Sunday, June 22, 2008

Baby Let's Cruise Away from Here

Lately I'm always trying to get away from here. Wherever here is. I think I'm trying to escape my own head.

I escaped New York a little bit this weekend by going to Washington DC for my friend Amanda's baby shower, but considering how sick I am of being surrounded by parents in my industry, it wasn't much of an escape. Still, it was great to see Amanda, and I had really been looking forward to seeing her house, meeting her cat and dog, and going to the spa with her.

It was nice being around animals again, being so used to it now from my stays at Maria's house and feeling so lonely in my pet-free apartment. Amanda's cat Cocoa came to visit me a few times throughout the night, and was so friendly that she'd get really close to my face and sniff my eyeballs while my lids were closed. I allowed it to happen, enjoying the closeness and the feeling of feline breath on my face, secure in the fact that it was a real cat and not a ghost cat.

Back in NYC after only a day, I escaped Manhattan a bit today by recapturing my old Brooklyn self, taking a BCUE-hosted cruise of the Gowanus Canal and subjecting myself to a street fair called "Stinkfest."

I've been fascinated with the Gowanus for a while, ever since first disembarking the G train at the 4th Avenue station to visit my old roommate Terry after he moved out from living with me into Park Slope. Since then, I've missed several years' worth of Open House NY canoe tours of the canal, but a few weeks ago I finally got to see it first-hand from the Carroll Street Bridge when I went to a party at The Yard and ate $25 macaroni and cheese courtesy of Saxelby Cheesemongers. A little drunk on bourbon lemonades on a Summer Friday, I was dying to go exploring down those silty, dirty waters.

gravel bargeInstead of a canoe, today's cruise took place on a regular Water Taxi boat, big enough to force the DOT to lift all the bridges that traverse the former creek, and big enough to get in the way of a gravel barge that delayed our entry for a good 20 minutes.

The entry to the canal, by Hamilton Bridge and the Erie Basin, is disgusting. It's one of the most industrial parts of the city, with sunken ships, a sewage waste management system, a police evidence dumping station, and lots of oil in the water. gunkApparently the Gowanus used to nuture dinner plate-sized oysters, but now there's so much run-off from the Brooklyn highways and streets that the polluted water chokes all sealife and the fishing birds that feed on it. They've done enough cleanup to improve conditions enough to allow us to see one healthy egret today, but there's a lot of work to be done.

With the BQE (and the dilapidated Gowanus Expressway section) overhead and the F and G trains rumbling nearby, our cruise was anything but luxurious. Though we did spot a real cruise ship near the new Red Hook cruise terminal, we also passed such sites of urban decay as Civil War-era warehouses , coal and oil handling plants, chemical plants and the Port of New York Grain Terminal. Still, with the canal no longer necessary for Brooklyn port commerce and renewed interest in the area because of the IKEA opening, you can imagine a beautiful future for the Gowanus. If only they would clean it up.

It was cheese that first brought me face-to-face with the Gowanus, and it was cheese that brought me back to Carroll Gardens today, for Stinkfest - a street festival featuring food from Smith Street restaurants, live music, and a cheese-eating contest. Smith Street has come a long way since I lived in Brooklyn four years ago, and it was nice to see, in daylight, how much it's developed, though everything good there seems like it was plucked from Manhattan. Flatiron Lounge opened its new classic cocktail establishment The Clover Club on that strip, and there are Brooklyn editions of Po, Exit 9 and Flight 001 there too.

RacletteBut today was all about the street. I stopped by Bar Great Harry for a "dub pie," a traditional Australian meat pie filled with minced beef, and a Captain Lawrence Pale Ale which was unusually nice to drink in a plastic cup out in the open air. The highlight of the hot, steamy afternoon was definitely in front of the Zombie Hut, where the neighborhood cheese shop Stinky was hosting their table of fried cheese curd and Raclette, a semi-firm cow's milk cheese wheel that's heated under a lamp and then scraped onto a variety of foods, this time onto brined potatoes and scallions with a side of cornichons. The street fair had plenty of international foods - from Thai and Indian to Greek and just plain ol' tailgating burgers - but this French/Swiss stinky delicacy seemed the most unusual and definitely the biggest crowd-pleaser.

I couldn't get Michelle to try the Raclette, but she did love the cheese curd, and it was impressive enough that she came to Brooklyn at all.

In truth, despite being a Manhattanite for the last four years, I really love Brooklyn and would love to live there again, especially with how much stuff there is to do there - both of the food/drink sort and urban exploration. But considering how much of Manhattan has already infiltrated the nice Brooklyn neighborhoods like Carroll Gardens, I'm doubting I'll be able to afford it there either.