The Local, October 7, 2010
Fort Greene and Clinton Hill’s most accessible subway lines aren’t doing so well, according to an annual assessment by the Straphangers Campaign.
The group’s report ranks different lines by cleanliness, reliability, crowding, delays, breakdowns and announcements, and issues each line its own “MetroCard Rating,” a dollar value averaging how it performs on each.
The C is the worst line in the city, for the second year in a row. It has a MetroCard rating of 55 cents — quite a bit lower than the runner-up, the R, which received a 90-cent rating. The 2 and the 3 did only slightly better, receiving 90-cent and one-dollar ratings, respectively. The 4 and the 5 land somewhere in the middle of the rankings, earning $1.15 and $1.05. The Gdoesn’t get a MetroCard rating, however, because it doesn’t enter Manhattan and therefore the Straphangers Campaign doesn’t have reliable crowding information. In a ranking by criteria, it performed fairly well on regularity of service (tied with the N for eighth), but worst in the city on breakdowns.
The 7, once again, is the top line in the city, with $1.60 rating. City Roompointed out that the top four lines — 1, 6, 7 and L — all have a track to themselves most of the time. The G has its own track from Court Square to Hoyt-Schermerhorn, but at Bergen Street it hooks up with the F (which got a 95-cent rating).
Subway performance seems to have gotten a little better overall since last year, however, since the rate of breakdowns has lowered and cleanliness and announcements have improved across the system. This report comes out just as the MTA approved a number of fare hikes, including raising the monthly unlimited rate from $89 to $104.
The Local, August 6, 2010
Neighborhood Cuban “eco-eatery” Habana Outpostwas named the second-greenest storefront in Brooklyn, after Burrito Bar in Prospect Heights, as part of the Greenest Block in Brooklyn contest.
“We’re very excited,” said Darcy Lefleming, Habana Outpost’s general manager.
The plants they have aren’t flashy, Ms. Lefleming said, because they stick to native species that are survivors. They have milkweed, which feeds monarch butterflies, lavender, which is good for bees and keeps rats away, and mint, which acts as a natural mosquito repellent.
The Greenest Block in Brooklyn contest is put on annually by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden through Greenbridge, their community environmental horticulture program. It started in 1995, and this year they received over 200 applicants. Winners are selected based on care, horticultural practice, participation, appearance, creativity, variety, soil and mulching, and maintenance.
Last year, Habana Outpost came in third, so they set out to improve their ranking, Ms. Lefleming said. They brought in a gardener, made new planters and educated the staff about their greenery, so they could take better care of the plants.
“We wanted to be first, so we worked,” Ms. Lefleming said.
The Local, August 6, 2010
Frank Romeo, pharmacist at Greene Community Pharmacy, died suddenly from unknown causes last Friday. He was 50. His colleagues, customers, neighbors and family say they remember him as a generous, community-oriented and kind person.
“As long as I can remember, he’s been around,” said Amy Linden, a long-time Fort Greene resident. She said he was willing to work with patients who were elderly, not well-off, or otherwise in need of help. He hired youths from the neighborhood to work in the pharmacy, and would send them on deliveries for customers who were unable to get to the shop.
Ms. Linden called the shop a “real neighborhood place,” saying Mr. Romeo knew his regular customers by name and would call when prescriptions were ready to be picked up.
“You were family when you went in there,” she said.
Joseph Jean from J&S Tire Shop, located across Fulton Street from the pharmacy, said that last Friday morning he saw the pharmacist park his car, and the two talked while Mr. Romeo smoked a cigar. That same afternoon, Mr. Jean received a phone call telling him Mr. Romeo had passed away.
“He’s like family,” Mr. Jean said. “It’s so sad for us.”
Mr. Romeo was always willing to donate a little money to neighborhood fundraisers, said Adrienne Rosario, who works in the pharmacy. Every winter, he would raffle off a large stocking full of toys to a neighborhood child. The pharmacy plans to continue the annual contest and community giving without him, Ms. Rosario said. She said he would help people get their medications even if they couldn’t afford it.
“He was a wonderful person,” she said.
