Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Prevalence of Mary

I've never been a particularly religious person. Brought up a (severely) reformed Jew in a household where Passovers we used a computer printout as a Sedar plate (which always left a watery ink stain on the boiled egg) and only ever went to temple to remark on the hats, to me "religion" has always called to mind images of stained glass windows and cold, silent pews, of Catholic's heavy with sin kneeling before the body of Christ, gospel choirs preaching, wailing, deep in the bayous of some Mississippi town, the woman in the congregation fanning themselves from the sweltering heat or the power of their devotion, of Italian boys in white gowns on bustery nights in the front rows of churches, dreaming of baseball. Perhaps this is why, upon moving to Graham Avenue, I became fixated on the Marys.

Before I left for college a good friend, knowing of my fascination with religious iconography, bought me a rosary from a store in Italy. Real silver with lacquered beads, it opened the door to the mystical, morose world of the Catholics, whose feminine deity I learned later, was Mary, mother of God. Mary, with her kind of split symbolism (in my mind anyway) -- at once a feminist who required no man to give birth to the Christian God, like an ancient bra burner, and a pious, chaste symbol of conservative Catholicism. Over the past few years, she, along with San Cono, the patron saint of Teggiano (where many of the neighborhood folks are from) have become my adopted protectors.

In the Northwest section of Williamsburg, where Italians and Puerto Ricans find common ground in the same God, Mary reigns supreme. Images and busts of her fragile form are everywhere, outside my local deli, poked into the ground like ceramic knomes in the gardens of my neighbors, even suspended, as it were, from atop what would otherwise be indiscriminate street signs. All shapes and sizes. With Jesus and without. That's why, in this first "official" post of The Williamsburg Diaries I decided it was only fitting to go on what I've dubbed a "Mary Tour." Screw Beacon's Closet. If you want to see an iconic image of Williamsburg, take my Mary Tour one Sunday morning, when the sun is just peeking over the horizon and the Marys are in full force:

Watching over the BQE on the corner of Meeker and Frost.

Protected from years of tarnish on Withers between Leonard and Manhattan.

Reticent on Withers b/w Graham and Manhattan.

With Baby Jesus on Frost b/w Graham and Manhattan.

Crowned in tinsel on Concelyea by the corner of Graham.

Simply divine in stain glass b/w Leonard and Manhattan.

Mary and some unnamed dignitary on Conselyea by the corner of Graham.

The virgin mother in all her glory at Anthony and Son on Graham b/w Frost and Withers.

Cosy in her house on the corner of Woodpoint and Withers.

Mary in a jar on Frost Street b/w Graham and Manhattan.

God Bless,

Silent "H"

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Silent "H"

In 1638 the fine men of the Dutch West India Company purchased a vast green land along the East River in Brooklyn, NY from a group of hard bargaining Native Americans. In 1802, a real estate speculator by the name of Richard M. Woodhull bought a chuck of the territory and gave Colonel Jonathan Williams the honor of naming his new purchase. Colonel Jon dubbed the land (whose name had become a point of contention for residents) "Williamsburgh," in a vain yet decisive move that leads us more than 200 years in the future to an apartment on Graham Avenue overlooking the Brooklyn Queens Expressway where I sit, my feet on the radiator.

A lot has gone on in the years since Woodhull procured that land and Jon W gave it it's distinctive moniker - most notably for us, the elimination of that closing "h." For the purposes of this blog, the "h" holds the uttermost importance. For contained in that vanquished symbol is the sum of everything that is concealed in Williamsburg -- it's rich hidden secrets, the life stories lost to time, the strange, remarkable characters always on the verge of extinction.

Herein lies the goal of this blog. In the coming months, the Williamsburg Diaries aims to be your guide to the quirks, characters and oddities of this flourishing Brooklyn neighborhood. I've lived in Williamsburg for approximately 2 years now, yet every day I discover something new and fascinating about this unique American town. With any luck, a few of those discoveries will make their way into this blog. Either way, I leave you with the promise of entertainment and wonder of things to come.

Yours truly,

Silent "H"