Athena brushed with snow

The seasons are clearly on the cusp along 30th Ave.  Spring’s trying to come through but one night last week there was a snowfall.  The next morning, the statue of Athena in Athens Square Park was lightly dusted with white.

On an NYC Govt. webpage about the park I learned that it was first designated as a playground in 1963.  Then with an injection of city funds in 1990 it was redeveloped with the central “amphitheater” space, benches for gathering (and chess-playing) along the perimeter, and playgrounds on two sides, which are still there now.   The community group that promoted its renovation, Athens Square Inc, said its intention was to create “a little bit of Athens in Astoria.”

The same webpage says that before it became Astoria, this part of Queens was known by the Native American Algonquian name of Sunswick, derived from Sunkisq, meaning “woman chief.”



When I did the first interview on this site, with Vesta’s Giuseppe Falco, my journalism skills were rather rusty.  One thing I asked was a put-you-on-the-spot question, “can you think of three words or phrases you would use to describe the neighborhood?”

Giuseppe came up with a fabulous first word, “devoted”.  But I didn’t continue the thread with a follow-up question.  “Why devoted?”  “Devoted to what?”  etc.

Now I am glad that the word devoted stands on its own, un-elaborated and unqualified.  The rest of the interviews on the website will fill out the answer by themselves.  They are already doing so.

Giuseppe’s other two phrases were “close-knit” and “arts-oriented”.  At first I was surprised that he didn’t mention Astoria’s ethnic diversity.   Of course one of the most interesting things is that he didn’t mention diversity.

Astoria may be among the most ethnically-diverse neighborhoods in the world but that is not first and foremost in the minds of many people who live here.  It’s so much part of the fabric of the streets that people take it as a given or, as Teofila Cambeiro said, “feel like I am all nationalities.”  Many people are a mix of several ethnicities and feel American above anything else.  Or for some others, their own immediate community is so extensive and  yet close-knit that there isn’t a need (or time) to explore beyond it other than for interactions in the shops and on the sidewalks.

There are also so many different types of diversity at play.  That  is what makes the neighborhood work well as a whole.  There is, at the moment, diversity of age, of income, of profession, of interests.  Long may it stay that way.


City journeys seen from above

One day last week no trains were running from 30th Ave station in the morning so commuters had to find alternative routes to work.  I wove my way walking down through Astoria to Queensboro Bridge and over the bridge to Manhattan where I got on the subway.  It got me thinking about the journeys people make across the city each day.  We barely pay them attention until something disrupts the routine.

Later that week I saw an aerial shot of a football game.  The camera looked down on the players from way up above the field.  Football, which had never struck me as beautiful before, suddenly looked beautiful.  Football aside though, I wondered what an aerial view of people’s journeys across the city would look like.

Those journeys range from the simple line of a work commute to the intricate paths of bicycle couriers (especially those who make their work a sport), to the meandering lines of a lazy weekend or of extreme urban exploration.  There’s probably not an inch of the city that hasn’t at some point been under a human foot.

An illustration of the journeys could look something like this.

If I was a real artist the last, apparently black image, would have been created by layering thin pen line across thin pen line until the whole thing was filled in.  I don’t have the time or patience for that – maybe one day.  But say it had been created like that.  The black of that last image could be seen as oppressive crowding, or as the strong material of millions of woven paths.


Snow burial

A little detour some blocks north from 30th Ave…

The first time I walked past the cemetery at 21st Street and 26th Avenue I didn’t pay it much attention.  It looked like a random group of relatively recently-installed tombstones on a patch of grass, behind a mesh fence.  The second time I noticed a sign saying “Our Lady of Mount Carmel” cemetery.  I presumed that the church doesn’t have its own on-site burial ground so used this one, a few blocks away.  This time the tombstones were covered in snow – a double burial.

But I’m always curious about cemeteries so decided to find out a bit more about it.  I learned that it’s next to the original site of the church.  All of the people buried there are Irish immigrants who died between the 1840s and 1890s.  They had moved to Astoria to work in the big houses of the wealthy around 14th Street, in greenhouses and in silk factories.  All were Irish, that is, except one, an Italian gardener who worked in the cemetery.  More about it here.


“You are here”

“You are here”.

On the face of it that’s such a simple phrase.  But give it a moment’s thought and it breaks into thousands of possibilities.   Who is “you”?  And for you, what is “here”?  Is it your first time here?  Your six hundred and sixty-fifth?  Are you pleased to be here?  Every “here” has as many perspectives as people who pass it by.


On the “You are here” local area map at the 30th Ave station I  was surprised to see 12 places of worship within the small segment that I photographed.  And the map shows not a great deal else.  Of course if the map tried to show everyone’s destination its detail would be overwhelming. Perhaps the predominance of churches is because the MTA local area maps can only show non-commercial landmarks, so as not to promote some commercial venues over others.  In this part of Astoria those happen to be churches, of which there are a lot.  It has the disorientating effect of elevating the churches and erasing everything that lies in-between.


The year begins with mountains

30th Ave has begun the year with a mountainous landscape.  Last year signed out with a mammoth blizzard and there are still mountains of un-melted snow along the sidewalks, streaked now with dirty patches.  There are mountains of trash bags too.  The garbage trucks were put to work clearing snow (supposedly), so haven’t been doing their usual rounds.  The short lives of Christmas trees have been made a little longer, as they await collection.  Some are lying down on their sides by the trash bags.  Others have been stuck upright in snowmounds, temporarily re-planted.