Mr. Romeo started working at Greene Community Pharmacy in 1999. In 2001, he brought in Sam Hom, a former classmate at Long Island University, to work with him.
“We worked very well together,” Mr. Hom said. He said they joked around while they worked, but they moved through their business quickly. “Nobody waits.”
Mr. Romeo’s sister, Diana Brunetto, said her brother would do anything he could to help someone, without asking what was in it for him. She said the pharmacist, who was unmarried and had no children, was generous to his family as well. He took their elderly father on vacations and doted on his niece and nephews.
Ms. Brunetto said the family does not yet know the exact cause of death, but it may have been a heart attack. She said Mr. Romeo had not been sick.
Renee Egebo, Mr. Romeo’s other sister, said he never wanted gifts at birthdays or Christmas. Instead, he would ask his niece and nephews to get presents for children at neighborhood schools who needed them, Ms. Egebo said.
She said she knew her brother was generous, but her jaw dropped when she heard stories at his funeral about what he did for his neighborhood. He wouldn’t let anyone leave the pharmacy without their medication, whether or not they could pay on the spot, she said.
“Community meant a lot to him.”
The Local, July 27, 2010
The Strand Theater, part of the BAM Cultural District, will be undergoing a major face lift starting this fall. The building, located next to the BAM Harvey Theater on the corner of Fulton Street and Rockwell Place, is the home of Urban Glass and BRIC Arts|Media|Bklyn. The plans are comprised of two separate projects — the Urban Glass space and the BRIC space, called BRIC Arts|Media House — and received an Award for Excellence in Design from the New York City Design Commission.
“It is going to be a remarkable change for this building,” said Leslie Griesbach Schultz, Executive Director for BRIC Arts|Media|Bklyn. “It’s much more open to the street.” She called the plans, designed by Leeser Architecture, a “really smart design.”
The renovations will include an open town square area as well as large windows onto the street, so the organizations inside will be more visible to passersby. The town square will house free Wi-Fi and an art gallery. The design is intended to encourage the public to interact with working artists.
“The idea is for people to come in, have a cup of coffee, look at the contemporary art,” Ms. Schultz said. In addition to the first-floor gallery there will be glass-walled studios so the public can watch shows filming for Brooklyn Independent Television, a white box theater with removable black curtains and a main theater with retractable seats.
Urban Glass is currently housed on the third floor of the building, where they have a glass blowing studio as well as a gallery and a shop selling finished work. After the renovations the store and displays will be front and center, on the first floor facing Fulton Street — the first time since Urban Glass was founded in 1977 that they will have a visible public space, said Dawn Bennett, Urban Glass’s executive director.
“We’re excited,” she said.
Their workspace will be renovated as well. They are updating and modernizing their HVAC system to better regulate the intense heat generated by glass blowing equipment, Ms. Bennett said. The work areas will also have more separation between where professionals work and where students and amateurs practice — allowing the novices to observe the more seasoned glass blowers without getting in their way. They will also open a supply store for glass artists — a big help to their community, Ms. Bennett said, because glass blowing supplies can be difficult to find.
Initially Urban Glass planned to stay in their offices during the renovations, but Ms. Bennett said it’s beginning to look like that won’t be possible. They are currently scouting temporary locations and would like to stay nearby to remain convenient for their artists.
BRIC Arts|Media|Bklyn was founded in 1979. They run the Celebrate Brooklyn concert series and offer help to Brooklyn artists. Ms. Schultz said the new facility will allow them to better do their job supporting the creative process and to deepen their commitment to creating a platform for local artists.
Ms. Schultz said that because of the accessibility of the new space, the renovations could help the institution be better understood by the public. “The space is going to function as a home for artists; as a lab for artists,” she said.
The new space could help artists get a little exposure, too. The performance areas will all have cameras at different angles throughout that will be linked to a central control room. The footage can be archived and used by the artists, but it will also be available for them to broadcast on monitors in the public space, giving their work extra visibility.
BRIC will offer residencies to artists who can activate the space and Ms. Schultz emphasized that the organization is full of public art enthusiasts.
“You can never have enough public art,” she said. “It’s what makes New York New York.”
