Month: November 2013

What Two Cities is Thankful For

Two Cities has a lot to be thankful for this year and as Turkey Day approaches, we have to stop and count our blessings. Here are just a few of the things our fledgling magazine has to be thankful for:

1. We have received many wonderful submissions for our first issue – more than we expected or hoped for in this short time. So we are thankful for all you hungry writers out there trying to get published! We look forward to reading more of your work in the future!

2. We have a functioning and vibrant site that people are using! Now that we have regular content, we are excited to see that you are reading and exploring. We welcome your comments and suggestions as we continue to grow the website.

3. We are only 4 months away from the launch of our inaugural issue! We are so thankful that the magazine is coming together and we look forward to sharing it with all of you in March!

So, besides Two Cities Review, what are you thankful for this year?

The Joys of Ethnic Food

iT’S AMAZING TO THINK THAT WHEN MY FATHER WAS GROWING UP, PASTA WAS EXOTIC. Just one generation prior, the experience of eating the cuisines of other nations was irregular, unusual, and infrequent. The nights my father had pasta were special “Italian nights”, and he didn’t eat Italian sausage (now his favorite food, something I was raised on) until his thirties. Now, thanks to the diversity of our cities, we’re able to enjoy foods from every corner of the globe. While New York may have us beat for sheer number and variety, Boston can offer a competitive array of eating choices. Just within one block of my apartment are two Thai restaurants and a sushi place, happily jostling for customers along with the slice-and-sub joints.

The joy of eating ethnic foods in the city falls into two categories for me. The first is the experience of localness; at least in the past, entering a different neighborhood of the city meant being able to enjoy a new country’s cuisine and culture. Most major cities across the United States have a Chinatown, of course, but there are smaller, more obscure pockets of ethnic food out there, waiting to be experienced. I happen to live in a Brazilian and Portuguese immigrant district, and have been able to enjoy a cuisine I’d never experienced before. The Portuguese restaurants also have some of the freshest fish in the city. There are odd and sometimes funny moments when you find yourself rubbing shoulders with your neighbors and their culture. When I went to get my ears pierced at the shockingly late age of twenty-five, I stood in a long line of small girls ages six and up, all of whom seemed calmer about the procedure than I was.

The second delight of ethnic food, in its most common city form, is the joy of delivery. The New Yorker just had a series on this very phenomenon, how convenient, how comforting, how cozy it really is. Now you can pick up a phone or go online and within an hour a hot plastic box of food as exotic or as familiar as you want will be at your door. I fondly remember the sticky thick sauce of the General Gao’s chicken we’d order on a regular basis when I was a kid, or the extra crunchy green beans. As many of us already know, this food probably bears little resemblance to what is actually being eaten in China. But that’s the delight of ethnic food in an American city as well — it continues to change and adapt, picking up a little of each culture it encounters as it goes along. American Chinese food is thick and sweet and sugary and comforting, and is a cuisine all its own.

Bagels, Baingan and Baklava

It is difficult to get more than a few blocks away from an amazing restaurant in New York and they aren’t all pizza places and burger joints. The beauty of New York is that, rather than being a “melting pot” where people assimilate to American culture, it is a boisterous conglomerate of too many nations to count. There is amazing pizza to be found, for sure, but there are so many unique flavors to try that I may go weeks without a slice. I am an adventurous eater, as my co-editor will tell you, willing to try anything once. So I love diving in to a new culture through its cuisine, and luckily for me, that is easy to do in my neighborhood.

Fort Greene, Brooklyn is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country and the variety of restaurants really shows that diversity. Within spitting distance of my house, I can eat more typical Chinese, Japanese, Mediterranean and Italian, but I can also sample South African samosas, Thai curries and Haitian akras. Then there are the fusion restaurants, offering mixtures of Asian, French and American cooking to create wonderful dishes all their own. And although my neighborhood has a lot to offer, I have also come to realize over my years here that certain neighborhoods in New York specialize in cuisines of the people who live there. Here are some suggestions of neighborhood cuisine you may like to sample:

Best Chinese food: Chinatown, obviously.

