are from my interview with Marion and Ed, mother and son, who are the owners of Cato’s Army and Navy store on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint. The store has been in existence for 37 years. Marion’s deceased husband with a partner, opened the shop and after this business partnership soured and dissolved Marion stepped in and became her husband’s bookkeeper/accountant, while her husband, handled the customer side of the shop.

Marion’s husband was a real people person, and according to locals, legendary in his ability to connect with everyone who walked into his shop. Why, I asked? No one could quite say why, it seemed, but after this interview, without exception, when I would tell co-workers or friends about my story on The Army and Navy Store, immediately, Marion’s husband’s name would engender accolades in the form of smiles, oohs and ahhs, and no other words except something to the effect that, “he was such a character” or, ” He was really something.”

After my interview with Marion, I was determined to find out more about this legend, and so my second visit to Cato’s Army and Navy Store is an interview with Ed, Marion’s son and partner.

These interviews with Marion and Ed gave me so much more than I could ever have expected.

Dear Readers and Listeners, I am here to tell you: Marion and Ed are really something! Please view the following videos to see WHY.

http://vimeo.com/35107715

http://vimeo.com/36176849

Chris- Krowlewskie Jadlo, a Polish Restaurant

Note:  An interview with Chris, owner of Krowlewskie Jadlo, a Polish restaurant, on Manhattan Avenue, follows this article.

Krowlewskie Yadlo, is a Polish restaurant, newly discovered by me this summer when I wanted to take my guests from San Francisco to eat at a restaurant representative of Greenpoint. I did  not want to take them to one of the newer places, with an impressive scene, comprised of the (largely) newly arrived youth and quite similar in feel to San Francisco, where I once lived and where my guests had (literally) just arrived from.  

 Enroute from picking up my San Francisco friends, mother and teenage son, and minutes after departing from JFK, in bumper-to-bumper traffic, we were hit by a limosine. The date was May 30th, post-Memorial Day weekend. So, after this intense entry to New York and my friends sitting for hours in a plane, a neighborhood restaurant, was the only option.

 The aim:  find a nearby place, authentically Greenpoint,within walking distance from my apartment, with atmosphere, where the air inside would let my California guests know: You are in a different place, unlike any other; not the new Greenpoint, but the fast disappearing scene of old Greenpoint.

 The image which stood out for me and made me immediately think of  going to Krowlewskie Jadlo, (although, I must admit, I had never been inside before), was the image of the knight- in -shining armor statue, out front. The name, Krowlewskie Jadlo, does not exactly roll off the tongue to those unfamiliar with the Polish sound and syllable structure. But what is a stand-out feature  is the knight- in- shining armor, out front, greeting non-customers and customers, alike. In fact, now when I speak of Krowlewskie Jadlo to Americans, I say the name, mention its location and then quickly say, ” It’s the one with the knight- in- shining armor out front.”  Immediate recognition follows.

  The interior of the restaurant resembles a dining scene from the movie set of Camelot. There are heavy wooden tables, chairs and booths and the continuation of royal themes of chivalry, with fake portraits of kings and lords; all of which of speak of meat and masculinity. The taste in decor: definitely not  pandering to modern American sensibilities. How refreshing!

The food presentation is also unusual.  A large array of  appetizers, ordered and unordered, arrive on a wooden slab. You feel, there must be a mistake: there is so much food and your main dishes haven’t even arrived.

Although this blog is not intended to be a critique of food, having been to Krowlewskie Jadlo many times since, in my opinion, they serve the best Ukrainian borsht. (I have also had other, very tasty dishes).

Along with typical Polish fare found in other Greenpoint restaurants, kielbasa, pierogi,and soups, Krowlewski offers food with accents of German, French and Noveau American cuisine.

 And most unusual of all,  in Polish Restaurants heavily laden with meat, there is a suprisingly, sizeable section of  well-thought out vegetarian dishes on the menu.

Krowlewskie Jadlo offers good value for your dollar. And since my initial visit, in late May, when it was relatively easy to get a table for two, it has now become considerably more popular and sometimes there is a wait for a table.  It is booming with business and I am happy to say, there is a mix of  young and old,  couples and families, the newly arrived and  long-time residents of Greenpoint dining at Krowlewskie Jadlo.

 Please find out why this Polish restaurant has become so popular with new and old Greenpoint residents and nonresidents alike, by viewing my video interview with Chris, the owner of Krowlewskie Jadlo (pronounced: KROO-LEV-SKI-e Yad-WO). 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6l14TA_Vm4o

Clara Wozowick- Lifelong Resident of Greenpoint

Clara and Elizabeth

Clara, 87 years old; a lifelong resident of Greenpoint; born on Dupont Street, of Polish immigrant parents; lived for 48 years on Newel Street; moved to Florida on August 31, 2011.