The Local, July 14, 2010
The BAM cultural district, which was originally planned a decade ago and has been making slow progress ever since, is moving forward. Some changes have been made — to plans as well as to the parties involved — but six elements of the project are breaking ground this year.
While the earliest stage of the plan was implemented in 2004 with the renovation of 80 Arts, the most recent project to get underway is the Fisher Building, which broke ground in May. The structure will house a 250-seat theater and a 1,400-square-foot rehearsal and education space. The Theater for a New Audience, which has moved a few times over the past five years, will finally have a permanent home on Rockwell Place, which they will break ground on in December. The theater was originally designed by Frank Gehry and Hugh Hardy. Mr. Gehry has since left the project, leaving it in the hands of the H3 Hardy company.
Some parts of the initial plan are on hold indefinitely. The Brooklyn Arts Tower, which was going to offer about 100 affordable housing units, has been tabled. Robert Perris, district manager for Brooklyn’s Community Board 2, said the project is on hold because it would not be economically viable in the current housing market. The Visual and Performing Arts Library has also been eliminated. The Brooklyn Public Library was planning on funding the library, but they could not raise enough money and had to back out of the project.
This year BAM will break ground on several plaza spaces, designed by Ken Smith, who also created the rooftop garden space at the Museum of Modern Art. Mr. Perris said that the purpose of these spaces is to blur the lines between the street and the institutional buildings. They could potentially house outdoor performances and provide a place where people can relax without spending any money, he said.
These plaza sites have shifted several times, due to the changing footprint of the plan. Smaller plazas are planned throughout the district — at Fulton Street and Lafayette Avenue, between Flatbush Avenue and Rockland Place, and in front of the Theater for a New Audience on Ashland Place. There will also be a large space known as the Grand Plaza running along Lafayette Avenue between Flatbush Avenue and Ashland Place.
The renovation and construction process may also lead to a bit of upheaval — BRIC Arts|Media|Bklyn has signed a two-year lease for a space in DUMBO, removing some of their operations from the soon-to-be-renovated Strand Theater, which it shares with Urban Glass.
In 2007, the New York Post reported that the total cost for the cultural district was estimated at $650 million. That figure included the projects that have since been scrapped, however, so it is no longer accurate. We don’t currently have a more up-to-date final price tag, but we are continuing to gather economic information about the project and will report the updated figures when we get them.
Since this plan is massive and has the potential to significantly change Fort Greene, the Local will be producing a series of pieces looking at as many different aspects of the cultural district as possible. There are a lot of moving parts here and we want to know what’s on your minds. So tell us — what do you want to know about the BAM Cultural District?
Thomas Chan contributed to this report.
The Local, June 24, 2010, image by Frankie Edozien
Pierre Thiam, owner of the Brooklyn restaurants Yolele and Le Grand Dakar, competed against Bobby Flay in “Battle: Papaya” on “Iron Chef America,” which aired Sunday. Mr. Flay won the cooking contest, but Mr. Thiam said he was more concerned with competing against himself, a battle he feels he won.
Tonight at Le Grand Dakar, at 285 Grand Avenue, you can ring in summer and celebrate Mr. Thiam’s “Iron Chef” appearance at the Senagalese Summer party, which will feature African music and art, food and unlimited sangria. Tickets are $25 ($30 at the door).
We sat down with Mr. Thiam to talk about battle papaya, as well as tonight’s party. Here is the condensed interview:
How did you get to be on Iron Chef?
They called me one day. I got a message that there was a call from California to call back. And I called back and it was “Iron Chef,” asking me to be on the show.
What did you do to prepare?
I had about a month’s notice before the show, so I selected my sous chefs. At the time I was giving a class at the French Culinary Institute. I did a session. I realized that they had the whole amazing state-of-the-art kitchen just like the one on “Iron Chef,” and they allowed me to use the kitchen for my training. Every week I would go three or four times with my team, and we would just prepare, have fun with those toys and gadgets in the kitchen.
How do you adapt what you’ve prepared ahead of time for the secret ingredient?