If you have never been to New York’s Chinatown for a meal, you are missing out. Peking ducks hanging in storefronts, fish on blocks of ice and buzzing with flies, the smell of garlic and soy sauce in the air, Chinatown is full of foods that you won’t find at your corner restaurant. Try dim sum at a restaurant where no one speaks English or visit a restaurant that serves traditional fish stews. The food is incredible if you are up for adventure.

Best Indian food: Jackson Heights, Queens.

Being half Indian myself, I rarely eat Indian food out, but I have heard that the food in Jackson Heights is as good as it gets in New York. Jackson Heights is famous for its ethnic foods in general, and the best Greek food in the city can also be found in this neighborhood. Not to mention that Queens is a nice place that most people, myself included, don’t visit enough.

Best Mexican food: Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

I work with someone who is married to a Mexican man and they swear by the food in Sunset Park. You can get tacos the real Mexican way, just meat, no cheese, with many salsas to choose from. It is also the place for Mexican grocery stores, where you can pick up Mexican staples that you won’t find at a regular grocery store, so it is a must for anyone who likes to cook authentic Mexican food.

Best Polish food: Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Looking for some fresh pierogies, kielbasa and potato pancakes? Head on over the Williamsburg Bridge to Greenpoint, where there is a collection of Polish restaurants catering to local Polish immigrants and newbies alike. Despite my Polish heritage, I never learned my grandmother’s recipe for pierogies so I have to rely on others to provide me with some every now and then.

Best Domincan food: Washington Heights, Manhattan

Working at a predominantly Dominican public school for two years, I learned a lot about Dominican cooking and how it differs from other Caribbean and South American cuisines. Rice and beans are a staple of this cuisine, but meat or fish stew are popular, including bacalao, which is dried codfish. There is a large Dominican population in NYC, so you don’t have to go all the way up to the Heights for Dominican food, but there are a collection of highly regarded and authentic restaurants there.

There are so many amazing cuisines in New York that I could go on for ages. If you have a favorite restaurant or neighborhood to get ethnic food in the city, please share it with us!

Photo Credit: Brian Vecci, Clinton Hill Foodie

Boston Transportation

IT’S EARLY – seven in the morning. Early, at least, for a writer who tends to hit her stride at around four in the afternoon. But I teach writing at a university in Boston, and this semester I’ve drawn the short straw and am teaching the morning class. I cover my ears; I’m on the green line, heading around the bend out of Lechmere station, and the tracks always rasp and screech at this point.

Riding the train is how I have always gotten to know the cities I’ve lived in. They are the vein that injects you into downtown, the long steel spine that carries you home in the tired evening hours, the place where I think, where I look out the window, where I press into the bodies of strangers. It is the most intimate and the most lonely place to be in a city; and it is the best place to understand a city’s character.

Take my hometown of Boston, which I have returned to after grad school. The trains are grimy and caked in rust; slow moving and small. They trundle like trolleys through the traffic of the city in places; in others, they dive and roar underground like a real subway. And in the suburbs, they rattle through the wooded backyards of the kinds of houses I grew up in.

Here in Cambridge, the people are tired but not impolite. A pregnant woman gets on or a guy with crutches and a seat appears. Even in the rush hour crush, there is good natured shoving, but it stays quiet. The T is one of my favorite parts of Boston, maybe because I grew up shuttling back and forth along the green line to school. It’s my place to think. When I turned in a couple of stories in my college creative writing class that involved train commuters, my teacher looked at me thoughtfully and said that my childhood commute had probably shaped me for life.

I can’t argue with that. Even now, in this early cranky morning hour, I look out the window as we crest the high bridge over the Charles River and I get thoughtful. There’s my city in the morning light — the Science Museum with its massive Tyrannosaurus rex, the duck boats chugging out into the bay — and I think I probably have the best seat in the house for all Boston has to offer.

Riding the NYC Subway

Running the marathon, I noticed many signs that read “You run better than the subway” or “You run better than the __ train!” I found the signs funny, especially the ones relating to the R, the train I take to work each morning. There has been some work being done on the tracks, causing service changes, besides the fact that the R is generally a slow train by New York standards. But when I stepped back and actually though about it, I realized that the New York City subway is one of the best things about the city.

