Covid Times in Brooklyn

Somehow, the days are both too long and too short. Time stretches ahead, the calendar blank. Yet you go out for a walk and before you know it, the sky is dark.

I came back to Brooklyn from the East End of Long Island in early November. I cruised into my neighborhood on a Saturday night when the mood was briefly celebratory, following the announcement of the election results, when the pandemic didn’t seem as dire as now.

I’m being strict and cautious, mostly solitary, seeing friends only outdoors. I go to the supermarket and drug store, infrequently. I do laundry when I run out of sweatpants and pajamas. My only nod to fashion is trying to match my mask to my outfit. I’ve been to Manhattan once in two months.

Do I sound like I’m complaining? I’m not complaining. I’m healthy, and so are my nearest and dearest, though I see them mostly on Zoom. I live in comfort. I’m enjoying my apartment in new ways. Paying more attention to my houseplants. Using my landlords’ backyard compost bin. Taking baths. Winnowing my bookshelves. Setting up a TV, finally.

And taking advantage of three great nearby parks — Prospect Park, Fort Greene Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park. As are others. I learned on a recent walk around “hidden” Prospect Park with Turnstile Tours that it saw twice as many visitors in 2020 as the year before.

It’s been relatively mild so far this winter, with only one significant snow that didn’t last long. The outdoor dining scene seems surprisingly robust, sidewalk tables occupied by diners hardier than I.

I cook at home instead: farro with mushrooms, white bean stew with fennel and radiccio, marinated greens, omelets, soups that go into the freezer labeled “Weird Minestrone,” “Root Veg Soup (needs salt).”

And I walk a lot, aiming for those elusive 10,000 steps, and take pictures.

And once in a while, I feel a blog post coming on. Not as many of you read this sporadic effort as used to, but if you are still on my list, please let me hear from you in the comments. Where are you and how are you doing? Is there anything in particular you’d like to hear about (not politics) when this mysterious blogging urge comes upon me? Are we still interested in old houses, interiors, historic preservation, gardens, travel (with an eye to the future)?

Happy new year, friends.

Seize the Sunset

“Live each season as it passes: breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit…”

Henry David Thoreau

The year’s events have made us feel vulnerable, more conscious of the precariousness of our human lives.

Maybe that’s why the passing days seem all the more precious, but lately I can’t bear to spend a sunny day indoors. I want to get fresh air into my lungs, even if I have to surreptitiously pull down my mask to do it, and drink the drink — that would be wine, usually. I want to make beach fires, take walks, visit parks and see sunsets — especially the sunsets, in their infinite variation. They are the closest thing I’ve had lately to a religious experience.

Though the existential dread of climate change is ever-present and the intractability of this pandemic has taken us by surprise — yes, I know we were warned there would be a fall/winter surge, but who really believed it would last this long? — the sun goes about its business.

For the moment, we are still heirs to a glimmering world. Seize each day, consciously and gratefully. Evenings, too.

(Top) Where I find myself now and for the next few months: Brooklyn, N.Y.

(Below) Where I found myself in September and October: Long Island, N.Y.

City Winter, Silent Blog

I’VE BEEN MEANING TO BLOG ALL WINTER, but keep hitting a stumbling block: what to blog about? (Besides car-shopping, which has been resolved with the purchase of a silk-blue Volkswagen Golf). In recent years, casaCARA has been most active when I’ve traveled somewhere, and I haven’t traveled this winter…yet.

Above: Coming off the Staten Island ferry at just the right hour. Winter sunset behind the Seaglass Carousel at Battery Park, Bowling Green subway entrance, US Customs House/National Museum of the American Indian

I’ve been in Brooklyn since Thanksgiving, and my eyes have dimmed to the beauty of brownstones and most things urban, though I can pull together a few recent photos to illustrate this post. Some of these images have been seen on Instagram, itself a deterrent to blogging. (Follow me @caramia447, if you wish.)