Being a cook is really about being creative and knowing your ingredients and being quick, because most times in the kitchen, you have to be able to make quick decisions with the ingredients that you have around you. For that whole month before the show was taped, we would pretty much put ourselves in that “Iron Chef” situation and take some odd ingredients and train accordingly. At that moment, your experience comes into action, and your creativity. It’s the fun of cooking.
How did you pick your sous chef team?
It was interesting, because one of the sous chefs works with me on caterings… This one guy, I don’t know if he was psychic or something, but a day or two after the call from California to be invited on “Iron Chef,” he was just having this weird conversation and he said, “You know Pierre, my dream is to be with you on ‘Iron Chef.’” This is a guy that watches “Iron Chef” – I don’t really watch “Iron Chef,” but this guy watched religiously, and he had been just dreaming about it for some reason, and it just happened that he mentioned it the day or two after I was called, so I was like, OK, you’ll be on the team.
When they tell you on the show what the ingredient is, how do you decide what to make from what you’ve prepared?
You have already an idea… The ingredient can only be either vegetable, a grain or a meat, fish or whatever. So we have our mind, if it’s a vegetable, if it’s a fruit, we go in this direction. So we have kind of a frame.
We have a way to communicate. The advantage with my team is that we are all speaking French…We could communicate, and we chose a code that was easy for us.
What made you select Bobby Flay to compete against?
I arrived in New York in the late 1980s and Bobby Flay’s restaurant, Mesa Grill, came up around the early 1990s. At that time I was already starting to experiment with ethnic cuisine, with my cuisine. In this restaurant in SoHo – I was working in SoHo at the time – they kind of had given me a certain freedom on the menu, so I was implementing a few — it was really baby steps of African cuisine on the menu. And Bobby Flay was doing ethnic as well at the time, but he was doing Mexican, Southwestern. So he was an inspiration and he was already succeeding at what he was doing.
What expectations did you have about the show before you got there?
Of course you dream of winning, but it wasn’t as important as it may be for others to me. The challenge was to represent in the proper way within the time frame, one hour, to be able to deliver my five dishes and to be proud of what I’ve delivered. So my competition was really me against myself and my team; we weren’t really worried about what Bobby Flay was doing. As a matter of fact, I just found out what Bobby Flay was doing when I watched the show. I didn’t even know what he was doing because I was just completely concentrated, focused on what my delivery would have been.
How did you feel when they announced the winner?
Honestly, it was all right. It was quite all right. Like I said, I wasn’t worried about the judges, I was worried myself and I had won at the end, when I finished everything.
[Flay] has done a thousand plus “Iron Chefs.” This was my first. It’s pretty impressive to me. That studio is unbelievable. The smoke, the lights, the cameras in your face. It’s not the ideal kitchen. You have to be somewhat prepared for that mentally. There’s a lot of distraction. While you’re cooking, you really need to have all your five senses. That’s the only activity where you need all five senses to be complete – you have to hear, you have to smell, you have to taste, you have to have the visual, because the plating must be beautiful.
What would you do differently?
I’d be more mindful of what the environment will be like. I had no clue, really, I knew the show but I don’t even have a TV at home, so I could prepare myself better in that aspect. Other than that, I wouldn’t do much different. I’d come and give the best.
I know whoever is an Iron Chef is able to deliver, so what’s the point? The rest is just relative. The judges have their own tastes and it could go either way, it doesn’t matter. What matters is your own integrity, the food comes out and the flavors are there and whoever eats it tastes that you’ve been cooking it sincerely.
What did you think about the ingredient they chose?
It was a good “Iron Chef” ingredient.
Do you use it on your own a lot?
I don’t do much cooking with it; I have a green papaya salad on the menu right now that’s pretty much the only thing I have. We use it as a tenderizer, as well; it’s very good for tenderizing. You go to a show like this and any ingredient could be chosen. I am not judging their choice.
Have you seen impact so far on your restaurant?
Sure, it’s funny how these things are watched. Just on my Facebook account, my Blackberry has been vibrating with requests for friendship with people from all over the country. It’s just hilarious. It’s really beautiful, the quote-unquote friends from Facebook, and they’re all supporting me and thought I should have won and it just feels good to see that people did appreciate what I did.
Tell me about the party that you’re having.