When I first moved to the city, after being familiar with only the Riverside line on the T in Boston, I found the subway system a bit intimidating at first. My first forays out into New York were generally confined to the 1 train line, which runs along the West Side of Manhattan. On this line, I was able to travel between school and Times Square to catch a play or Lincoln Center for the ballet. The subway system was relatively fast and relatively clean, and when I returned to Boston for Thanksgiving break, I was shocked at how small the T trains were. For me, the subway is the veins and arteries of the city. Cabs are for tourists; real New Yorkers take the train, saving time and money in the process.

As a writer, I found the train to be the perfect place for people watching. Men in business suits are literally rubbing elbows with single moms riding to the late-night shift or musicians with guitars strapped to their backs, beating time on plastic pails as the train pulls into the station. Homeless men in rags who haven’t showered for days smile at you and ask for a quarter, nickel or dime. Sometimes they even sing you a song. It definitely took some getting used to after a small-town upbringing, but now I enjoy the subway, brimming with lives waiting to be interpreted and recorded.

I have branched out, too, in my use of the subway. I’ve worked in the Bronx, having to take the 5 train to the Concourse and then a bus. I’ve worked in Cypress Hills, on the J train out past Broadway Junction. Now I work in Bay Ridge on the R train. I love taking a new train to the end of its line and seeing all the different neighborhoods. New York is really a city of smaller communities and each subway line truly has its own unique character. You’re likely to see kids selling candy on the 2/3 line and Mets fans riding the 7 out to Citi Field. Times Square station is always raucous with marimbas or steel drums or saxophones, while at Lincoln Center, you are more likely to hear a flute or violin. There is art in every station (if you know where to look) and poetry on the subway cars.

I find it strange now to hear a New Yorker say he doesn’t like to ride the subway. I personally wouldn’t want to live in New York without it. Though the subway can be noisy and crowded and the service changes can cause major delays, for the most part, it is a joyful representation of a city that has so many different cultures and flavors to offer.

I wonder what public transportation is like in some of your cities.

When Violence Visits You: Boston after the Marathon Bombings

IT’S BEEN SIX MONTHS SINCE THE BOMBING THAT SHOOK MY CITY. Boston is not unique for having such violence invade its ordinary daily routines, its joyful rituals. It won’t be the last place that such appalling acts take place. But it does change things when you feel your own home, your place — yours! — as the target of cold blind hatred.

Today I’m thinking about the feverish week that followed that sudden explosion. The endless looping footage, the breathless (and often wrong) pronouncements by newscasters. I was at the marathon that day, as so many Bostonians were; I was near the finish line, but I left a few hours before the awful event. When I walked home, some time later I turned on the news and saw what had happened. My sister called in a panic; she knew I had gone to watch the runners. Those small moments always make me queasy, the terror that family members feel in the aftermath of such chaos.

The violence followed a pattern that we’re too familiar with these days: a panicky period, a shutdown of cell phones, reports on the wounded, a search for the guilty party. Six months later, it’s hard to believe such a thing happened; I’m very proud of the city’s response. With the exception of some media hysteria, the reaction seemed reasonable, aggrieved, but with a minimum of vengeful feeling or lashing out at innocent groups.

New Yorkers know exactly what Boston felt then, to a far larger degree. We feel this strange sickening confusion — the childlike, petulant feeling that we don’t deserve this, no, this didn’t really happen because it can’t happen, not now, not here, not to us. Then, the realization; the hollow biting sadness. We’re left a little more fearful, a little more anxious, wondering what’s to stop this from happening again.

Overall, after the initial intense focus, I haven’t thought much about the perpetrators. It just seems so sad, how people’s views can become so hatefully distorted. I still wonder what that process is — what sort of transformation makes a person not a murderer, and then a murderer. Is it gradual and slow, or overnight?

There’s not much point in my wondering about it, of course; it’s the true victims of the crime that have a right to raise these questions. But even if we haven’t been directly affected, I think many people wonder these things. Writers in particular struggle to answer these questions every day. They try to understand why their own characters make the choices they do. They try to understand why some people opt for disaster.