 Clara was the last remaining representative of the WWII generation to live in this building. When Clara moved, so many memories left: a part of the heart and the soul of the building.

On the morning of this interview, Clara and her daughter were putting the finishing touches on boxes, readying them for the movers, whose anticipated, any-minute-arrival was coinciding with Hurricane Irene’s anticipated arrival. There were the warnings on the airwaves; Bloomberg whining to those in Red zones: flee to higher ground before it’s too late or stay put.

 What bad timing for moving day. But, the backdrop of nature, in the form of Hurricane Irene, provided perfect irony and symmetry. Clara, who had scarcely stirred from the confines of Greenpoint Streets was now moving out-of-state, while all around her, New Yorkers were hunkering down .

Here is the interview of Clara’s memories of Greenpoint and Newel Street. Recorded on the morning of August 27, 2011.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L4k7D8peZ8Y

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XoDPC4zZ2Sc

Sam andThe Corner Store- Nassau Avenue and Diamond Street, Greenpoint

  Labor Day morning , is one of the quietest mornings of the year in this sleepy place called Greenpoint. Time seems to stands still in a warp circa 1950, post- WWII. This sense of another time is aided by a disporportionate representation of this generation still living here, the illusion, yet  further sustained by housing stock covered in vinyl siding, and added to this is the confidence that one can subsist on a steady diet of beer, kielbasa and bread and cheap Polish restuarants, where for the time being, better value for money does not exist in the modern era.

 Early in the day, of this bittersweet bookend to summer,  summer is left to breathe its last breath almost alone.  It is the last lull before the hustle and bustle return to city streets. Once still, the streets will soon stand awash with traffic and humanity; of people, tanned and sweaty, who have  returned from the obligatory, last dip in the  beach of Long Island or the Jersey Shore, or if you live in Greenpoint you will hear the high-pitched, bell-like voices of  children, (an over representation of blonde, I might add!) returning from a summer spent in Poland.

 Sleepiness suits this geographically lowlying neighborhood where summer air scarcely moves contributing (unfortunately) to the already  polluted atmosphere of Greenpoint. Anyway, the extra still day made  it especially fitting to pay a visit to the  cornerstore this Labor Day morning . The cornerstore is the mainstay of any neighborhood. The Cornerstore, is  the generic name they all  go by, yet all have names. Our store’s sign states: Polish American Deli, but there is nothing which signifies its Polishness, other than the fact that it is in Greenpoint, home to what has been for all the time I have lived here, a Polish community.

 We know we are back home, after being away, because the cornerstore provides citydwellers with the equivalent of instant gratification: goods-on-demand, like nowhere else.

This humble institution sells basic foods with few frills; seemingly insignificant, it is anything but. The cornerstore is the metaphorical and literal  life -line, the bread and butter of any neighborhood. The person who rings the register and who sells the products contained in this small space provide necessities: the  roll of toilet paper, milk for the morning cereal,  a relacement for the suddenly expired lightbulb. The rows are few, stocked with the familiar and in pitch black darkness, in a black-out, or if I close my eyes and reach out, I know where most things are: cat food, dairy products, garbage bags, crackers, selzter, beer.

The emergency items cannot be visualized , random is their category. But luckily, for my daughter, the white shoe polish was in stock for the scuffed Sunday shoes. It was behind the register with the over-the-counter meds, band-aids, duck tape, and the other uncategorized items, one early Sunday morning and a kind of saving grace of my life that morning.

  I visit the cornerstore and the one on the intersection of Nassau and Diamond streets, for its selection of cat food, especially when I run out of supplies, before large store purchases via car. Sometimes, it is all I buy, at the literal 11th hour: 4 cans of catfood to take my cats through the late night and early morning feeding;  sometimes this purchase is the last thing I do before getting into bed.

The corner store is a barometer by which to gauge activity on the streets of any neighborhood, or to confirm what is known. On a three day weekend, or holiday, I will often ask Sam, (or the other store clerk in charge), what amounts to a rhetorical question, “Has  it been quiet today?”  If there is any emergency, signaled by extra police activity or firetrucks, or a local tragedy has occurred and  if I have just driven into town or emerged from the subway,  disconnected , I make a stop to the cornerstore and I am  instantly connected.