FDNY conclave at Grand Central, snow on the tracks in Crown Heights, subway companions

It’s not laziness this time, not entirely. I started the season with a burst of cultural activity, going to five plays/concerts/performances in December. I’ve seen Hilma af Klint at the Guggenheim, Frida Kahlo at the Bromklyn Museum, Warhol at the Whitney. Met up with old friends, dealt with building issues here and in Philadelphia, gone to the gym, done my taxes, churned out Brownstoner columns and 1stdibs articles and spent too many hours reading political op-eds, listening to political podcasts and watching political YouTube videos. But none of those things resulted in blog posts.

Fort Greene row house turned Mexican restaurant, graffiti-covered store on Canal Street

Last night, I could have been blogging, but instead spent the better part of an hour watching Seinfeld memes on my phone and laughing insanely at Kramer’s entrances, George’s deadpan, Jerry’s shouting and Elaine’s dancing.

Cybister amaryllis (doctored with Prisma app), pussy willows at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, winter sun at Napeague State Park, L.I.

That was a grand time-waster. I rose from the sofa, disgusted with myself, and now I’m with you to announce that I’m going to Italy soon for 18 days — Calabria and Sicily. First to a townhouse in the unknown-to-Americans port city of Gioia Tauro on the toe of the Italian boot, then to tour around Sicily for the first time. I’ve never met a person who doesn’t rave about Sicily (usually about the gelato).

Simple winter lunch of couscous at Café Gitane in Nolita, still there after all these years

I’m certain the scales will fall from my eyes as soon as I step off the plane in Italia, and I’ll be refreshed, revivified, inspired and blogging.

Foggy Morn in Springs


THIS AUGUST I’VE BEEN in and out and roundabout and back and forth. I’ve spent more time on the Long Island Expressway, it sometimes seems, than in my much-loved house in Springs (East Hampton), N.Y. And I’ve fallen down the job of documenting my garden. For that I have a novel excuse besides the fact that I haven’t been here as much as I’d like: the weather’s been too good! Decent garden photography on a sunny day, in the dappled shade of tall oaks, is near impossible. But the other morning, I woke at 6, stepped outside into a misty morning, and ran to get my camera.

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Quiet as Grand Central Station


EVERY NOW AND THEN, I need a photo workshop to help me look at things afresh. In Europe last month, I was so busy chronicling all I saw as straight-up reportage that I rarely took time to be creative with my camera — or iPhone, in my case (I’ve given up carrying anything heavier).

This morning, at the Municipal Arts Society offices in Midtown Manhattan, I took a two-hour class called “Getting the Shot” taught by Timothy Schenck, a photographer specializing in art, architecture and construction. Tim ran through an astonishing amount of information in an hour. His reminders about basic mindfulness (“focus on the task”) were not lost on me, and I loved being given permission to experiment (“tap into your individual vision,” “try the unconventional”), along with composition (eliminate visual clutter, use negative space, remember the rule of thirds) and technical tips.

I asked how to take photos of a building besides just standing in front of it and holding the camera up, something I often find myself doing. Among Tim’s suggestions: try a very low angle to take in, say, the cobblestones on a street; use ‘leading lines,’ like a row of houses diagonally pointing toward the subject building; look for a convenient bell tower for a high vantage point; take close-ups of a weathered door or interesting knob; tell a story about the building in a series of images.

All very helpful, so when our group of about 25 — most with SLR cameras, some with point-and-shoots, a few with cellphones — marched the 10 blocks south to Grand Central Terminal to put Tim’s tips into practice, I was feeling inspired. The image, top, taken on 42nd Street just in front of the station, may be my favorite of the day.

It was crowded inside the station, with more tourists than commuters. I interpreted the part of the lesson about weeding out visual clutter to mean people — people en masse, at any rate. I gravitated toward quiet corners and was surprised there were some, even inside Grand Central on a Saturday afternoon. And when there weren’t, I found that if I waited, a wave of humanity would pass and for a few seconds the coast would be clear to grab a shot of the station’s grand Beaux Arts architecture.

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