When last I strolled by Copley Square a few weeks ago, the makeshift memorial was still there. I saw the ragged, fluttering pile of balloons, feathers, and signs, the handpainted messages. BOSTON STRONG and WE WILL NOT FORGET and OUR HEARTS ARE WITH YOU. The teddy bears and running shoes that quietly accumulated in the weeks that followed the attack. It’s good to see these things, to know how many people care deeply. And yet it also emphasizes how futile these little memorials are when they spring up after a car accident or a bombing. I’m reminded of the thousands of stuffed animals sent to Newtown, Connecticut — what happened to all the bears? Did the town really need them?

No, part of me wants a better memorial, and perhaps we’ll get one in time — a slab of granite, a line of photographs, names carved into stone. And another part of me wants something more magical yet — for time to sweep gracefully backwards. I’m sure many imagine what would be the best thing of all — a backpack being picked up instead of put down, a police dog walking by at the right time, a decision made long ago somehow stopped when it was only a seed of anger. Wouldn’t that be best — of course, of course it would. And of course, there’s no point in wishing for it. All we can do is continue to feel; to allow ourselves grief and questioning. To keep wondering why.

Marathon Madness NYC

Tomorrow, I will be doing something crazy. I will be waking up early, putting on some spandex, taking the subway to the Staten Island Ferry and then running for 26.2 miles. For the first time ever, I will be running the NYC Marathon.

Running a marathon has been a bucket list item for me since I was a child, but it was one of those things I never actually thought I would do. You see, I actually hate running. But, growing up in Boston, the marathon was always a huge deal. I knew people who ran it every year, who raised money for charity, who trained all year for Heartbreak Hill. We had the day off from school and would pile out on to Comm Ave to watch the marathoners run by. I always dreamed it would someday be me, but at the back of my mind, I didn’t really believe it would ever happen.

Yet, here I am. I moved to New York, got a job and started dating a great guy who is now my husband. When he started running seriously, I said what the heck, might as well try. And after a couple years of regular racing, we qualified for the marathon by running 9 qualifying races and volunteering for 1 event. Now the moment is here and I’m excited, nervous and most of all, hungry.

There is a certain energy surrounding any marathon. People find out you are running and they want to hear about your training and your predicted time. You hear “I could never do that” so many times it becomes meaningless – because you know that, really, anyone can do it. It just takes some planning, training and grit. We’ve been talking about this event for months. Last night, we went to the marathon expo to pick up our bibs and race materials. The place was mobbed with svelte people in warm-ups and sneakers. There were DJs playing pump-up music and free give-aways of Gatorade and PowerBars. You could buy any kind of athletic gear you wanted, all personalized with NYC 2013.

Tomorrow, much of the city will be closed down and people will pour forth to watch us run past. They will cheer and ring cow bells and shout our names (which we have written in large letters on the front of our t-shirts for that express purpose). The whole city will be united behind this one event that disrupts traffic patterns and raises spirits. And I will be there in the thick of it, knees aching, covered in sweat. Here’s to hoping I can enjoy it.

Wish me luck!

Friday Reads

 

It’s a busy week for the editors of Two Cities Review! First on the Boston side of things, we enjoyed the controlled joy of winning the world series. Both of us were students in Boston during the initial, world-shattering 2004 world series win, and I know I remember how the entire city was swept up in that excitement. The front page of the Boston Globe was this single, primal roar of triumph.

But that’s old news — this week, our very own New York editor will be running in the New York marathon! You’ll be seeing her thoughts on the experience right here. You’ll also some thoughts on how the New York marathon brings up thoughts about the tragedy in Boston, now that we have arrived at the six month marker of those events. Stay tuned this week for both of our takes on marathons in our two cities.

It’s also time for the roundup of literary news for the week. Follow us on Twitter to find out what we’re reading and thinking, or you can get a short digest right here.

We’re Reading:

Andrew Wylie Interview : Literary Agent Makes Millions Off Highbrow

Freemium Access: A New Yorker piece on the strange moral quandries of mooching off others’ accounts

10 Receive Whiting Writers’ Awards

A Boy Who Played With Trains: a thoughtful piece by Richard Ford on his days as a train switchboard operator

An author slept here : Boston’s literary community pushes for a “literary cultural district.”

Too Many Heavens: On Travelogues to the Great Beyond