 Has the cornerstore become one of the last repositories of actual conversation?  I have never conducted a community, daily word-count of spoken conversation per establishment, but the little add up. The words shared between customers and the  person-behind-the-counter, day and night, night and day,  provides rich opportunity for hearing the spoken word(or eavesdropping), where the old currency of speech has not yet been replaced by non-human devices. Perhaps that is one of the reasons I will put any cell phone conversation on hold, until the transaction between me and the counterperson is complete: the money/ purchase and the goodbye/thank you exchange final.

 On this Labor Day,  I went to the not -so- immediate cornerstore, a block away, on Diamond Street and Nassau Avenue, where along with its  large variety of cat food is an even larger selection of every kind of beer imaginable ( although, the plethora of beers can be matched at almost any cornerstore in Greenpoint!).The best thing about shopping here, is that the cornerstore is a place you walk to; you don’t need a car. The cornerstore is what Clara Wozowick, my 87 year-old neighbor said, was one of the things she would miss the most when she moved to Florida.

 The cornerstore  in name and purpose  is immune from pretentiousness, although it must carry better brands to keep up with the prevailing tastes of newcomers.

The cornerstore and the workers inside it, are the ones left when we are away, on trips of any length, long or short.  And when we come back, they are still here, like unsung, sentries, presiding in our absence.

 Now, here, is Sam, speaking for himself and the cornerstore:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLCXb-oS8-A

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzCf9EeaLZg

Photoplay- Michael Sayers

Photoplay-Michael Sayers

928 Manhattan Avenue

Greenpoint, NY, 11222

When I walk into Michael Sayer’s video store, Photoplay, the first sentence to form on this customer’s lips begins with (but is not restricted to) a question, usually regarding a recommendation for a movie.

My questions are always met with informed, yet opinionated, advice, reflecting the film tastes and knowledge of Michael Sayers or whoever is the film expert, working the counter that day. And, at the same time, the workers at Photoplay manage to be attuned to the individual customer’s interests and tastes.

 While it is by no means a requirement to love movies in order to rent from Photoplay, where movies are closer to religion than to hobby, it doesn’t hurt, as the surrounding conversation is especially satisfying for those customers who are cinephiles. Michael Sayers loves films and I have never met anyone behind the counter of Photoplay who was not similarly devoted.

Sometimes, the returned rental, the dvd itself, provides segue, not unlike a transitional sentence in a new paragraph, the dvd acting as a conversational vehicle, a kind of piggy-back leading towards larger and smaller, related and unrelated topics, such as, books based on movies, or movies we are about to see. We speak of beloved movies and those not so beloved. We talk as if still in the grip of a favorite scene, with a responsibility for recreating it and getting it just right, in words, as if it really matters and it does, because, we are, after all, only trying to do some small, measure of due justice to what was done on the big screen. And, then there are the actors we try to conjure: our modern day gods and goddesses. We cannot possibly say with words what they mean to us, so their names alone do this for us.

Then, again, it’s back to book talk. We talk of books just read, or ones about to be read. And then we return to the movies; the ones up for consideration, whose mere mention suffices to send shivers down our spine. But, it’s only later, after renting the dvd, at home, with no intermediary, are we charmed, enthralled, and if lucky, hypnotized by these moving images.

I tell Michael, “This is like a book club, but for movies.” And indeed, it is the equivalent of a spontaneous and unstructured book club.

And, because, it is an enclosed, physical space, Photoplay facilitates and contains conversation, representing a cross-section of the Greenpoint community, providing plenty of room for airing of various points of view. It is the ultimate safe-space, where the comfort food is the flipping through all manner of genres of dvds, rare and not-so-rare; communing with others and gaining informed wisdom, inspiration and even developing tastes in movies you never had before entering Photoplay. Sometimes you go, like you go to a museum, to visit old friends. Sometimes, just from perusing the stacks of dvds, you feel you have learned something new.

I am often at Photoplay longer than necessary. And, when I am not conversing with Michael or with another Photoplay, film expert, I am trying really hard to catch useful, tidbits of information on a rental just returned, or I am eavesdropping on someone else’s conversation with Michael (or a Photoplay person) regarding the most useful of advice: film rental suggestions for that evening. When I say to my daughter, “ I’m going to Photoplay,” I might as well preface it with the equivalent of, “ Don’t wait up for me.”

The other unrelated, non-movie topics, include: things that have inspired me, conversations about teaching, my students, our own educational past and how it  has colored the present, goings-on-about Greenpoint and even discussions on the economy. In fact, the documentary, Inside Job, about the financial crisis of the late 2000’s, directed by Charles Ferguson, provided fodder for shared rage. This was followed by Michael Sayer’s suggestion that I watch a comedy afterwards, as a kind of antidote to the toxic and emotional after-taste the movie was sure to leave. It did and as usual, I followed his advice.