It’s a great opportunity to bring everyone together… The “Iron Chef” show is really an opportunity to organize this party but the party was already an idea; we wanted to do it. Just because we think we still need to introduce people to our cuisine. African food is not really known. It’s far from being mainstream. It’s terrible, because our food is timely, it’s healthy. People are really conscious about what they’re eating. Our grains are very nutritious, and it’s delicious, and I think once people really get familiar with it they will come and ask for more.
I intend to present not only the food, but the whole culture. The restaurant is not only a restaurant, it’s a cultural center. We’ll have music as well from the continent; we’ll have two amazing bands playing. We also have artwork on the walls. These paintings are being sold and the benefits go to a school in Kenya. It’s not only about Senegal; it’s about pan-Africanism in this restaurant, so we present food from the west African continent, artwork from different parts of the world. The music — Thursday we have a Nigerian band, we have a Kenyan band. So it’s going to be an African party.
So, do you want a rematch?
The Local, June 9, 2010, image from Wah Do Dem LLC
BAMcinemaFEST opens tonight, and the indie-flavored series runs through June 20. Befitting a local arts institution, several of the films are from Brooklyn-based writers, directors, actors and musicians. We’ll be talking to some of these hometown filmmakers throughout the festival.
To get started, we chatted with with Ben Chace and Sam Fleischner, writers and directors of “Wah Do Dem,” an film odyssey that follows Max, a Brooklyn musician played by Sean Bones, through an often-harrowing Jamaican adventure.
In the film, Max wins a cruise, which he takes alone after being dumped by his girlfriend (played by Norah Jones). He ends up stranded in Jamaica when his belongings are stolen and the ship leaves without him. He then has to find his way to the American embassy in Kingston.
Mr. Chace and Mr. Fleischner, longtime friends, came up with the idea for the film after winning free tickets for a Caribbean cruise in a raffle. They purchased two extra tickets, for Mr. Bones and sound technician and cast member Kevin Bewersdorf, and set off to film on the cruise ship and in Jamaica.
They boarded the cruise with ideas for scenes and let the cast improvise their own lines. Even though the two filmmakers had scouted possible scenes during a different cruise they took together, what they could actually shoot depended on access and the willingness of shipmates to participate.
“We had to rewrite the whole thing based on what we encountered on the cruise,” Mr. Chace said.
The non-professionally trained cast also felt more natural on camera when they came up with their own words.
“It made sense for our process to come from a place of improvisation,” Mr. Fleischner said. This also solved the language barrier once they arrived in Jamaica, since Jamaican actors could speak their roles in Jamaican Patois. The language is based on English, but some people they encountered were easier to understand than others, Mr. Chace said.
Another challenge they dealt with was determining whether people were interested in being in the movie or just trying to get money.
“You couldn’t tell sometimes what people’s intentions were,” Mr. Chace said. “Sometimes it’s a gray area.”
Along with these occasional difficulties, the cast and crew also had to work quickly. The entire movie had to be shot in two weeks in Jamaica and one week on the ship.
“Time was the biggest challenge,” Mr. Fleischner said. “We only took one day off.”
The two filmmakers are longtime Brooklynites – Mr. Chace lives in Crown Heights and Mr. Fleischner in Prospect Heights – and noted that showing their movie at BAM is a particular honor.
They also used mostly Brooklyn-based actors and musicians. Sean Bones and Norah Jones live in the borough, and “Wah Do Dem” features Brooklyn bands Yeasayer, MGMT and Suckers as well.
“We wanted to show as much of a Brooklyn music community as possible,” Mr. Fleischner said. “We’re friends with a lot of different musicians.”
The filmmakers share a longtime love of Caribbean culture and reggae music, and this movie allowed them to combine that with their Brooklyn roots. “The movie comes out of the multicultural spirit of Brooklyn,” Mr. Chace said.
That Brooklyn-Caribbean musical connection will be evident this Sunday when several reggae acts perform during FABfest on Fulton Street to support “Wah Do Dem,” which plays at BAM on Tuesday, June 15 and opens at Cinema Village on June 18.
“It’s awesome to be able to celebrate the movie,” Mr. Fleischner said, “now that it’s all done.”