But mostly, the movie represented in the object of the dvd, contained in its brittle, plastic case, enclosed in Photoplay’s protective, signature, quilted, grey cover, is the very centerpiece of conversation. The actors, the directors and, the cinematographer, of for example, A Place in the Sun, the one who made Elizabeth Taylor appear with skin so white, that it made the fellow working, the night I rented the movie, say, “ In the movie, her skin is so milky white,” and the living movie, represented by the dvd, inside the plastic case, enclosed in the quilted, grey, protective cover, are what matter most.

One final thing: the smell of the place is old wood, possibly of books and some old-fashioned tonic, or perhaps it is old aroma of a perfume created by time and what transpired before. In fact, every time I bring my out-of-town guests to Photoplay, prior to entering, I tell them: “Breathe, breathe the air; it’s like nothing you’ve ever smelled before!”

Photoplay-Michael Sayers

928 Manhattan Avenue

Greenpoint, NY, 11222

On a sultry, summer day, at dusk, I walked into Photoplay and spoke with owner, Michael Sayers, in his office surrounded by boxes of dvd’s.

 Below, is part of that conversation

  G.L.R.  Where are you from?

 M.S.  Outside of Hartford, Connecticut

 G.L.R. How long have you lived in Greenpoint? Do you like it?

 M.S.  12 years. I love it.

G.L.R. How did you end up in Greenpoint?

 M.S.  I was living in Wiliamsburg and in the ’90’s the building I was living in was bought, so I looked here. I was working at Film Forum for 12 years and I was already in Greenpoint, but felt Greenpoint needed a good video store and that was around 2000. Made sense, I was here, seemed like a good idea.

G.L.R.  What changes have you noticed since you have been here?

 M.S.  I don’t see them as drastic. I always see new people, it’s a constant. The other changes-there’s so much construction. A few years ago, new condominiums were going up. But, I don’t find the changes so dramatic. I don’t think it’s been transformed from one thing to another. Most homes are Polish. It (Greenpoint) holds onto its identity as a Polish neighborhood. … I’m not conscious of restaurants, shops and bars. I don’t frequent them as much, so I’m not to conscious of the changes.

 G.L.R. Do you watch movies frequently?

 M.S. Every night. I try to keep up with new releases. But also, as you look at stacks, they’re all coming in … (here are) crime films from the thirties.

G.L.R. What is the last movie you’ve seen?

 M.S.  It was a crime film called, The System, an organized gambling film. Takes place in an old town. A tough crime drama, very enjoyable. The films a real obscurity. It’s never been on film or tape before (now).There’s a lot of stuff, out-of-print or hard to find, as well as new releases here.

 G.L.R. What trends in movie viewing have you noticed?

 M.S. People are watching more screwball comedies from the ’30’s and 40’s- more than ever. Documentaries, a few years ago were popular, it was all about documentaries. Certain genres go in and out of fashion.

G.L.R. How’s business?

 M.S. Very stable. There’s always new people. We signed up six new customers and on a Monday night.

G.L.R. What’s a stand-out memory for you?

 M.S. I love having boxes of movies. All these titles of movies ( as Michael says this, we are in the back room and he waves at boxes upon boxes of opened and unopened dvds). It’s like Christmas. just today, two dozen titles came in and just looking at them is so much fun. There’s stuff never seen before. That’s the most exciting part, there are things never issued before. It’s a good time (for rentals), the studios are issuing back catalogs. There’s a great opportunity to see older films previously out of circulation and this is a trend. They’re opening up vaults and putting hundreds of film on dvd’s, so that is exciting. They’re catching up on a lot of titles considered lost.

G.L.R. I’m having my own Elizabeth Taylor retrospective at home. When she died I was inspired to write a letter to the editor, something I have never done before. It did not get printed and the surprising thing was that I did not see one letter about her to the editor. The other day, I rented, A Place in the Sun upon the recommendation of the fellow working here that day ( I can’t recall his name) and he said, ” In the movie, her  skin is so white.” (referring to Elizabeth Taylor).That, like so much that is said here, at Photoplay, in terms of recommendations and general commentary will always stand out for me. What is your favorite Elizabeth Taylor movie?

 M.S.  My top five are, that one (referring to A Place in the Sun) and Suddenly Last Summer , Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and, Boom – one of her great performances.  Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, is a brave, terrifying performance.

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